The Voice of Red America


Ken Tomlinson's tenure atop the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has received a lot of public attention. His simultaneous reign at the Broadcasting Board of Governors—the arm of the government that runs the Voice of America, Radio Sawa, Radio Marti, etc.—has not. Writing in The New Republic, Franklin Foer points out some parallels:

He has deployed a similar set of tactics: purging the bureaucracy of political enemies, zealously rooting out perceived "liberal bias," and generally politicizing institutions that have resisted ideological intrusions for decades. One of Tomlinson's fellow broadcasting governors told me, "In every story about the CPB, you could substitute BBG."

For the record, I'm not so sure that these outfits have "resisted ideological intrusions for decades." To take the most obvious example, Radio Marti wouldn't even exist if the U.S. weren't ideologically opposed to Fidel Castro, and its broadcasts have frequently reflected that fact. What Tomlinson has brought to the agency, by Foer's account, is something more insidious, or at least more vacuous: an infection of party politics. The Voice of America "exists to make America's case to the world," he writes, but lately "has focused far more intently on burnishing the image of the Bush administration and the Republican Party."

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  1. We’re all amazed that when politicos oversee media, the media get politicized!

  2. It takes rather a lot of cheek to assert that NPR and PBS were not politicized before Tomlinson. Public broadcasting fell prey to institutional hijacking long ago, becoming little more than megaphone for Leftist ideas.

    The ugly truth is that there is no such thing as a publicly funded institution that is apolitical. Attempts to shield such institutions from political interference also shield them from political oversight. Without oversight, the institutions inevitably become corrupted from within.

  3. Clearly, NPR and PBS have been politicized from the beginning — though it’s not true that they’re “little more” than a megaphone for the left. That’s beside the point, though, because the article isn’t about NPR and PBS.

  4. I think she’s referring to

    He has deployed a similar set of tactics

    If this were TV I think this would open the door for Matlock to bring up the subject of PBS, NPR, etc. Not that the prosecution wouldn’t object.

    though it’s not true that they’re “little more” than a megaphone for the left

    How about “almost entirely”?

  5. Jeese Walker,

    The “cheek” comment wasn’t aimed at you. Sorry if I gave that impression. It would, however, appear to me that from the context of the quoted section that Foer lumps NPR and PBS in with the supposedly previously apolitical institutions such as VOA.

    I haven’t been following this issue very closely but Foer doesn’t carry a lot of weight with me. He couldn’t even get the Bob Barr issue right and repeated the fallacy that Tomlinson’s report labled Bob Barr a Liberal when in fact he was correctly identified as a rightwing talk show quest that opposed specific Bush’s polices. The Tomlinson report argued that Barr was included to send the message,”See, the Bush policy is so bad that even some knuckle-dragging conservatives oppose it.” If Foer couldn’t get that right, I don’t think I will give much weight to the rest of his criticism.

    Personally, I think I will give it some time before I start wetting my pants over Tomlinson’s supposed “politicization” of the BBG.

  6. You’re right that it sounds like Foer was lumping in NPR and PBS with the allegedly non-ideological BBG. I suspect that that’s a matter more of sloppy writing than of cheek.

    That said: Unless Foer is misquoting everyone in the article, I think there’s a legitmate story here. Yeah, he got the Barr bit wrong. Journalists are careless sometimes. But that’s a reason to read his article critically, not to simply ignore the substantive reporting he’s done.

  7. ‘The Tomlinson report argued that Barr was included to send the message,”See, the Bush policy is so bad that even some knuckle-dragging conservatives oppose it.”‘

    Sic semper right wing “media analysis.” If there are lots of liberals, or mentions of liberals, it’s because they wuv liberals. If, as has always been the case with the Newshour, Republican guests significantly outnumber liberal guests, it’s because they’re dragging the the poor widdle Republicans to pick on them.

    My God, does anyone else remember when PBS ran a special on the history of Islam, and didn’t even use the term “homocide bomber” even once? Oh, the horror, the abject bias!

  8. Jesse Walker,

    I don’t know if there is actually a story here or not. Certainly, there is no reason why Tomlinson or anyone else couldn’t be abusing government controlled media for partisan political ends.

    However, it appears to me that same people who were shocked that anyone could think that PBS was politically slanted are now shocked that anyone could think that the BGG is likewise slanted and in need of political oversight. Since I believe that PBS is rather badly slanted, it causes me to doubt the perceptiveness of Tomlinson’s accusers in this matter. If they were wrong about PBS, which I can confirm by switching on my TV, I think it likely they are wrong about BGG.

    Of course, it is also possible that PBS and BGG have been hijacked by Leftist AND that Tomlinson and the rightwing is also hijacking them in turn.

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