CPB Moves Leave GOP in Command

Oct 3, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The election of Cheryl Halpern as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s chairman and Gay Hart Gaines as the organization’s vice chairman is not expected to result in a major change of direction. The board remains firmly in Republican control and Ms. Halpern appears to share outgoing Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson’s concerns about the need for more objectivity and balance in public broadcast programming.

“Ms. Halpern is likely to continue the board’s campaign to force public broadcasting to produce programming more acceptable to conservatives,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy.

“Her appointment further politicizes public broadcasting and damages an institution that is treasured by the vast majority of Americans,” added Josh Silver, executive director of the advocacy group Free Press.

In a statement, Ms. Halpern said CPB’s authorizing legislation requires the organization to pay heed to public broadcasting’s programming. “We must honor the principles clearly stated in our charter: to encourage objective and balanced programming,” she said.

But in brief remarks to reporters after her election, Ms. Halpern also insisted that she plans to allow CPB’s new ombudsmen-Ken Bode, a former NBC newsman, and William Schulz, a former Reader’s Digest executive editor-to broker allegations of programming bias.

“We will not be intervening within programming,” Ms. Halpern said. “We are maintaining the integrity of journalistic independence. But where there are allegations of imbalance or lack of objectivity there is now a source for those allegations to be reviewed.”

Still, in her official statement, she added, “I am proud of the journalism carried by public broadcasting, and I will work to see that the standards set by our best journalists will be followed across all levels of our news programming.”

Ms. Gaines, a former chair of the GOPAC Republican fund-raising group, succeeds Frank Cruz, a Democrat.

Under the leadership of former Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., GOPAC was credited for helping Republican candidates win a majority of the seats in the House in 1994.

With the change in guard at CPB’s top, Mr. Tomlinson’s influence at the corporation will diminish but not disappear, because he will continue to serve on the organization’s board.

In an effort to inject an aura of bipartisanship into CPB’s top ranks, Ernest Wilson, one of the CPB board’s Democrats, urged his colleagues last week to consider promoting Beth Courtney, a political independent who is president and CEO of Louisiana Public Broadcasting, to one of the two top board seats.

“I was very disappointed with the vote,” Mr. Wilson said. “The signal seems to be that we’re going to be partisan.”

In a statement, Patricia Harrison, a former Republican National Committee co-chairman who was recently hired as CPB’s president and CEO, said: “I look forward to working closely with both her [Ms. Halpern] and Vice Chairman Gaines to strengthen public broadcasting’s connection to community, to increase the reach and effectiveness of public broadcasting and public broadcasting stations in the education of our children, and for greater openness and transparency in the operations of CPB.”