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Sparks fly at PBS hearing

Public broadcasting was back on the hot seat in front of Congress Wednesday,
this time with National Public Radio catching flak from Republicans for what
they called "inappropriate" reporting about the Traditional Values Coalition, a
conservative Christian organization.

In general, the TVC finds NPR's reporting to be liberally biased, TVC executive
director Andrea Lafferty said. But the TVC has been specifically upset with NPR since
early last winter.

Last January, the TVC received a call from NPR reporter David Kestenbaum, who was
looking into comments by federal investigators that right-wing groups were
possible suspects in the October anthrax attacks on Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.)
and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Kestenbaum remembered a press release the TVC issued in
August 2001 complaining that the senators supported removing the words "so help
me God" from swearings-in.

That press release led Kestenbaum to call the TVC and ask if the group "had been
contacted by the FBI yet," Lafferty said. Lafferty immediately issued a press
release about Kestenbaum's phone call: "National Public Radio is the broadcast
arm of the liberal establishment," it said.

Three weeks later, NPR ran a story that included the following: "One group
who had a gripe with Daschle and Leahy is the Traditional Values Coalition,
which, before the attacks, had issued a press release criticizing the senators
for trying to remove the phrase `so help me God' from the oath. The Traditional
Values Coalition, however, told me the FBI had not contacted them and then
issued a press release saying NPR was in the pocket of the Democrats and trying
to frame them."

The appearance of the story further upset the TVC, which said NPR was accusing it
of attempted murder. NPR president Kevin Klose apologized publicly to Lafferty
during the hearing, but Lafferty said this was not enough and called for an end
to all federal funding of NPR.

Members were split down party lines over the complaint.

House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) said the incident causes
him to feel "conflicted" about public broadcasting and gives him the "feeling
that there is not necessarily objective coverage all the time."

Meanwhile, Democrats were steadfast in their support of public broadcasting
and called for additional federal funding for the service.