- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

David Brancaccio didn’t know he was being watched so closely.

The New York Times reported this week that the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has quietly investigated the program Mr. Brancaccio hosts — the weekly PBS newsmagazine “Now” — for examples of bias against the Bush administration.

No one was more surprised by the news than Mr. Brancaccio himself.

“I guess I am flattered by the attention,” he said yesterday from the Erie Canal, where he is taping an upcoming segment on working conditions there. “It’s nice to know someone is watching. Sometimes I feel like I’m a voice in the wilderness.”

The congressionally chartered CPB channels federal funding to PBS. Its chairman — Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, a Bush appointee — hired a consultant last year to keep track of the political leanings of the guests interviewed on “Now,” the Times reported.

Mr. Tomlinson never shared the results of his review with his board of directors or the public. A CPB spokesman said Mr. Tomlinson was not available yesterday.

Mr. Brancaccio — who made his name hosting the business program “Marketplace” on public radio — said “Now” doesn’t have it in for the White House.

“We do reporting that probably makes the people in power uncomfortable. If it was a different administration, we’d be asking the same kinds of questions,” he said.

And what questions “Now” asks.

The program, which airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on WETA-TV (Channel 26) in the Washington area, is one of the last outposts in prime time where viewers can see serious topics examined.

The three-year-old show has done extensive reporting on the Patriot Act, the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to loosen media regulations and the war on terror.

Mr. Tomlinson may worry that “Now” is too hard on the administration, but Mr. Brancaccio said Mr. Tomlinson has not tried to persuade him to tone it down. “I’m not being leaned on,” he said.

Bill Moyers — a longtime target of conservatives — co-hosted “Now” until December, when he departed amid deep cuts by PBS in the program’s budget. In January, the show’s length was slashed from one hour to 30 minutes.

The tone of the show has not changed much since Mr. Moyers left, although it does a better job connecting how decisions in Washington affect the lives of everyday Americans. Last month, it concluded an intimate series on economic insecurities.

Because of the budget cuts, “Now” has been forced to devote one program each month to interviews, which are cheaper to produce than investigative reports. This week’s guests: Janeane Garofalo, a liberal actress, and Bob Barr, a Republican who represented Georgia in the House from 1995 to 2003.

The news of Mr. Tomlinson’s investigation into “Now” caught some by surprise because a CPB survey in 2003 found most respondents believe PBS is fair.

Gauging bias in PBS programming is difficult because it airs so many independently produced documentaries, said S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a Washington group that studies bias.

“Anybody who tells you they know how balanced or biased PBS is is speculating,” he said.

• Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to [email protected].

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