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PBS chief "stepping down" — can you see the footprints on her back?

Pat Mitchell drew criticism for an episode of the children’s program Postcards From Buster, which featured a lesbian couple. By Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

[Incidentally, Buster aired in the Triangle area — on the day of Bush’s State of the Union address, no less, ha ha.]

Do you really think this didn’t play any role, in today’s American Taliban government? Please. She won’t be out the door until June 2006, but she won’t be doing anything remotely labeled “progressive” now that her leash has been jerked tight by Education Sec Margaret Spellings. (FL Herald-Tribune):

…Public television is suffering from an identity crisis, executives inside the Public Broadcasting Service and outsiders say, and it goes far deeper than the announcement by Pat Mitchell that she would step down next year as the beleaguered network’s president.

…Corporate underwriters have been less willing to finance PBS programs, which has left the network increasingly dependent on Washington, where Republicans criticize its programming as elitist and liberal. Conservatives have complained about Bill Moyers’s news program (he has since retired from it) and about a recent children’s program featuring a rabbit named Buster who visited a pair of lesbian parents.

After Education Secretary Margaret Spellings threatened to retract financing for that program – a controversy that some called Bustergate – Ms. Mitchell decided not to distribute it. In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Mitchell, 62, said she had felt no pressure, either from inside her board or outside of PBS, to step aside.

[But in the next breath…]

She also said she had not been personally pressured to change programming by Republicans at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides federal money to the system. But she said her programmers had worked with their counterparts at the corporation, which is led by White House appointees, in developing several new shows, including a talk show for the conservative commentator Tucker Carlson. “They certainly want to make sure we are providing a balanced schedule,” she said. “We believe we are. We check that with the people we report to – our member stations and the American public.”

One high-level executive at PBS headquarters in Washington, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation for PBS, said new managers at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting had been concerned about a perceived liberal bias at PBS as well as difficulties in fund-raising.

“The thing to remember with public broadcasting is that everything is steered by the money,” the executive said. “What used to be a unique thing is now in this competitive environment and has to do whatever it can to survive, which means bending in a way it used to never bend.”

…PBS is also being criticized by others, like Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and a longtime advocate of more money for public television.

I’m concerned that PBS is so desperate for funding and support from the Republican-dominated Congress that they’re willing to sell their legacy,” Mr. Chester said. “They could forgo their historic mandate to do cutting-edge programming and replace it with Bush-administration-friendly educational content.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding