Republican Suppression of the First Amendment

Congress created The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in 1967. It is a private, non-profit organization that funds over 1,000 public television and radio stations in the U.S. using an annual appropriation from Congress. The CPB also funds producers, educators and technology specialists for the development of new public television and radio programming and new media.

In addition to setting broad policies for public broadcasting, the CPB was to be a firewall between political influence and political content. But in 2004, CPB Chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, without the knowledge of his board, contracted with an outside consultant to keep track of the political leanings of guests on "Now With Bill Moyers." Some public broadcasting leaders, including the chief executive of PBS, worried that his actions posed a threat to editorial independence.

On the recommendation of Republican administration officials, Mr. Tomlinson hired the director of the White House Office of Global Communications as a senior staff member while she was still on the White House staff. She helped draft guidelines governing the work of two journalists hired in April to serve as ombudsmen charged with assembling reports on PBS content for the first time in nearly forty years.

Mr. Tomlinson also encouraged corporation and public broadcasting officials to broadcast "The Journal Editorial Report," whose host at the time was, Paul Gigot, editor of the conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. While a search firm was hired to find a successor for Kathleen A. Cox, CPB president, Mr. Tomlinson made it clear to the board that his choice was Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and an assistant secretary of state at the time.

"CPB chairman Tomlinson’s actions were seen as pushing a pro-Republican and pro-Bush administration agenda in the guise of building conservative balance. Others worried that such meddling in content would turn PBS into a publicly funded version of the Fox News Channel – forced to make space for GOP talking points.

"If we look at CPB-PBS history, funding has changed under Mr. Bush. In planning for FY 2004-2008, the Bush administration did not request advance funding for CPB. And for FY 2005 funding ($380 million) was reduced by 0.8% across the board recession of P.L. 108-447. "I have already noticed this influence in my part of the country since Republican commentators keep popping up. " (1)

The outward signs of PBS’s nod to conservatives were hard to miss. New shows for The Wall Street Journal editorial board and new-school conservative Tucker Carlson, the departure of Bill Moyers from his newsmagazine and the decision to hold back an episode of a children’s show featuring a family headed by a lesbian couple after criticism from then Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Bill Moyers, former host of the weekly "Now With Bill Moyers" program on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) asked, "Who are these people obsessed with control – who use the government to threaten and intimidate, who enlist the sons and daughters of the working class in a war to make sure Ahmad Chalabi (2) winds up controlling Iraq’s oil, who turn faith-based initiatives into a slush fund and who encourage the pious to look heavenward and pray so as not to see the long arm of privilege and power picking their pockets, who say any deviations from the Official view is unpatriotic heresy?

"Who are these people who squelch free speech and broadcast their orthodoxy as the official view of reality from which any deviation becomes unpatriotic heresy? They give us ‘No Child Left Behind’ while cutting funds for educating disadvantaged kids. They give us legislation cheerily calling for ‘Clear Skies’ and ‘healthy Forests’ and give us neither. And that’s just for starters." (3)

Richard Bradley. Former executive editor of George Magazine, author of American Son: A Portrait of John F. Kennedy Jr., and who was writing a book about Harvard University wrote on May 27 that the cable channel Showtime would air a short film about birth control that contradicts everything the Bush administration believes about sex education.

"Toothpaste" which was apparently teen slang for condoms focuses on two teenage girls considering sex with their boyfriends. Four high school girls from Mission, Texas, a town where some 37 girls out of every 1,000 become pregnant by the age of 17, made the film. The Bush administration policy towards sex education is abstinence and some faith-based groups that receive federal tax funds for sex education discourage condom use.

In an age when pop culture was excessively scrutinized by right-wing crusaders looking for a political fight, Showtime’s decision to air "Toothpaste" took guts. Especially since Showtime’s corporate parent, Viscom, also owns CBS, which tangled with the White House (and lost) over the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident. Now content with overseeing broadcast television, the FCC is now considering regulating cable.

Conservative groups such as the American Family Association and the Parents Television Council have been pressuring members of Congress to extend the agency’s authority to monitor cable content, and Republicans such as Ted Stevens, Alaska and Congressman Joe Barton, Texas, along with FCC head, Kevin Martin like the idea.

When you look at Showtime’s lineup in its entirety, however, it becomes clear that it’s not just homosexuality or sex that dominates the channel, but rather a portrait of an America more diverse, more complicated and more realistic than what you’ll read in, say, Lynne Cheney’s kids’ books.

"Family Business" is about an average guy trying to make a living in the adult film industry. "Out of Order" was another portrayal of a heterosexual marriage that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Meanwhile, "Penn & Teller: Bullshit" where two performers debunk "nonsense peddlers and how they operate" stands in opposition to "our increasingly anti-intellectual, anti-science culture". Given its attitude towards Darwin, stem cells and global warming, the Bush White House may be the greatest promoter of that culture.

