Lawson Chose Sister Over Buster

Public Broadcasting Service CEO Pat Mitchell maintains the recent “Postcards with Buster” episode had nothing to do with her decision to leave the station, but as today’s Washington Post reports, the controversy was indicative of the partisan interference that has plagued the station in recent years.

Mitchell originally signaled she was “comfortable” with the episode in question, but according to PBS spokesman Lea Sloan, she changed her mind “after conversations with a number of PBS stations and ‘national leadership.’” Asked who among the “national leadership” had contacted Mitchell, “Sloan named John Lawson, who lobbies for public TV stations on the Hill and Kathleen Cox, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” Lawson, besides being CEO of the Association of Public Television Stations, is Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’s brother-in-law. His role in the controversy suggests a direct conflict of interest: Lawson is supposed to advocate for public television stations, but has a family connection with media censors in the Bush administration.

Meanwhile, in the current model, the bulk of PBS’s funding comes from the CBP, whose board President Bush has attempted to stack with partisan political operatives. Two of the board’s newest members, Gay Hart Gaines and Cheryl Halpern, have given more than $816,000 to Republican causes over the past 14 years. In addition, both have shown contempt for the board’s function. According to Common Cause, Gaines was a key fundraiser for Newt Gingrich a decade ago when the House speaker campaigned to “zero out” CPB funding and privatize PBS. Halpern signaled her intentions during her confirmation hearing, when she suggested the CPB should be given authority to penalize and “remove physically” someone whose broadcasts it decided were unbalanced.