Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Deadline Pundit Returns

Deadline Pundit
The blogosphere was just immeasurably enriched by the arrival of Ian Williams, the Deadline Pundit.

I worked with Williams during an earlier gig as editor of the Globalvision News Network, a noble attempt to do Reuters and AP one better by delivering world news as reported by those who actually lived in the countries affected -- and not through the lens of Anglo-American scribes parachuted in after the fact.

Ian had the uncanny ability to deliver by 8:30am more than 1,000 words of sage, well-crafted commentary on the world news of the day -- a feat I will forever admire.

While the New Network went the way of most dot-coms, I am heartened that Ian's work will live on. Read the Deadline Pundit.

Friday, November 18, 2005

What We Don't Know about Karl

Yesterday, public interest groups sent a letter to Corporation for Public Broadcasting calling for full public disclosure of all evidence of communications between top CPB board members and the White House.

Under the lens
In the letter Free Press, the Center for Digital Democracy and Common Cause demand the immediate release of all evidence uncovered during a recently completed Inspector General's investigation -- including e-mail correspondence between ex-CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson and White House adviser Karl Rove.

The CPB's Inspector General Kenneth Konz struck this correspondence and other potentially damaging evidence from the version of the report that CPB released to the public on November 15.

The CPB board and the Inspector General must not be permitted to maintain a "secret dossier" on potential illegal and unethical activities. Jeff Chester of CDD said, "They should immediately disclose all the information related to efforts to force programming changes onto PBS and NPR. The public needs to know whether high-ranking White House officials dictated or influenced public broadcasting content."

The Inspector General's report describes "e-mails between the former Chairman and staff in the Executive Office of the President that, while cryptic in nature … [give] the appearance that the former Chairman was strongly motivated by political considerations in filling the President/CEO position." The CPB board ultimately selected Patricia Harrison, a seasoned GOP operative and former co-chair of the Republican Party, as president.

The Other Ken
Statements given to reporters by Inspector General Konz indicate that Tomlinson boasted in emails to Rove and other White House officials about his efforts to turn public broadcasting to the right. According to Bloomberg News, Tomlinson wrote to Rove that he was "finding programs to balance the Moyers report" and working "to shake up" the organization and hire Republican staff. The White House refused to cooperate with Konz's investigation.

The CPB needs to come clean about the full extent of the Bush administration's efforts to interfere with PBS and NPR. Until now they have secreted away the most damning evidence in the report behind a flimsy wall of "confidentially agreements."

The CPB board can't simply sweep this under the rug and tell us to trust them. The American people must be allowed to judge the evidence themselves.

The Inspector General's report released on Nov. 15 cites delivery of a "separate investigative report, along with specific evidence indicating possible wrongdoing, to the Board for their disposition." PBS President Patricia Harrison has refused to release the e-mails and other documents contained in this separate report, citing the confidentiality agreements as rationale.

Konz provides further detail in an interview with the Communications Daily:
Konz said that he "couldn't accede to media requests to release his 'investigative report' because his review found improprieties cited in the report didn't amount to criminal offenses, but 'rather conduct issues.' The IG's overall conclusions were in his public report, he said. He gave the board the investigative report to 'provide a full understanding of the nature and extent to action taken by various officials.' Because many of the documents contain 'proprietary information and relate to confidential business and personal matters,' he said, 'I see no reason for us to release the investigative report.'"
As a private corporation, the CPB doesn't come under the Freedom of Information Act, according to Konz.

A congressional investigation, such as the one requested by Senator Byron Dorgan (Dem-ND) -- who this week asked the Senate Commerce Committee to hold hearings on Tomlinson's actions -- could shake the emails loose from CPB and Konz's grasp.

