Sunday, July 03, 2005

Passive Censorship at CPB

It's seldom a sign that someone respects your integrity when they have you secretly investigated.

The Moderate Republican has a nice roundup of the issues around Corporation for Public Broadcasting president Thomlinson hiring a partisan firm to assess the content of NPR programs for liberal bias. The crux is this: even avowed and proven conservatives like Chuck Hagel were counted as 'liberal' when they questioned Bush Administration policy.

In medicine, we speak of 'observation bias'. For example, if a patient knows the doctor is doing a study to see how often he takes his medications on time, he'll take them more reliably than he usually would, just because he's being watched. Even if no official policies come out of this study at CPB, journalists in public broadcasting must now realize their careers would not be helped by being consistantly critical of the government--who knows what other secret investigations are still ongoing.

We fought and won the Cold War to prevent this.

Now I have no doubt that the CPB executives have the best intentions of journalistic integrity at heart; that they truly believe that there is a preponderance of liberal content in public broadcasting and wish to bring balance for the public good. In fact, I'm inclined to believe the investigation's findings, having listened to Dianne Rehm for a few years (although I'd like to see a study by a truly impartial firm). But as is often the case, it is the means not the end which has the most potential for harm. When journalists are not treated as professionals by their own employers, the public's distrust is not far behind.

The integrity of journalism has been taking enough hits from the failings of journalists themselves these days. If there were systematic features of newsgathering organizations further casting doubt on the reliability of the news, Americans will have lost a valuable institution and a vital piece of democracy.


At 5:05 PM, Blogger Jiminy McCricket said...

I enjoyed your comments. I would add:

It is striking that this story has not been widely discussed in light of the fundamental difference between PBS and any other station, namely, that it is not owned by a company with the usual corporate interests and biases. If the definition of liberal bias is essential to our conversation here, how can we fail to speak of GE? Or Ted Turner? I would suggest that it is evidence of effective control of the media, that the discussions of liberal vs. conservative now take place almost exclusively in the cultural context, not the economic context.

Awkwardly phrased, but I must now go home.


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