A June 9 Washington Post article identified assistant secretary of state and former Republican National Committee (RNC) co-chairwoman Patricia de Stacy Harrison as the “leading candidate” to become president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, not-for-profit corporation created by Congress to protect public broadcasting outlets from political interference. While reporter Paul Farhi noted that Harrison is CPB chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson's “favored candidate” and that both are Republicans, he failed to mention that Harrison's current role in the State Department, where she manages efforts to openly promote Bush administration policy around the world, potentially undermines her fitness to lead an organization created to protect against political interference.
Harrison's State Department position requires her to work closely with the other agency responsible for managing U.S. public diplomacy, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which Tomlinson chairs. In a May 20 Post article, Farhi had mentioned the potential conflict of interest arising from Tomlinson's dual positions. He wrote then: “How, some ask, can a man so intimately involved in the Bush administration's efforts to polish its image put politics aside when it comes to running the CPB, an agency created by Congress in 1967 expressly to give public broadcasting 'maximum protection from extraneous [political] interference and control.' ” But Farhi did not report that Harrison has been at least as involved as Tomlinson in “the Bush administration's efforts to polish its image.”
Finally, Farhi noted the public broadcasting community's concerns about Harrison's history as a Republican activist, but did not fully examine her history of partisan advocacy.
What Farhi included in his article:
- Harrison is Tomlinson's “favored candidate.”
- “Harrison's candidacy comes at a time when Tomlinson has stirred controversy by attacking PBS as having a liberal bias in its programs.”
- Harrison “has praised the work of the department's Office of Broadcasting Services [OBS], which in early 2002 began producing feature reports, some coordinated by the White House, that promoted the administration's arguments for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq."
- In her 2004 testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, “Harrison said the Bush administration regarded these 'good news' segments as 'powerful strategic tools' for swaying public opinion.”
What Farhi omitted:
- Harrison has overseen the production of government-produced “news” segments, shown both domestically and abroad, intended to promote Bush administration policy, raising questions about her fitness to lead CPB, which aims to promote objective news programming. As acting under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, a political appointment she assumed in 2004, Harrison oversees the Bureau of Public Affairs and, therefore, the work of the OBS. The New York Times recently reported that since 2002, the OBS has produced 59 news segments “with close editorial direction from the White House.” Many of the reports concerned U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and were “widely distributed in the United States and around the world for use by local television stations.”
- Harrison has worked closely with BBG, which Tomlinson heads, to produce pro-American news segments for distribution around the world. In August 2004, she testified before Congress alongside Tomlinson on the subject of public diplomacy. Harrison described her “close working relationship with the Broadcasting Board of Governors” and commended several of the BBG's initiatives, including Radio Sawa, Radio Farda and the television station Alhurra, which she said “are reaching broader audiences with innovative and unbiased programming. Because of these initiatives, our country is now being presented in a much more honest context in regions where our media presence is vital.” During her testimony, Harrison also disclosed that she represents the secretary of state at the BBG meetings chaired by Tomlinson.
- Harrison has a long history of support for the Republican Party. A self-described entrepreneur and co-founder of an environmental public relations firm, Harrison reportedly “got involved in politics during the Reagan Revolution, when she was so moved after hearing Ronald Reagan speak for the first time as President that she volunteered to raise money for him in New York” [The New York Post, 8/7/00]. She later chaired the Republican National Committee's (RNC) Victory '92 Fund and went on to fund-raise extensively for Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign. She co-chaired Dole's finance committee when it accepted $80,000 in contributions from employees of Empire Sanitary Landfill, a waste management company in Scranton, Pennsylvania [The Boston Globe, 4/24/95]. The company was later indicted for illegally funneling contributions to numerous federal campaigns and paid an $8 million penalty, the largest Federal Election Commission fine in history. The Dole campaign was reportedly the biggest beneficiary, having received $80,000 of these contributions while the Clinton-Gore campaign received $10,000 in illegal contributions [Washington Post, 4/25/96].
In 1997, Harrison's many years of hard work for the Republican Party led to her election as co-chairwoman of the RNC. During her four years in the post, she repeatedly attacked the Clinton administration, which she referred to as “the little White House of horrors” [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/30/97]. In particular, she targeted then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in the months preceding her 2000 New York Senate campaign. “I hope to be spending as much time as possible in New York if she runs,” Harrison said at the time [The Journal News, Westchester County, New York, 6/4/99].
The CPB's eight-member board of directors is scheduled to decide who will fill the vacant presidency at meetings June 20-21.
Media Matters for America runs the Hands Off Public Broadcasting campaign, an effort to ensure that public broadcasting remains independent and free from political pressure and to highlight conservative misinformation in and about public broadcasting.