This goes beyond the public's basic right-to-know. What's at stake is the public's confidence in public broadcasting -- an institution that, up to now, a majority of Americans regard as their most trusted source of news and information.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Tomlinson Doublespeak

Kenneth Tomlinson under oath before Senate, July 11, 2005:
The decision to add Paul Gigot and the Wall Street Journal Editorial Report was one that involved a lot of people at both PBS and CPB. It was a decision that I saw no opposition to, and I was not directly involved in negotiating any contracts involved -- involving in it.
But in a December 4, 2003 email to Paul Gigot, he wrote:
Red State Ken
Paul – I understand PBS is going to be talking to you about assuming a role that will serve as a political balance to Moyers, I do not trust Pat Mitchell but I have a deal with others stipulating that you will have access to the same deal Moyers has. So do not accept if they try to toss you onto Moyers’ show as an after thought commentator.
Tomlinson in email to Gigot, February 8, 2004:
We have a deal that Moyers will be balanced this fall. We'll hold up her [Pat Mitchell's] money if she doesn't deliver this fall.
Tomlinson in email to Gigot, February 12, 2004:
We are close to a deal that would put Gigot/WSJ on public broadcasting. . . I realize God is in the details, but this is a real deal we can live with. But I don’t want to turn loose of CPB’s money or let authorization go forward until you have a show that gets everything Moyers gets except for time.
Did Tomlinson cross that line? You'll have to be the judge. We won't be certain until there's a new investigation, or until Inspector General Kenneth Konz releases the rest of his report.

Tomlinson's utterances in the press indicate similar inconsistencies. In a May 9 Los Angeles Times article, Tomlinson told reporter Matea Gold: "There has been absolutely no contact from anyone at the White House to me saying we need to do this or that with public broadcasting."

But this week Konz reported that Tomlinson repeatedly swapped e-mails about potential CPB hires with "staff in the Executive Office of the President," including Karl Rove. One of the candidates they discussed became the organization's president.

Go figure.

The War over History

VP DICK CHENEY, Nov 16:
Dishonest and reprehensible
Suggestion that's been made by some US Senators that the President of the United States, or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.

. . . The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out. The President and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory or their backbone, but we're not going to sit by and let them re-write history.
Sen. JOHN KERRY responds, Nov 17:
Bring it on
He is the person who stood up and talked about how Iraqis met with the people who hijacked the airplanes. The intelligence community never shared that information. He personally, and his small group of people, according to Colin Powell, former secretary of State's own chief of staff, sort of took over and became a cabal that ran American foreign policy.

He opposed the inspections, going to the United Nations. And he, together with the president, provided America with intelligence that was not shared by the intelligence community, and they misled America.

Now Dick Cheney, a man who had five deferments in the course of the Vietnam war, if he's going to challenge me with respect to my support for the troops, that's a debate I'm prepared to have with him anywhere at any time.

MediaCitizen Star Turn

Amy
I discuss the Tomlinson scandal with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman. Listen in.

Correction: I told Amy that CPB President Patricia Harrison was a former State Department "undersecretary for public affairs and public policy." She was actually the undersecretary for public affairs and public DIPLOMACY, aka propagandist-in-chief.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

CPB Report Tells Only Part of the Story

Friend of Ken
An Inspector General report released Tuesday by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting exposes a politically-motivated scheme by former chairman Kenneth Tomlinson to meddle with programming on PBS and NPR. But the report stops short of implicating the remaining leadership at the agency, and fails to reveal the extent to which the White House orchestrated Tomlinson's moves.

Missing from the report is email traffic between Tomlinson and White House political advisor Karl Rove, reportedly provided to Inspector General Kenneth Konz by investigators at the State Department. This evidence, which reveals the White House's hand in manipulations of public broadcasting programming, is still under lock and key at the heavily partisan CPB.

The 67-page report by Konz concluded that Tomlinson violated the Public Broadcasting Act on repeated occasions, leading a dysfunctional agency -- created to protect broadcast programming from politics -- in a crusade against what he saw as "liberal advocacy journalism" on PBS and NPR.

It reveals that Tomlinson and other conservative members on the board used "political tests" as a "major criteria" in hiring Patricia Harrison, a former chairwoman of the Republican Party, to be CPB president. The report also said "cryptic" e-mails between Tomlinson and the White House indicated by their timing and subject matter that Tomlinson "was strongly motivated by political considerations in filling the president/CEO position."

The IG document, however, does not reveal these emails. Nor does it share the reported emails between Tomlinson and his "close friend" Rove.

