Friday, June 23, 2006

EDITORIAL >> Oustanding appointment

Dare we compliment President Bush on an appointment? Last week he nominated former Sen. David Pryor to the board of directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the nonprofit corporation that parcels some $400 million a year of federal funds among public broadcasting entities.

It is not the Supreme Court, the cabinet or even one of the scores of deputy secretaries who administer programs that serve us well or ill. But it is a spot where David Pryor’s special blend of skills and compassion are sorely needed. The appointment comes at a good time for public broadcasting, which has been under attack by the right wing and at times by the president’s own people.

We do not know what motivated the president. He was required by law to appoint a Democrat to the vacancy, and perhaps Mr. Bush viewed the former Arkansas senator as the least confrontational one he could find. In the Senate, Pryor had more friends among Republicans than did the Republican leader. Maybe the president thought nominating the father would co-opt the son, Sen. Mark Pryor, on key votes, like repealing the estate tax. Who knows? Whatever the reason, thank you, Mr. President.

Perhaps it represents a true change of heart. Mr. Bush’s biggest appointment to the board was Kenneth Tomlinson, who resigned as chairman nine months ago after the agency’s inspector general criticized his behind-the-scenes maneuvering to shape broadcast programs to fit his own biases and what he presumed were the administration’s. Without his board’s knowledge, Tomlinson hired a little-known Indiana consultant to investigate the political leanings of people who appeared on public radio and television shows and used federal funds to hire lobbyists to shape the corporation’s board. He held a particular enmity for Bill Moyers, the brainy, phlegmatic host of many thoughtful shows for a quarter-century. (Moyers is back this summer on “faith and reason.” Check local listings.) And imagine this: Tomlinson hired the co-chairman of the Republican National Committee to be the corporation’s nonpartisan chief executive.

David Pryor is a modest and agreeable gentleman who looks for compromise whenever there is contention, but we know David Pryor. He will not countenance such nonsense.

“I will be trying to protect it against the many slings and arrows,” Pryor said in appropriate Shakespearean form. Public broadcasting is an oasis in the wasteland of broadcasting, and Pryor said he intended to make it even better. Until we hear differently, let us assume that is exactly why Mr. Bush nominated him.