Who Is Warren Bell?
The founders of public broadcasting envisioned the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to consist of "distinguished and public-spirited citizens" possessing "the various areas of talent and experience appropriate to this enterprise." Their role was to insulate public broadcasting from political interference in program content.
Consider these comments from Warren Bell, recently nominated by the White House to the CPB board:
I would "reach across the aisle and hug Nancy Pelosi … except this is a new shirt, and that sort of thing leaves a stain."1
"I support a woman's right to choose what movie we should see, but not that other one. I am on the Right in every way."2
On his practice of using TiVo to block birth control ads on television he does not want his children to see: "A little vigilance is all it takes - well, that and a couple hundred bucks for a TiVo…Sorry, poor people, your kids are going to be asking you awkward questions about condoms."3
The White House this summer nominated three people to fill vacant slots on the CPB. Two of the nominees have distinguished careers and a track record of public service. David Pryor is a former U.S. Senator and governor of Arkansas who has been a professor of political science at Harvard University. Chris Boskin is a successful publishing executive who serves on the board of KQED-FM/TV in San Francisco,4 and is active in many philanthropic causes, including the Laura Bush Foundation for American Libraries, and the School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.5 She is the wife of Michael Boskin, who served as head of the Council of Economic Advisors under former President George H.W. Bush.
Not so for Bell, who has no discernable background in public broadcasting, education, philanthropy, or public service, and has written a number of outrageous comments in his columns and blog on National Review Online.
Bell made his mark in the world of commercial television. Indeed, he declares, "creating pop culture has been the focus of my adult life."6 His TV credits include According to Jim, Coach, Ellen, and The PJs, an animated comedy series about life in a public housing project. (The PJs' raw, cutting-edge humor about being African-American and poor drew a sizable black audience, but criticism from filmmaker Spike Lee, who called the series "very demeaning" and "hateful … toward black people."7 Lee's criticism of the series came before Bell took over as executive producer, but Bell asserted that he had no plans to soften the show's edge.)
Even Bell can't explain why the Administration nominated him to serve on the CPB board. Bell has not demonstrated much of an interest in public broadcasting, let alone any professional expertise in the field. When asked if he listened to National Public Radio, Bell confessed that he usually tunes into sports radio instead.8
Bell may not have opined on public broadcasting, but he has been clear about where he stands on a number of other issues. "I am thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues," Bell wrote last year. "I support a woman's right to choose what movie we should see, but not that other one. I am on the Right in every way."9 He has given $7,500 to Republican causes in the past eight years.10
Here a few of the outrageous comments Bell has made in his columns or blog posts for National Review Online.
Complaining about Disney's Touchtone Television pressing him to hire more minorities for the TV comedy According to Jim, Bell huffed: "Of course, the conservative in me wants to say we should just find the best damn performers available, and judge them on the content of their character-acting, not their color. Ultimately, I will face a situation at some point this year where I say, 'Well, X was the funniest white actor, but we should probably go with Y'."11 (Bell later apologized for the remark.)
Urging in February 2006 that filmmakers make more pictures about "the heroism of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq," Bell wrote that sports hero Pat Tillman, who gave up football to enlist in the Army in 2002 and died in Iraq, deserved "at least, a cable TV biopic."12 Bell seems to have never known, or to have forgotten, the widely reported facts that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, that the Army took weeks to investigate and report its findings,13 and that Tillman had grave doubts about the war in Iraq, although he believed the U.S. fight against terrorism in Afghanistan was justified.14 (Reminded of these details, Bell asserted, "I am calling for Hollywood writers and directors to make movies and TV shows depicting the heroic stories of the War on Terror, not for a whitewash of history."15)
Acknowledging his aversion to "the modern food industry" and its penchant to substitute chemicals for natural ingredients, Bell confessed that this "leftist notion" about food could move him to "reach across the aisle and hug Nancy Pelosi … except this is a new shirt, and that sort of thing leaves a stain."16
Opposing condom ads on commercial TV during prime time, Bell wrote he did not have to worry about his own children being exposed to such advertising because he gets past all ads with his TiVo. "A little vigilance is all it takes - well, that and a couple hundred bucks for a TiVo." In an aside, he wisecracks, "Sorry, poor people, your kids are going to be asking you awkward questions about condoms."17
Since being nominated to the CPB board, Bell has downplayed his strident political views and declared that he will bring no agenda to public broadcasting.