According to a Nov 5 article in the New York Times, State Department investigators seized records of this e-mail traffic from the Broadcasting Board of Governors and handed it over to Konz. But it’s gone AWOL from today’s CPB release.

Mysteriously, Konz's report mentions a “separate investigative report, along with specific evidence indicating possible wrongdoing,” that he made available to the CPB board. This separate report could contain the Rove-Tomlinson traffic but it’s still unavailable to public eyes.

Red State Ken
According to the document that Konz did publish, Tomlinson “violated his fiduciary responsibilities and statutory prohibitions against Board member involvement in programming decisions” in creating the conservative “Journal Editorial Report.” He was deeply engaged in that process as an effort, as he sees it, to "demand political balance in public broadcasting." The rhetoric of “balance” has become a shibboleth for right-wing efforts to quash dissenting views and turn media into a mouthpiece for the Bush administration.

The published report also criticizes the secretive hiring of Republican operative Frederick Mann to monitor "Now with Bill Moyers" and other programs without authorization from the CPB Board. It concludes the many violations were primarily the result of Tomlinson's "personal actions to accomplish his various initiatives," but it also identifies "serious weaknesses" throughout the CPB's governance system.

The report that was released makes it abundantly clear that officials at the top of the organization were conspiring to subject America's public broadcasting system to a politcial litmus test.

Tomlinson stepped down from the CPB Board on Nov. 3 upon learning of the report's findings. The remaining leadership of the CPB have close ties the Bush administration. Chairwoman Cheryl Halpern and Vice Chairwoman Gay Hart Gaines are veteran GOP operatives and mega-fundraisers, who have praised Tomlinson for "his legitimate efforts to achieve balance and objectivity in public broadcasting." Tomlinson’s hand-picked choice to run the CPB, Harrison, recently oversaw "public diplomacy" efforts at the State Department.

It’s clear that Tomlinson isn't the lone culprit at CPB. Its board members and staff are continuing his work to undermine the foundation of public broadcasting.

But to learn more about the extent to which Rove was involved, Congress needs to turn up the pressure to disclose all the evidence that Konz and the CPB have on hand.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Good Cop, Good Cop at The Times

Red Ed
The editors of the New York Times today gave us more evidence of the conflicts that wrack their news -- and board -- rooms. In the lead paragraph of an editorial headlined "President Bush’s Walkabout," Times editors make a go for Bush's jugular. But their stridency evaporates by paragraph three, where they offer a wet blanket to help pull this president from the political abyss.

Why has the Times opted to play good cop, good cop with an administration so riddled by corruption and incompetence? A look at internal political agenda of Times management suggests that there are other motives behind this strange mix of criticism and coddling.

But first, the evidence at hand. Today's editorial starts with a bang:
After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long.
Ouch! But then editors switch to a conciliatory but bleakly hopeful tone:
Second terms may be difficult, but the chief executive still has the power to shape what happens. Ronald Reagan managed to turn his messy second term around and deliver - in great part through his own powers of leadership - a historic series of agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev that led to the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet empire. Mr. Bush has never demonstrated the capacity for such a comeback. Nevertheless, every American has a stake in hoping that he can surprise us.
And offer advice to aide a Bush recovery: downgrade Cheney's role and you stand a chance of making the world a better place:
Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney, but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents: keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman of studies to do more harm. Mr. Bush would still have to turn his administration around, but it would at least send a signal to the nation and the world that he was in charge, and the next three years might not be as dreadful as they threaten to be right now.
Too often, the New York Times walks the tight rope between dissent and solicitation. Media organizations this big are too enmeshed with lobbyists and politicians to take their critique of leadership to the next level. The result: measured editorials that cloak conciliatory gestures towards the powerful with journalistic forbearance.

The New York Times Co. relies too heavily upon the generosity of government (de)regulators – whose rulings affect the bottom lines of its eight TV stations, two radio stations and 17 newspapers – to deliver the coup de grace.

The Times Co spends millions to wine and woo politicians and bureaucrats in Washington. And when its lobbying priorities are pitted against those of its newsroom, journalistic caution is often the result.

