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Tomlinson Praises Lehrer; Pushes Balance

Praising The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer as a "model for broadcast journalism," CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson said Monday the service will continue to "broaden support for public broadcasting," while "eliminating the perception of political bias."

These days that perception of bias charge could be coming from either right or left, depending on whom you ask.

Conservatives argue the service leans liberal, while liberals now argue it is being co-opted by conservatives.

Tomlinson was responding generally in a statement to some specific allegations in a New York Times story, including that he had, in the past, hired a consultant to monitor the talking heads on Bill Moyers' NOW for political balance, and had hired someone from the Bush White House to draw up new guidelines for the service.

Media Activists have complained that Tomlinson is trying to engineer a conservative takeover of the system, while Tomlinson has argued he is trying to bring balance to it.

Tomlinson would not comment on the specific allegations, instead saying in a statement: "We will continue to engage in activities supportive of good journalism and program creativity while also seeking to broaden support for public broadcasting."

Tomlinson suggested the move was necessary, perhaps even crucial, to PBS' survival: "Today’s television viewers face a multitude of program selections that has in some areas eroded the base of support for public television," he said. "Some even have gone so far as to suggest the economic model for public broadcasting is in jeopardy."

Acting CPB President Ken Ferree earlier in the day defended a move to include more conservative voices on stations supported in part by taxpayer dollars.

“I’d urge you to think seriously about diversity of opinion as you consider ways to serve your audiences,” he told a group of public radio execs. “CPB, funded as it is with taxpayer dollars and guided as it is by statutory language, has special responsibilities to strive toward objectivity and balance.  Frankly, I don’t think any of us should ever aim at a lower standard.  As public broadcasters, our goal should be to expand and enlighten public discourse; offering a wide range of views is one way to do that.”

Online activist group Free Press ( responded to the NYT story with a call for the ouster of Tomlinson, including an e-mail to supporters asking them to sign an online petition to that effect.