- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005


Big Bird and National Public Radio won a reprieve yesterday as the House restored $100 million that had been proposed as a budget cut for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The 284-140 vote came on the same day that CPB chose Patricia S. Harrison, a former Republican Party co-chairwoman, as its president and chief executive officer. Liberal activists immediately denounced Mrs. Harrison as “too partisan” to be in charge of public broadcasting.

The House vote followed a high-profile campaign Public Broadcasting Service undertook to have the proposed cut defeated. Lawmakers were flooded with letters and phone calls. The funding is part of a $142.5 billion spending bill for health, education and labor programs for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.

The House Appropriations Committee had cut $100 million from $400 million in previously enacted support. Republicans who favored the cuts said federal subsidies provide only about 15 percent of the public broadcasting budget. The rest comes from private and corporate donors, as well as licensing and royalties from programming.

The $100 million cut would amount to only about 4 percent of all spending on public broadcasting. “Big Bird and his friends can fly on their own,” said Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican.

Opponents of the cut said public broadcasting provides programming not available elsewhere. “Do we want to live in a society where pop culture dictates all that is offered on the airwaves?” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat.

CPB Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, a Republican appointee, recently made news by saying that public broadcasting is too liberal.

Mrs. Harrison, the assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, was selected after three days of closed meetings by the corporation’s board of directors. She was co-chairwoman of the RNC from 1997 to 2000.

Her appointment as CPB president “is a fatal blow to the historic political neutrality of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat.

Mr. Lautenberg, along with fellow Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, last week sent a letter to Mr. Tomlinson urging the CPB to put off choosing a new president and expressing concern about political interference in public broadcasting by Mr. Tomlinson.

Chellie Pingree, president and chief executive of the liberal group Common Cause said the Harrison appointment “sets the wrong tone” for public broadcasting.

“She has all the wrong experience and comes across as too partisan of a player for this particular job,” Miss Pingree said.

Political appointments in public broadcasting are not new, noted Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center. Frank Mankiewicz, former president of National Public Radio, had previously served as press secretary to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and as presidential campaign director for Sen. George McGovern.

“The problem we have here is that when Democrats work in public broadcasting, nobody seems to notice,” Mr. Graham said.

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