Whatever Karl Rove’s fate, and however Thursday’s terrorist attack in London mitigates or affects that fate, we will be living with his handiwork -- a giant spin machine fueled by tremendous wealth and government power -- for the foreseeable future. For example, the recent dual controversies concerning PBS funding and management are classic Rove. The very same day the House Appropriations Committee voted to restore $100 million of the amount they had cut from the budget, the CPB voted to make Patricia de Stacy Harrison its new president.
Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, appeared on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on June 24 to discuss these events. Goodman put the issue right on the table: “Would it be too cynical to say that the Republicans decided to restore the funding cuts now that the person in charge of the CPB that will get the money is the former co-chair of the Republican Party?” Karr seemed a little rattled by the question and reminded Goodman that “phones were ringing off the hook. Organizations like Free Press, MoveOn, Common Cause, and others have mobilized millions of Americans to speak out against these cuts.”
But Juan Gonzalez pressed the point: “But would it be even more cynical to speculate that the move to cut the funding was actually to some degree an attempt to take the heat off the actual move to put Harrison in, and in essence, get the public concerned about restoring funding more than Harrison getting into office?” Now he’s thinking like Rove.
Harrison was a senior official at the State Department, where she produced video news releases (VNRs) promoting “the good news” about the war in Iraq. Even more problematic than the VNRs themselves was the fact that they were usually aired as if they were the result of independent, local reporting. Harrison was supposedly hired for the CPB post after an exhaustive search, but her real qualifications seem to be her production of discredited VNRs and her long history with Kenneth Tomlinson, current chair of the CPB. Harrison’s propaganda efforts dovetail nicely with Tomlinson’s background with Voice of America, our overseas government propaganda network. Bill Moyers (in another Democracy Now! interview) said of Tomlinson, “I think he thinks like a propagandist.”
Summarizing Tomlinson’s and Harrison’s backgrounds (Democracy Now! June 24, see above) Timothy Karr concluded,
So, what we are seeing here is a fairly well-orchestrated campaign to turn non-commercial media, Public Broadcasting, into yet another mouthpiece of the official white House view.
Amy Goodman: Into state media?
Timothy Karr: Into state media.
Many liberals may undervalue the importance of this neo-con push to take over PBS, believing that the government’s unquestionable domination of the five corporate media giants and conservative talk radio already amounts to state media. We appreciate the cunning involved in planting a fake reporter like Jeff Gannon in the midst of the White House Press Corps and recognize the evil genius of getting Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper to protect Karl Rove as a “source,” and wrongly conclude that all the damage that can be done has been done. We argue -- with good reason -- that PBS has already been heavily co-opted by corporate and conservative interests, and PBS sinks to the bottom of the long list of the things we must protect today. But we’re not thinking like Rove.
In a classic Rove set-up, you not only neutralize a negative, you flip it into a positive. That’s what a neo-con takeover of PBS would do. First of all, they don’t call it totalitarianism for nothing. They cannot afford to leave any openings for free speech, especially if and when conditions deteriorate and more repressive measures of control are required.
Secondly, PBS is highly regarded; decades of objectivity and fairness make it one of the most trusted news sources for people of all backgrounds, working class, middle class, poor. Mining that reputation for political advantage would be the equivalent of Bush’s use of Colin Powell. Like Powell’s reputation, PBS’s good name would only last for a limited amount of time, but if that time is put to good use, well, we’re in Iraq, aren’t we?
Moreover, the Bushitters on the Appropriations Committee specifically targeted monies earmarked for the prestigious Ready to Learn programming that helps pre-schoolers, particularly in poorer families, prepare for school -- or catch up. Maintaining popular ignorance is an essential neo-con objective. PBS’s children’s programming also inculcates the value of tolerance, which works against the divisiveness our American fascists require. The House strategically targeted money essential to converting PBS stations to digital technology, as well. Without that money, many small stations will just close up shop, leaving lots of people in rural (red) areas with virtually no real news.
Beyond that, PBS, specifically in the person of Bill Moyers, represents, as no other MSM outlet does, a particular ideal of journalism that is in danger of being swept out of living memory. That is why Ken Tomlinson illegally hired GOP shills to monitor Moyers when he was hosting the invaluable NOW and continues to smear him even though Moyers left the show in 2004. Moyers’ sin is that he simply refuses to stay in the box the neo-cons have fashioned for “journalists.” Moyers at the National Conference on Media Reform in May:
Who are they? I mean the people obsessed with control using the government to threaten and intimidate; I mean the people who are hollowing out middle class security even as they enlist the sons and daughters of the working class to make sure Ahmad Chalabi winds up controlling Iraq’s oil; I mean the people who turn faith-based initiatives into Karl Rove’s slush fund; who encourage the pious to look heavenward and pray so as not to see the long arm of privilege and power picking their pockets; I mean the people who squelch free speech in an effort to obliterate dissent and consolidate their orthodoxy into the official view of reality from which any deviation becomes unpatriotic heresy. That’s who I mean. And if that’s editorializing, so be it. A free press is one where it’s okay to state the conclusion you’re led to by the evidence.
And then there is Democracy Now!, which is available to a majority of its audience through NPR, National Public Radio. NPR is also funded by the CPB. Even the remote possibility of losing Democracy Now! on NPR is simply unimaginable. But if you don’t think she’s a serious threat, you’re not thinking like Rove.
Consider the following recent bombshell stories that are the matter-of-fact bread and butter of Democracy Now!:
June 30, 2005, “Bush Orders FBI Changes; ACLU Warns of ‘Secret Police Force’”
July 7, 2005, “Republican Congressmember Investigates Climate Scientists”
These aren’t the kind of stories you’re going to see anywhere else. Imagine them gathered together into one regular broadcast available to virtually every house in America on a local PBS channel. That’s Bill Moyers’ vision, stated at the Media Reform Conference and repeated on Democracy Now! (DN!, June 22, above):
I would like for your audience of listeners, viewers, readers to besiege the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, and our stations, to get Democracy Now! as a regular broadcast in the programming of public television. I’m serious about this. We need this kind of broadcast. I mean, CPB is spending some $4 million to $5 million of taxpayer moneys to put a broadcast on with the editorial board, the right wing editorial board, of the Wall Street Journal.
We need to think constantly in terms of a two-pronged approach, which includes the battle of the moment and the media. Taking the simmering negative PBS is becoming and turning it into a spectacular positive is a strategy worthy of Karl Rove, requiring the patience and perseverance of Karl Rove.
Go to the website of your local PBS station and tell them you want your Democracy Now! -- and go back and do it again after they send you a polite letter refusing your request; according to FCC regulations, all these comments must remain on file. Show up at the next public board meeting and demand it.
We need to reach out to all PBS’s neglected constituencies and remind people how much they count on programs like NOW, Frontline, and In the Life. Even heretofore uncontroversial science and nature programming may become endangered, now that an informed belief in global warming has apparently become grounds for a congressional investigation. Working together, I believe this is a fight we can win.
And by the way -- the invincible Bill Moyers, who warned Republicans that their attacks might have the unintended consequence of compelling him “out of the rocking chair and back into the anchor chair,” is already back on PBS, as the anchor of the international news show Wide Angle.
Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She is also a frequent contributor to MandateTHIS.org. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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