“Nothing in the report dicloses Woodhull’s conflict of interest,” conservative talk-show host Mark Levin blogged on the conservative National Review Online. “You’re led to believe that the findings were unbiased and untainted. It now turns out that the author has a direct financial interest in using the government to dismantle conservative talk radio.”
Mr. Woodhull agreed that there should have been a note about his affiliation in the report.
“I think that’s fair that perhaps there should have been something indicating that in the report,” he said yesterday, adding that his contributions were mainly in the form of providing anecdotes, “a minor sentence here, a paragraph there.”
“I was basically a first-hand eyewitness to the inception of the format,” he said. “They did ask me to take a look at it, to make sure they didn’t make any errors” in classifying a station as conservative or “progressive.”
Theodore LeCompte, spokesman for the Center for American Progress, said Mr. Woodhull’s industry connections do not compromise the report’s impartiality.
“We asked him to contribute to the report because of his expertise as a programmer,” Mr. LeCompte said. “I think the data would stand up to any statistical scrutiny.”
Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said research from advocacy groups should be looked at differently than from groups “that are really trying to do social science in a disinterested way, and whose findings vary depending on what they’re studying.”
“But basically if there’s any possibility that people might imagine there’s a conflict of interest or something in your background is relevant, then it’s better to disclose,” he added.
The report, with Mr. Inhofe’s account of the Boxer-Clinton conversation, gave rise to speculation that lawmakers may try to revive the “Fairness Doctrine,” a rule that required broadcasters to give equal time to opposing viewpoints. The Federal Communications Commission repealed it in 1987, saying it violated the First Amendment and did not further the public interest.
“I don’t think either senator is so stupid as to say such a thing and mean it,” said Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers magazine said. “It’s just unworkable and it could backfire for either party.”
Mr. Inhofe said he heard talk recently on the Senate floor of reviving the doctrine but didn’t know of any specific plans.
“I think every Democrat senator would be in favor of that and certainly every Democrat running for president,” he said, adding that he would fight such a measure “with every fiber of my being. It’s unconstitutional.”