In its 2001 filing to the Federal Communications Commission, for example, Times Co. management asked decision makers to loosen prohibitions against newspaper-broadcast crossownership in a single market. "In light of today's great diversity of media voices in virtually all communities," Times management wrote in its official filing to the FCC, "no legitimate public purpose continues to be served by the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule."

The Times Co. promised that the public will benefit from "efficiencies" of cross-ownership, resulting in "greater, not less, local diversity of news and information." At the same time, the newspaper gave scant coverage to this issue, fearing the public backlash against consolidated Big Media that eventually took shape in 2003.

Shouldn't their readers and viewers be informed about the Times' efforts to lobby government to own additional media outlets, asked Jeff Chester. "Will their ability to act as a check on private and public power be further weakened as they grow larger, with increasingly diverse interests other than news and public affairs?"

More to the point: Does intensive lobbying of the powerful by management seep into the newsroom, influencing Times editors' ability to serve as watchdogs -- and, when needed, attack dogs -- against the powerful?

The answers is lurking somewhere between the lines of today's editorial.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Broadband Chief Plants a 'Garden'

SBC CEO Edward Whitacre sinks his foot further into the net neutrality debate. In this week's Newsweek he backs away from an earlier statement, when he said it would be "nuts" for SBC to share its broadband infrastructure with other services:
Red Ed
Skype is free in-network, and very cheap out of network. How do you fight that?
You know what I think Skype does? I think they have no infrastructure, they don't make any investment, they use our network free. I think any business probably can do pretty well when you have no cost, only revenues, and you ride somebody else's service free. And that's what they do, and that can't last. They don't have a business out there, in my judgment.

Would you feel justified in blocking services like Skype from your broadband customers?
No, I'm not gonna block anybody's service. But if there's a basic unfairness out there, that usually gets resolved in this country in pretty short order.

Are you looking for regulatory relief for this?
Either that or let the market forces work. They're using [our infrastructure], they ought to be paying for it.

You also take a dim view of municipal-run wireless Internet programs.
I don't want my tax dollars to compete with private business. Why would a city want to get into this business? Why don't they fix the holes in the street, and stuff like that, which they're supposed to do? Don't use my tax dollars to build a telephone system to compete against private enterprise.
Last week, when asked by BusinessWeek whether he was concerned about Google, MSN, Vonage, and other companies plans to get into broadband services, the CEO of the telco giant let slip his plans to create a "walled garden" where your freedom to surf is sacrificed at the altar of SBC profits:
How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!
Americans take for granted the diversity of information and services they find at the click of a mouse. Whitacre is working to change this. His company -- along with the "duopoly" of cable and DSL providers that provide access to more than 90% of Americans -- are working overtime to horde your access to high-speed internet.

The threat to our ability to surf beyond the confines of content they approve – and profit from -- becomes very real under a broadband regime controlled by few players. They’ve waited for years for a return on their investment in laying fiber and cable infrastructure. Now they want payback, at the expense of consumer choice.

>>> Read Mediacitizen's full report

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Dog Stops Wagging

Lewis Gould offers a seering critique of this administration's 24-7 campaign strategy, which places presidential images before the real stuff of ruling. Gould pays particular attention to the media's willingenss to play along with this scheme -- feeding the nation choreographed photo-ops of the president while neglecting coverage of the White House's failure to govern.

I'm ready for my closeup

“Under the rule of George W. Bush and his outriders -- Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Andrew Card -- the disconnect between the pleasures of campaigning and the imperatives of governing has become acute,” writes Gould. “Stage-managed events, orchestrated by masters of spin, provide the appearance of a chief executive in charge of the nation's destiny” -- even as the wheels of governance are coming off the machine.

Gould concludes:

Somehow, the political system needs to restore governing to its proper place in the conduct of American government. Whether this means more one-term presidencies, a more rigorous screening process for national candidates, a more involved citizenry and a more aggressive press — or at least a press less influenced by artifice — cannot be discerned at this moment of potential disaster for the Bush administration.

