New CPB Head has PR, Political Background

Jun 27, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Patricia de Stacy Harrison, the new president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, doesn’t bring a background in news or public television or radio to her new post. However, she does bring a record as Republican partisan and a loyal member of the Bush administration.

Ms. Harrison, a public relations executive who is a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee, declined interview requests last week, pending her official start July 5.

According to her resume, Ms. Harrison was a founding partner along with her husband of E. Bruce Harrison Co., a public affairs firm that was sold in 1996. President George H.W. Bush appointed her to the president’s export council at the Department of Commerce in 1990. In 1992, she was appointed to serve on the U.S. Trade Representative’s service policy advisory council. She was elected co-chair of the RNC in 1997, holding that post until January 2001.

Since Oct. 2, 2001, Ms. Harrison has been assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.

Ms. Harrison did make public statements last year about the Bush administration’s use of video news releases. She made clear in testimony before the House International Relations Committee that she supported their continued use. “Television and video products continue to be powerful strategic tools for bringing America’s foreign policy message to worldwide audiences,” Ms. Harrison said at the time. “We continue to produce ‘good news’ stories on reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan that American and foreign news editors have incorporated in their programs.”

Her critics see that as another reason for anxiety about her appointment. “The president of CPB should be committed to fact-based and independent journalism,” said Chellie Pingree, president and CEO of Common Cause. “Harrison’s career experience is not grounded in news but in spinning the news, first as an entrepreneur with her own public relations and lobbying shop and then in White House jobs where she defended the State Department’s use of video news reports with a pro-administration slant.”

Watchdog groups are also concerned because she is the choice of CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson, who has rankled critics with his efforts to promote what he calls balance in public broadcast programming. Mr. Tomlinson is also chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees government broadcasters, including Voice of America.

In a recent paper, the Center for Digital Democracy said that in her current position at the State Department, Ms. Harrison worked closely with the Broadcasting Board of Governors to develop the Bush administration’s post-9/11 public diplomacy strategy. “The efforts of Mr. Tomlinson and Ms. Harrison to actively shape public perception of the U.S. abroad are exactly the wrong qualifications to lead CPB,” the center said. “CPB is not supposed to promote the official position of the U.S. government. Its role is to support public TV and radio’s efforts to provide serious journalism, in-depth opinion, and a wide range of cultural and community programming. Yet Ms. Harrison’s expertise is clearly focused on the manipulation of public opinion.”

Supporters say she brings other qualifications to the job.”Pat Harrison’s career exemplifies outstanding leadership,” said Katherine Anderson, a Republican CPB board member who chaired the search committee.

The CPB post pays $180,100 a year, an increase of almost $40,000 from the $143,000 she made at the Department of State.

The watchdog Center for Responsive Politics said Ms. Harrison and her husband have donated $56,000 to Republican candidates and party committees since 1989. She and her husband each contributed $2,000 to President Bush’s re-election campaign last year. According to the center, they have contributed $5,750 to Democratic candidates and parties since 1989.