- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Patricia E. Mitchell, the PBS president and CEO who has been criticized by conservatives and liberals alike, said this week she will leave the job when her contract expires in June 2006.

The decision comes about three weeks after Ms. Mitchell withdrew an episode of the children’s series “Postcards from Buster” that briefly featured two women in a same-sex union, a segment Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has condemned.

A Public Broadcasting Service spokeswoman said the organization will assemble a committee in the next few months to find a successor for Ms. Mitchell.

PBS announced her departure in a statement released to the managers of its 349 member stations Monday, the New York Times reported yesterday.

The statement did not cite Ms. Mitchell’s reason for leaving, and included just one quote from her: “We have a lot to do in the next 15 months. I have a big agenda and am happy to be in the midst of spearheading some of PBS’ greatest successes.”

Ms. Mitchell was unavailable yesterday for further comment, said Lea Sadler, PBS spokeswoman.

When Ms. Mitchell signed her second three-year contract with PBS in 2003, she made it clear she probably would not return for a third term, said Ms. Sadler, who stressed that Ms. Mitchell’s departure did not stem from the “Postcards from Buster” brouhaha.

“This has nothing to do with ‘Buster,’ ” Ms. Sadler said.

Before PBS hired Ms. Mitchell as president and chief executive officer in 2000, she worked as a television producer and talk-show host, including a stint in the 1970s presiding over “Panorama” on WTTG-TV (Channel 5) in the Washington area.

Like her predecessors, Ms. Mitchell was criticized by conservatives who complained that PBS programming has a liberal bias.

But she also has come under fire from critics who said she has gone overboard trying to appease the right. These critics cite Ms. Mitchell’s decision to hire conservatives such as Tucker Carlson to host PBS series, as well as her decision to cut “Now,” a weekly newsmagazine once hosted by Bill Moyers, from one hour to 30 minutes.

“Pat Mitchell seemed more inclined to entertain her critics on the right. In that sense, she failed,” said Peter Hart, an analyst with Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a liberal group that monitors the press for bias.

PBS is funded by Congress, its member stations, individuals and private foundations. Sixteen percent of its revenue, or $517.3 million, came from the federal government in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

The budget President Bush submitted to Congress this month would essentially cut funding for all public broadcasting by about a quarter.

“Postcards with Buster” follows the adventures of an animated rabbit who interacts with real people.

In the episode Ms. Mitchell pulled, Buster travels to Vermont to see how maple syrup is made. He interacts with residents in the show, including two women in a same-sex union, although they are never identified as a couple on screen.

In a letter to Ms. Mitchell last month, Mrs. Spellings wrote that many parents would not want their children exposed to such a couple and asked PBS to consider returning the public money used to fund the show.

Ms. Mitchell agreed to pull the episode. PBS officials said she made the decision before she received Mrs. Spellings’ letter.

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