It's becoming increasingly clear that Kenneth Tomlinson, the Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which oversees public television and radio, doesn't let the facts get in the way of his crusade over what he considers fairness and balance.
For months, he's been telling reporters that PBS stations suffer from a liberal bias, despite the fact that CPB's own internal polling has demonstratedtwicethat the vast majority of Americans have no problem with PBS's objectivity.
Today's New York Times reports that Tomlinson is now moving to set up a monitor to oversee NPR's Middle East coverage to check it for bias, too. That, despite the fact that Tomlinson must know that CPB polling data already shows Americans don't think NPR has a bias problem when it comes to Middle East reporting.
According to the Times, "Mr. Tomlinson had heard complaints about the coverage from a board member, Cheryl Halpern, a former chairwoman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and leading party fund-raiser whose family has business interests in Israel. The corporation has also heard complaints from Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California."
The paper adds, "Late last year, without notifying board members or NPR, Mr. Tomlinson contacted S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a research group, about conducting a study on whether NPR's Middle East coverage was more favorable to Arabs than to Israelis, Mr. Lichter said. He added that although there were follow-up conversations as recently as February, officials at the corporation had not moved ahead with the project."
What the Times fails to mention is that CPB, using taxpayer money, has already polled Americans as to whether they think NPR's Middle East coverage suffers from a liberal bias. The overwhelming response: No.
In a survey of 1,008 adults conducted between June 29 and July 2, 2003, pollsters from the Terrance Group, which has GOP ties, and Lake, Snell, Perry, which has Democratic ties, asked, "Do you think NPR coverage of the Middle East has a pro-Isreal bias, a pro-Arab bias, no apparent bias, or do you have no opinion on this?" Six percent thought NPR had a pro-Israel bias, while five cent thought the radio network had a pro-Arab bias.
Statistically, the results are essentially irrelevant since so few people think NPR has a bias one way or another. But Tomlinson seems to want to spend more money on polling in hopes of getting different results, raising additional questions about whether he's really after fairness and balance or just interested in pushing his own agenda.