“I frankly feel at PBS headquarters there is a tone deafness to issues of tone and balance,” Kenneth Tomlinson, the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said in May. Since he was appointed to his position by President Bush, he has set about to change the “tone” and rectify the “balance.” For example, he helped secure $4 million to fund Wall Street Journal Report, a round-table discussion featuring the newspaper’s right-wing editorial board; no liberals or Democrats need apply. Next he collaborated with Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, to kill a legislative proposal that would have required appointments with local broadcasting experience to the CPB board. Last year, to justify his campaign for balance, Tomlinson commissioned a secret study to prove that certain programs aired on PBS radio and television are contaminated with liberal bias.
To carry out this delicate task, Tomlinson selected Fred Mann, a conservative activist with no credentials as an expert on journalism, broadcasting or media issues, who was obscure even within right-wing circles. Mann was paid $14,700 in taxpayer money to monitor a sampling of PBS shows and file a report to Tomlinson on the political partisanship of their content. Tomlinson seems to have planned for Mann’s report to become a seminal conservative document. Republicans would wave it during House appropriations committee hearings as they argued for defunding PBS and realigning its programming. Right-wing talk jocks would blare talking points based on Mann’s disturbing findings, which would at last provide definitive proof of a liberal media tilt. Meanwhile, insidious liberal activists boring from within public broadcasting studios would cower in humiliation from the exposure.
While Mann diligently went about his work listening to the radio and watching TV, monitoring episodes of PBS’s NOW With Bill Moyers, The Diane Rehm Show and The Tavis Smiley Show, Tomlinson concealed his activities from CPB’s board. When Mann filed his detailed report, Tomlinson hid it from the CPB board. Only an internal investigation by CPB’s inspector general in mid May revealed the existence of the Mann report. And only when journalists at NPR managed to secure a copy were its contents reported. Reading the study, it is clear why Tomlinson tried to keep it a state secret.
The Mann report reads as if dictated by Cookie Monster while chewing on a mouthful of lead paint chips. Names of famous political figures and celebrities are chronically misspelled. PBS guests are categorized by labels–“anti-DeLay,” “neutral,” “x”–for often bewildering reasons. Mann appears to have spent endless hours monitoring programs with no political content, gathering such insights as that Ray Charles was blind.
Mann begins each of his PBS program summaries with a chart showing guests’ ideological leanings. An “L” denotes guests he judges to be liberal; “C” beside conservatives; “N” beside those who are neutral. Among those Mann designated as conservative is the ex-rapper and actor Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg, best known for his role as a well-endowed porn star in the film Boogie Nights. While Wahlberg used his June 2, 2004, appearance on The Tavis Smiley Show to promote juvenile justice programs–a liberal hallmark–he also said in passing, according to Mann, that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ “was a good thing.” Another Tavis Smiley guest, Everlast, the rock-rapper who once fronted the Irish-American rap trio House of Pain, was dubbed a “C” for his opinion that some rap music is “sending a bad message to youth.” And Henry Rollins, the former singer for the legendary hardcore-punk band Black Flag, was labeled conservative for stating, in Mann’s words, that “people who have problems with the war should support the troops.” Apparently, feeling sympathy for American servicemen and women is strictly “C.”