"Baloney" is what Ken Ferree, acting president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, called media activists' suggestions that he lacks sufficient commitment to the public interest to run the organization, which is charged with doling out federal dollars to noncommercial stations and programming producers around the country.
Ferree said Monday he wants to be considered for CPB's permanent president post but can't handicap his chances in the board's search for candidates.
On learning of Ferree's interim appointment Friday following the abrupt resignation of Kathleen Cox, leaders of several activist groups, including the Center for Digital Democracy and Common Cause, lashed out. Cox's departure, they lamented, was engineered by Republican board members pushing public broadcasting content rightward.
The hiring of Ferree as CPB chief operating officer only only a few weeks earlier was one manifestation of that direction, the said.
Before joining CPB, Ferree served as Media Bureau chief under Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell. Powell and Ferree voiced skepticism about the activist group's demand for new public interest obligations on commercial broadcasters, but Ferree says that stand does not indicate he feels broadcasters have no substantive duties to serve the public interest.
"I don't know where they come up with the stuff," he said during a telephone call from Las Vegas, where he was attending a public broadcasting conference. "It has no basis in anything I've said on the record or in private. It's not what I think."
Ferree complained that the personal attacks against him were simply one way of waging political attacks on CPB's leadership change.
Ferree said he believes free media and free broadcasting in particular serve an increasingly important role in American society and that all broadcasters have a duty to serve the public's media needs.
"You can argue plenty about what those obligations should be, but to say I don't support substantive public interest obligations is wrong."
Ferree predicted that his critics will eventually end up "agreeing with everything we intend to do" to strengthen public broadcasting.
Ferree said he joined CPB because of his interest in free media and a desire to work in media operations, not just law and regulation, as he has at the FCC and in private law practice.
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below