Question: Who wrote the following passage?
“I have met President Bush twice. I have no powerful political connections–both times were the result of sizable checks written by me to support his campaign. Both times I was one of several hundred, if not thousand, people he met that day. Both times he said the same thing to me: ‘I’m honored’…. The world’s most powerful man was honored to meet me. Actually, just about everything you need to know about George W. Bush is there in that sentence–humble, economical, old-fashioned and simple in a way that irritates those who are irritated by things that are old-fashioned and simple…. And the thing is, he really means it…. Doubtless one of the things that makes him a great President is his ability to say, ‘I’m honored’ 800 times a day, and invest it with real emotion every time.”
Answer: If you guessed Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, you’re wrong. Warren Bell, a TV writer and producer and ardent conservative, wrote these lines in a column posted last year on National Review Online. And he wasn’t kidding.
Up until now, Bell has been known for his work on situation comedies. But if he is confirmed by the US Senate, Bell will be able to burnish that résumé a bit: He’ll become a member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s board of directors.
President Bush named three individuals to fill empty slots on the board of CPB, which funnels federal money to public radio and television and which was devised to serve as a “heat shield” protecting public broadcasting from political pressures. The nominations have not yet formally been sent to the Senate Commerce Committee. But Bell’s nomination hearing could happen as soon as next week.
In the horse-trading that accompanies nominations to various boards and for judicial slots, it is unusual for these hearings to be anything but routine. But Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), a member of the committee, has raised questions about Bell’s qualifications. And Common Cause, where I work, has asked its activists to lobby Commerce Committee members and ask them to oppose Bell’s nomination.
The other two CPB nominees seem quite suitable for the job. David Pryor, chosen to fill a “Democratic” slot on the board, is a former US Senator and Governor of Arkansas who has been a professor of political science at Harvard University. Chris Boskin, a successful publishing executive, serves on the board of KQED-FM/TV in San Francisco, and is active in many philanthropic causes. She also is the wife of Michael Boskin, who served as head of the Council of Economic Advisors under former President George H.W. Bush.
It’s not unusual for administrations of either party to choose board members for their political loyalty and their donations. The latest in a string of unfortunate board appointments was Kenneth Tomlinson, a conservative ideologue who waged a partisan war against what he considered liberal and left-leaning public broadcasters, secretly paying a consultant to monitor the PBS programs of journalist Bill Moyers, and NPR talk-show hosts Diane Rehm and Tavis Smiley. Tomlinson also pushed for partisan hires at CPB and for the creation of a program showcasing the conservative views of the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal. Tomlinson’s meddling and partisanship led to an investigation by the CPB’s inspector general, and his resignation.
Of course, that has not been the end of it. The State Department’s Inspector General found that in his job as head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, Tomlinson hired a friend to do “consulting” work without the proper authorization, and ran his horseracing business from his office.
After the Tomlinson uproar, you’d think Bell would be the last person to get nominated to the CPB board. But Bell’s nomination has so far caused barely a ripple in the mainstream press, with only the Los Angeles Times‘s Matea Gold doing a substantive piece about Bell’s background.
Bell obviously has succeeded in the world of commercial television. Indeed, he declares, “Creating pop culture has been the focus of my adult life.” He has written for or produced a series of sitcoms, including According to Jim, Coach, Ellen and The PJs, an animated comedy series about life in a public housing project. (The PJs‘s raw, cutting-edge humor about being African-American and poor drew a sizable black audience but criticism from black filmmaker Spike Lee, who called the series “very demeaning” and “hateful…towards black people.” The criticism of the series came before Bell took over as executive producer, but he asserted that he had no plans to soften the show’s edge.)
Not even Bell can explain why the Administration nominated him to serve on the CPB board. He has no demonstrated expertise or even interest in public broadcasting. Indeed, asked if he listened to National Public Radio, Bell confessed that he tunes in to sports radio instead.
Bell may not have opined on public broadcasting, but in his columns and blogs for National Review Online, he has been clear about where he stands on a number of other issues. “I am thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues,” Bell wrote. “I support a woman’s right to choose what movie we should see, but not that other one. I am on the Right in every way.”
Consider these commentaries Bell wrote for National Review Online:
§ Complaining about Disney’s Touchtone Television pressing him to hire more minorities for the TV comedy According to Jim, Bell huffed: “Of course, the conservative in me wants to say we should just find the best damn performers available, and judge them on the content of their character-acting, not their color. Ultimately, I will face a situation at some point this year where I say, ‘Well, X was the funniest white actor, but we should probably go with Y.'” (Bell later apologized for the remark.)
§ Urging in February that filmmakers make more pictures about “the heroism of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Bell wrote that sports hero Pat Tillman, who gave up football to enlist in the Army in 2002 and died in Iraq, deserved “at least, a cable TV biopic.” Bell seems to have never known, or have forgotten, the widely reported fact that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, that the Army took weeks to investigate and report its findings and that Tillman had grave doubts about the war in Iraq, although he believed in the US fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Reminded of these facts, Bell asserted, “I am calling for Hollywood writers and directors to make movies and TV shows depicting the heroic stories of the War on Terror, not for a whitewash of history.”
§ Confessing his aversion to “the modern food industry” and its penchant to substitute chemicals for natural ingredients, Bell confessed that this “leftist notion” about food could move him to “reach across the aisle and hug Nancy Pelosi…except this is a new shirt, and that sort of thing leaves a stain.”
§ Opposing condom ads on commercial TV during primetime, Bell wrote he did not have to worry about his own children being exposed to such advertising because he gets past all ads with his TiVo. “A little vigilance is all it takes–well, that and a couple hundred bucks for TiVo.” In an aside, he wisecracks, “Sorry, poor people, your kids are going to be asking you awkward questions about condoms.”
When nominated for the job, Bell joked that he had only one agenda: “No. More. Elmo.” Since then, Bell has downplayed his strident political views and declared that he will bring no agenda to public broadcasting. He now says he supports Sesame Street and other PBS children’s programming. Bell also told the Los Angeles Times that he’d like PBS to focus more on “scripted programming.”
But news, of course, is not scripted. Neither are hard-hitting, fact-based documentaries. A large question remains for members of the Senate Commerce Committee, tasked with confirming Bell: Can any man who so idolizes the President bear the thought of PBS and NPR speaking truth to power?