But it's important to realize that the underlying issues are systemic, not to be cured by different incumbents of either party. George W. Bush's current troubles offer perhaps a final chance to mature as a nation and to understand we must ask more of our leaders than a television screen filled with reassuring images while the hard work of actual governing lapses into disuse and decay.
It took the nation five years to see through the Bush administration’s carefully constructed media fa├žade. But it appears that the combined weight of events has caught up to Karl Rove’s nimble strategy to move red-blooded Americans to act against their best interests.

More proof is in recent presidential performance polls, including a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that shows that a majority of Americans now question President Bush’s integrity and doubt his leadership abilities.

The survey underscores how the foundation upon which Bush and his minders built this presidency is giving way to the combined forces of history. Bush's approval ratings have been in decline for months, but on issues of personal trust, honesty and values, Bush has suffered some of his most notable declines. Moreover, Bush has always retained majority support on his handling of the U.S. campaign against terrorism -- until now, when 51 percent have registered disapproval.

There’s no photo-op that can wag that dog.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Karl and Ken Show

Friend of Ken
Report Detailing Extent of Tomlinson-Rove
Relationship Under Seal at GOP-Friendly CPB


Kenneth Tomlinson -- the target of internal investigations within the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the State Department -- was in regular communication with White House political advisor Karl Rove according to evidence contained within a sealed Inspector General report.

On Thursday, a disgraced Tomlinson was shown the door at the CPB two days after their IG issued a report detailing Tomlinson's efforts to impose a partisan agenda on PBS and other publicly funded programming.

He’s now under a spotlight at the State Department, related to allegations that he spent federal money for personal needs, improperly used board money and board employees to further his political meddling at the CPB and hired ghost employees or improperly qualified employees. If the accusations are substantiated, they could involve criminal violations, according to an article in today's New York Times.

Big Bird equals Mao

In recent weeks, State Department investigators seized records and e-mail from the Broadcasting Board of Governors -- the State Department’s foreign propaganda agency. Tomlinson served as chair of both the BBG and CPB. According to the Times' report, State Department investigators have shared this material with the CPB Inspector General, including e-mail traffic between Tomlinson and his “close friend” Rove.

What the Rove-Tomlinson correspondence says remains to be seen -- at least by those outside the heavily partisan corridors of the CPB. The content of their e-mails could become public when the IG sends the final report to members of Congress mid-November.

President Bush remains under pressure to fire Rove, his closest and most trusted adviser, because of his role in discussing the identity of the CIA agent Valerie Plame with reporters. Rove's apparent involvement in the Tomlinson scandal could become a further embarrassment for a White House already against the ropes.

But Tomlinson’s newest troubles raise more questions than they answer. Central to his tampering with PBS and NPR programming is the issue of authority: Were Tomlinson’s efforts to spin media in favor of the White House directed from within the Bush administration itself? Were they legal? And if not, should investigators start sniffing around the West Wing?

Crimes and Cronies
Tomlinson acquaintance with Rove dates to the 1990s, when the two served on the Board for International Broadcasting, the predecessor agency to the board of governors. Rove has played a part in Tomlinson’s career throughout the last decade. In 2003 and 2004, Tomlinson worked with Rove to help kill a legislative proposal that would have made it more difficult to politically stack the CPB board.

How much of the Rove-Tomlinson correspondence the public will see, however, remains in question. In a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, CPB board members reviewed the IG’s report. Public advocacy organizations, including Free Press, called upon them to full disclose the report at that time – but were rebuffed.

In a response to a Free Press, CDD and Common Cause letter calling for the report to be made public immediately, CPB President Patricia Harrison and Board Chair Cheryl Halpern wrote that they would not open their meeting to the public because the materials required "confidential advice of counsel." Harrison and Halpern added that "premature" release of the IG report may be "harmful to the corporation's interest."

According to internal IG procedures, the board has the right to "review and comment" on IG reports. This review is incorporated into the final document.

Big Bird will be mine
The report is now in the hands of Board Chairwoman Halpern, Vice Chairwoman Gay Hart Gaines -- both substantial money donors to GOP candidates -- and President Harrison -- a former GOP chairwoman. There’s little doubt that such GOP loyalists would seize any opportunity to strike damning evidence from its pages and insulate from legal jeopardy their close allies within the White House.

