The Ghost of Nixon Haunting Public Broadcasting?

Did you know...

Today's fight over public broadcasting bears an eerie resemblance to the past. Both the Bush Administration and some Members of Congress are supporting actions that could threaten the long-term funding and editorial independence of public broadcasting. These actions, if successful, will only exacerbate the downslide of quality programming brought on by the push for media consolidation.

But this is not the first time public broadcasting has come under fire. Former President Richard Nixon hated public broadcasting. In the 1970s, his aides, some of whom were planning and covering up Watergate during the same period, plotted to gain control over both the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and eliminate what they saw as liberal public affairs programming on public television.

Sound familiar? It should. Today's opponents of public broadcasting are using some of the same old tactics in a new fight to end public broadcasting as we know it.
  • In the 1970s, Nixon ordered his staff to see to it that, "all funds for public broadcasting be cut immediately." When that failed, he recommended minimal funds, for one year only.
  • Opponents in Congress will try to eliminate or reduce funds for public broadcasting; President Bush is proposing funding it for one year instead of two.
  • When his staff told him that cutting off all funds would not fly politically, Nixon set about to put eight "loyalists" on the CPB board. He succeeded: the new board voted to discontinue funding "the networking of news, news analysis, and political commentary."
  • President Bush filled two vacancies on the CPB board with big donors who think the CPB should have a role in program content; opponents in Congress could give CPB the right to intervene in content.
  • Nixon aides also plotted to redirect funds from "objectionable programs" and send them to local stations which they thought would be more conservative.
  • Those who claim PBS is biased are expected to attempt to take funds away from national programs like Frontline.

We cannot let the ghost of Nixon's past schemes to undermine public broadcasting find life in today's deliberations in Congress.


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