The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, whose chairman is under fire for complaining about what he considered liberal bias at PBS, chose a former Republican Party co-chairman Thursday as its president and chief executive.
Patricia S. Harrison, the assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, was selected after three days of closed meetings by the corporation’s board of directors. She was co-chair of the Republican National Committee from 1997 to 2001.
The announcement came as the House, voting 284-140, restored $100 million that had been proposed as a cut in the corporation’s budget for next year.
In tapping Harrison, the CPB board said she was devoted to public broadcasting and its mission.
Liberal public interest groups criticized the decision, saying Harrison has no experience in public broadcasting.
“It sets the wrong tone for dealing with some of the challenges that are facing the CPB right now,” said Chellie Pingree, president and chief executive of Common Cause. “She has all the wrong experience and comes across as too partisan of a player for this particular job.”
Democratic lawmakers also sounded alarm.
“This is a fatal blow to the historic political neutrality of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. The senator planned to call for hearings in the Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight of the broadcast industry.
Conservatives countered that partisans have held leadership positions in public broadcasting before. Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center, pointed to Frank Mankiewicz, former president of National Public Radio — who also served as press secretary to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and as presidential campaign director for Sen. George McGovern.
“The problem we have here is that when Democrats work in public broadcasting, nobody seems to notice,” Graham said.
Lautenberg and fellow senators Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., sent a letter to corporation chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson last week urging the CPB to put off choosing a new president. They expressed concern about political interference in public broadcasting by Tomlinson. They also questioned Harrison’s partisan background.
The corporation, which Congress set up in 1967 to shield public broadcasting from political influence, funnels federal dollars to PBS, NPR and hundreds of public radio and television stations.
Tomlinson, a Republican, has been critical of PBS public affairs programming, alleging that it’s too liberal and doesn’t give conservative views equal treatment. PBS denies that.
In a statement, PBS said it has concerns about the appointment of a former political party chair to head the CPB. It added: “It is our hope and expectation that Ms. Harrison will execute her responsibilities with nonpartisan integrity.”