Some suspect that this is what they intend to do. Others say that the report will be released intact -- including the Rove-Tomlinson emails; the board may include their responses to IG questions, as happens in GAO reports, but they cannot redact existing information.

Whatever comes of this, the evidence becomes critical now that Tomlinson’s actions – and his association with Rove – are part of a criminal inquiry.

It will also prove useful to understand the extent to which Karl Rove's tentacles reached into the core of public broadcasting.

Stay tuned.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Sock Puppet Conspiracy

Our Dear Leader

The venerable Heartland Institute has decided it's wise to hide their list of funders from those seeking to understand the wellspring from which their intelligence flows.

The coin-operated think tank -- widely known for pimping its "expertise" to the highest corporate donors -- has decided that it's in the best interest of all to keep the organization's money chest closed to prying eyes. Why, after all, would we need to know that reports laced with industry-friendly analysis were paid for by those same industries? Why, indeed.

For instance, wouldn't their readers want to know that a Heartland survey, which spreads unsubstantiated myths about municipal broadband services, was paid for by the companies that profit from shutting down these same broadband networks?

According to Heartland CEO and President Joseph Bast (above), it's better for us to be kept in the dark. For our benefit, the company has decided to retreat behind the curtain. To explain, Bast lays forth this pretzel:

After much deliberation and with some regret, we now keep confidential the identities of all our donors. If you do not approve of this policy, your argument is not with us but with those who would abuse a sincere effort at transparency.
So, it's all my fault for impugning their honesty. The wind-up experts at the Heartland Institute are saying, essentially: "If you're asking us to be transparent about our finances, you're against transparency."

The Institute has determined, in their zeal, that information shouldn't enjoy the same freedoms that they strive to achieve for their corporate clients -- that, by drawing attention to conflicts of interest inherent in their "research," we, not they, are at fault for forcing their retreat into secrecy.

Don't expect Bast to reveal anytime soon the extent to which corporate money dicatates the Institute's research. Others will have to pry open that clam. And, if history is prologue, they will find conflicts buried throughout the Heartland's donor pile.

Here's the Institute's list of funders from 2003, and a copy of their 2004 tax form. It's a who's who of Big Tobacco, Big Oil and, of course, Big Media. That these companies chose to lurk behind the flimsy facade erected by this dubious think tank is itself an indictment of their intentions.

Post Catches a Clue

It's nice to see some in mainstream media are paying attention to the "net neutrality" debate. The Washington Post's Arshad Mohammed picks up on SBC Chairman Ed Whitacre's "nuts" quote -- a story that MediaCitizen reported more than 72 hours earlier:
You may have missed it this week. In the dead middle of a Business Week interview with SBC chief Edward Whitacre is a comment that foretells the future of broadband. At least, the future incumbent broadband providers are planning for. And it’s not a pretty picture for the rest of us.

When asked whether he was concerned about Google, MSN, Vonage, and other companies plans to get into broadband services, the CEO of the telco giant let slip his plans to create a 'walled garden' where your freedom to surf is sacrificed at the altar of SBC profits . . .
(Read the full post)

The money quote in Arhsad's Post story:
"It seems like a rather monopolistic attitude," said Michael Jackson, vice president for operations at Skype. "If the line were free to the user, or the bandwidth were free to the user, then perhaps he'd have a point. But the line isn't free to the user. The customer is paying for the bandwidth. . . . He's already paid for it. Why should he pay more?"
Good question.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Tomlinson Slinks Away

Out of his depth
Embattled Ex-Chair Leaves Behind
A CPB Stacked with Party Operatives


The disgraced former Corporation for Public Broadcasting board chairman Ken Tomlinson has resigned, according to a Thursday night release from the funding agency's board of directors. And now he's part of a criminal inquiry that includes extensive communications with White House political advisor Karl Rove (read the update).

The action comes two days after CPB's Inspector General issued a report detailing Tomlinson's efforts to impose a partisan agenda on PBS, NPR and other publicly funded programming.

While Tomlinson's has reluctantly agreed to walk, his former colleagues on the board and within the CPB's offices are continuing a partisan crusade to remake public broadcasting into another White House mouthpiece.