Incidentally, on a C-Span program, the honorable John Conyers Jr. D., Michigan chaired a hearing on attempts by the Bush machine to set the tone of media coverage. For instance, Republican guests on Fox News outnumber Democrats 8 to 1; Disney created Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 then refused to distribute it. The work was criticized on National Public Radio (NPR) revealing the struggle between reporting and manipulation.

The panel was made up of liberal journalists, written and electronic. Guests including Steven Rendall, Senior Analyst Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Al Franken, Joe Madison, Talk Show Host, XM Satellite Radio, The Power, Randi Rhodes, Talk Show Host, Air America Radio, Randi Rhodes Show, Justin Webb, Senior Correspondent, BBC, Washington, Eric Alterman, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, Mark Lloyd, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, John Aravosis, Internet Columnist and David Brock, President and CEO, Media Matters for America.

Several journalists brought up "The Downing Street Memo," to David Manning from Matthew Rycroft that was timely printed in The New York Times. The reference was to "Iraq: Prime Minister’s Meeting July 23, 2003. It was tagged "Secret and strictly personal – UK eyes only."

Copies of the memo went to Defense Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C [CDS and C are not identified but C may be a reference to the director of MI6] Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastar Campbell with the notation, "This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents."

John Scarlett summarized the intelligence and latest JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee?) assessment. "Saddam’s regime was tough and based on fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbors to line up with the U.S.

"C" said that during recent talks in Washington, there was a perceptible shift in attitude. Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. The intelligence and facts were being fixed around that policy. Military action was now seen as inevitable.

The National Security Council (NSC) had no patience with the UN route, and there was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action. CDS said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on August 1, 2 Rumsfeld on August 3 and Bush on August 4.

The Attorney General asserted that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defense, humanitarian intervention or United Nations Security Council authorization. The first and second could not be the base in this case and relying on UNSC resolution 1205 of three years ago would be difficult.

The Prime Minister suggested that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow the UN inspectors in Iraq. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political contexts were right, people would support regime change.

"The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work. On the first, CDS said that we do not know yet if the US battle plan was workable. The military were continuing to ask a lot of questions. For instance, what were the consequences if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban war fighting began? What if Saddam uses his WMD on Kuwait or on Israel, asked the Defense secretary.

In the May 15, 2005 Washington Post the paper’s ombudsman, Michael Getler wrote that his email inbox was mobbed last week by write-in campaigns provoked by two self-described liberal media watchdog organizations. Mr. Getler also wrote that he was ‘amazed that The Post took almost two weeks to follow up on the Times report.

"The key line in the leaked memo, in my view, is the assessment by British intelligence, after a visit to Washington, that the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.’ Critics and commentators have made that kind of assertion, but it has not been included in official post-invasion assessments here about how the country went to war under what turned out to be false premises about weapons of mass destruction and other matters. Investigating that assessment, coming from the key US ally in the war, certainly seems journalistically mandatory. Indeed, while official US commissions and committees have documented just how bad US intelligence was, they stopped short of assessing what happened to that intelligence after it was prepared."

Back then, "Hearst Newspaper’s columnist Helen Thomas lamented that Britons and Americans – in her judgment – no longer care about the credibility and accountability of their leaders. I am not surprised at the duplicity. But I am astonished at the acceptance of this deception by voters in the United States and the United Kingdom. I’ve seen two US presidents go down the drain – Lyndon B. Johnson on Vietnam and Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal – because they were no longer believed. But times change – and I guess our values do, too." (4)

On balance, since Mr. Tomlinson wanted scrutiny of PBS programming by the CPB, the Showtime rebellion in the face of resistance to their program content and the lack of coverage on the Downing Street Memo with its damning implications made a convincing argument that media control was a White House priority.

The intractable war in Iraq has dragged on. Yet, Mr. Bush doesn’t say he made a mistake. He claims we are fighting terrorism in Iraq. He doesn’t say terrorists weren’t in the Iraq battle plan until we showed up. If an American citizen suggests withdrawal; they are admonished for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Or, as Archie Bunker would say to his wife, Edith, whenever she had a different opinion – "Stifle it."


1. Stephen Labaton, Lorne Manly & Elizabeth Jensen – New York Times May 2, 2005

2. The Pentagon was paying $340,000 a month to the Iraqi National Congress led by Ahmad Chalabi

3. Addressing the National Conference on Media Reform in St. Louis on May 15 – The Baltimore Sun May 26, 2005

4. See footnote 1