Tomlinson has left behind a coterie of GOP hacks who have occupied the offices of an agency that was put in place by Congress to act as a "heat shield" -- protecting public broadcasting producers from the hot political winds of Washington. Tomlinson and his right-wing colleagues -- including new board chair Cheryl Halpern and president Patricia Harrison -- have turned the CPB's "heat shield" into their political blow torch.

Newly elected Chairwoman Halpern and Vice Chairwoman Gay Hart Gaines have both donated substantial money to GOP candidates and causes, and Harrison is a former GOP chairwoman.

With Tomlinson, they have governed the CPB like a chapter of the Elks Club, and not an agency responsive to taxpayers and the public interest -- imposing a narrow agenda on programming and hatching other political schemes in a series of meetings that were closed to the public. The Inspector General report, which has yet to be made available, is expected to detail wide ranging ethical and procedural violations as well as misuse of funds by the erstwhile chair.

Tomlinson is the first to be shown the exit; others -- including Halpern, Gaines and Harrison -- should follow him out the door.

Big Bird will be mine
Free Press has been hounding Tomlinson since the reports of his right-wing tampering emerged in the media. In June, I delivered to CPB offices 100,000 signed petitions calling for his immediate resignation. Along with our colleagues at Common Cause and Center for Digital Democracy, Free Press has pressured the CPB to open up operations to public scrutiny and take the politics out of public broadcasting.

Earlier this week, we released a report revealing the extent to which GOP loyalists and state department propagandists had infiltrated the agency and their executive offices. Since taking up her post as CPB President in June, Harrison has stacked the payroll with senior officers from the State Department's "Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy" division, the group that oversees efforts to "advance U.S. interests and security and to provide the moral basis for U.S. leadership in the world."

"Public Diplomacy" is gov-speak for propaganda. Since joining the CPB, Harrison has conducted nothing more than a stealth campaign to carry forward Tomlinson's crusade against objective programming. She should take her cues not from Tomlinson but from the IG report, and exit stage right.

This doesn't seem to be her intention nor that of the board. In their statement following Tomlinson's departure, the board strike a disturbingly defiant tone. They fail to admit wrongdoing and express regret about Tomlinson's -- and their -- unethical behavior. Instead, they try to dodge the bullet:
The board does not believe that Mr. Tomlinson acted maliciously or with any intent to harm CPB or public broadcasting, and the board recognizes that Mr. Tomlinson strongly disputes the findings in the soon-to-be-released Inspector General’s report.
They point fingers to the left -- at former CPB president Kathleen Cox, who left abruptly in April after it became clear what Tomlinson was up to. In a thinly veiled reference to Cox's tenure, the board tries to shift blame from their narrow shoulders:
The board expresses its disappointment in the performance of former key staff whose responsibility it was to advise the board and its members.
Nice try. But wait, there's more:
Nonetheless, both the board and Mr. Tomlinson believe it is in the best interests of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that he no longer remain on the board. The board commends Mr. Tomlinson for his legitimate efforts to achieve balance and objectivity in public broadcasting. [my emphasis]
About as "legitimate" as Rosemary's Baby. You've said your piece Harrison, Halpern and crew. Now, it's time to go.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

All Your Broadband Are Belong To Us

Broadband Buddies Bush and Whitacre
You may have missed it this week. In the dead middle of a Business Week interview with SBC chief Edward Whitacre is a comment that foretells the future of broadband. At least, the future incumbent broadband providers are planning for. And it’s not a pretty picture for the rest of us.

When asked whether he was concerned about Google, MSN, Vonage, and other companies plans to get into broadband services, the CEO of the telco giant let slip his plans to create a "walled garden" where your freedom to surf is sacrificed at the altar of SBC profits:
How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!
Americans take for granted the diversity of information and services they find at the click of a mouse. Whitacre is working to change this. His company -- along with the "duopoly" of cable and DSL providers that provide access to more than 90% of Americans -- are working overtime to horde your access to high-speed internet.

Payback Time?
The threat to our ability to surf beyond the confines of content they approve – and profit from -- looms large. They’ve waited for years for a return on their investment in fiber and cable infrastructure. They now want payback, at the expense of consumer choice.

Public interest groups are joining with consumer advocates and online activists to fight gatekeepers like Whitacre’s SBC from shutting down internet freedoms. But those who regulate the internet are more likely to rule for the cable and telephone giants than on behalf of the public they are supposed to defend.

In the early days of internet, most of the largest access providers swore to honor “net neutrality” -- or open access to everything online. But as new broadband services, such as voice over internet protocol (VOIP) and on demand video, promise revenues in the tens of billions, big media are changing their tune. Whitacre is just the first to confirm it in words. His cohorts at Verizon, Comcast and elsewhere are licking their chops and laying the groundwork for a broadband age that’s theirs alone.

The 'Walled Garden'
Blocking content is the most high profile example of a net neutrality violation. The most common form so far is blocking VOIP traffic. DSL companies that also have local phone service don't like their broadband lines to be used by other companies to undercut phone rates.

"But content blocking probably won't be as significant as content disruption and prioritization," says Ben Scott, policy director (and my colleague) at Free Press. "If you block content, it's apparent immediately. If you slow it down, it may not be noticed right away."

Under Scott's scenario, the preferred services, applications, and websites of the network owner will download faster, run smoother, and work better than a competitive service. So if Comcast has online video services and Verizon has online video services, they'll make sure that their system works better on their own networks than those offered by AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Google or smaller independents.

"If everything works smoothly in the portal and all of their forays outside the portal work poorly, then they will simply stay in the portal," says Scott. "That's a disaster for anyone trying to push content outside the proscribed limits of a 'walled garden.'"

There are early signs that they may be testing the waters for more restricted content services in the realms of on-demand video, a potential revenue earner that would supplant the billion dollar advertiser driven model of broadcast television. Only the Federal Communications Commission stands in the way of their desire to restrict VOIP access to their services alone.

By requiring consumer safeguards, the FCC could foster more internet competition and innovation at lower costs to end-users. But FCC commissioners haven't always taken such a principled stance on behalf of the public.

Guarding the Gatekeepers
In late 2002 several major software and e-commerce firms formed the Coalition of Broadband Users and Innovators to petition the Republican controlled FCC to adopt rules ensuring that cable and telephone industry broadband operators will not use their control of high-speed networks to disrupt access to websites or other users. They were soon joined by public interest advocates including Public Knowledge, the Center for Digital Democracy, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Consumers Union.

In June 2003, then FCC Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree told the Progress & Freedom Foundation -- a free-market organization whose supporters include Disney and AOL/TimeWarner -- that the term "net neurality" was "sloganeering," and that regulating cable internet services was not necessary to preserve an open internet for all.

“Competitive broadband distribution would allow us to rely upon market forces, rather than government regulation, to govern market structure and service provision," he said.

Throughout this year FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has echoed this belief. Market forces alone will continue to keep the internet "open," Martin has said on several occasions. This is no surprise coming from a man who’s ruled hand in glove in favor of the same big media companies that are spending tens of millions to lobby rule makers against making rules. But it may not convince many champions of net neutrality to give up on seeking an open access mandate from the FCC.

This group argues that the FCC must adopt preemptive "nondiscrimination safeguards" to ensure Net users open and unfettered access to online content and services in the future. Such preemptive, prophylactic regulation is necessary because the current market is characterized by a cable-telco "broadband duopoly" that threatens internet users.

FCC Doublespeak
In August 2005, the FCC adopted a policy statement containing four principles it claims will preserve the open and interconnected nature of the Net:
  1. consumers are entitled to access the lawful internet content of their choice;

  2. consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement;

  3. consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; and

  4. consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.
While stating that these principles will guide FCC policymaking, it’s clear that the corporate friendly commissioners that dominate the FCC are wary of regulating the handful of media giants that now control access.

The best thing for consumers would be a robust, competitive market with lots of broadband and other internet providers. In a world dominated by too few access providers, a good case can be made for proactive government intervention to keep the net open.

Without FCC oversight, Whitacre’s dream of broadband paradise could become a nightmare for the rest of us.