But the prospect of Bell's presence on the board has raised the hackles of both the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS), and National Public Radio (NPR). "We are definitely concerned about Warren Bell's nomination," APTS president John Lawson told the Los Angeles Times.18 Added NPR spokeswoman Andi Sporkin: "So far as we can tell, Mr. Bell only brings a history of questionable comments about women, minorities and the media, and no discernable relevant achievement, involvement or commitment to public broadcasting."19
Ironically, Bell has been selected to fill the slot vacated by an earlier Bush Administration appointee, Kenneth Tomlinson. Tomlinson was a conservative ideologue who waged a partisan war against what he considered liberal and left-leaning public broadcasters, secretly paying a consultant to monitor the PBS programs of journalist Bill Moyers, and NPR talk show hosts Diane Rehm and Tavis Smiley. Tomlinson also pushed for partisan hires at CPB, and for the creation of a program showcasing the conservative views of the editorial writers of The Wall Street Journal. Tomlinson's meddling and partisanship led to an investigation by the CPB's inspector general, and his resignation.20 (New allegations surfaced last week that Tomlinson abused not only his position at the CPB, but also his chairmanship of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the agency that oversees Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. A State Department investigation found that Tomlinson used his government office to manage a horse racing operation, and that he may have solicited pay from both CPB and the BBG for the same days worked on 14 separate occasions.21)
Tomlinson's actions jeopardized the credibility of public broadcasting, angered many of its staunchest supporters in Congress, and threatened its federal funding. The CPB, now chaired by Cheryl Halpern, is beginning to enact some process reforms and to smooth some feathers.
"After the damage caused by Ken Tomlinson's activities," observed Lawson of APTS, "the last thing we need on the CPB board is another ideologue of any stripe."22
1 Warren Bell, "My Conservative Beef," National Review Online, 11 May 2005.
3 Warren Bell, "Condumb?" National Review Online, 2 Jun. 2005.
4 "Sitcom writer joins nominees for seats on CPB Board," Current, 26 Jun. 2006.
5 College Track, "Board of Directors," at http://www.collegetrack.org/organization/board.html (last visited 31 Jul. 2006).
6 Warren Bell, "Condumb?" National Review Online, 2 Jun. 2005.
7 Jeff Z. Klein, "A New Neighborhood for the Black Sitcom," The New York Times, 27 Aug. 2000.
8 Matea Gold, "Another Battle for CPB," Los Angeles Times, 14 Jul. 2006.
9 Warren Bell, "My Conservative Beef," National Review Online, 11 May 2005.
10 Center for Responsive Politics.
11 Tim Stack, "Dept. of Oops; Jim producer vents about minority hiring," Entertainment Weekly, 26 Aug. 2005.
12 Warren Bell, "Heroes of War AWOL," The Corner, National Review Online, 24 Feb. 2006.
13 Steve Coll, "Barrage of Bullets Drowned Out Cries of Comrades; Communication Breakdown, Split Platoon Among the Facts Contributing to 'Friendly Fire'," The Washington Post, 5 Dec. 2004.
14 Robert Collier, "Family Demands The Truth," The San Francisco Chronicle, 25 Sept. 2005.
15 Warren Bell, "The Pat Tillman Story," The Corner, National Review Online, 25 Feb. 2006.
16 Warren Bell, "My Conservative Beef," National Review Online, 11 May 2005.
17 Warren Bell, "Condumb?" National Review Online, 2 Jun. 2005.
18 Matea Gold, "Another Battle for CPB," Los Angeles Times, 14 Jul. 2006.
20 Neil Roland, "U.S. Public TV's Ex-Chief Faulted by Internal Probe," Bloomberg.com, 15 Nov. 2005.
21 Stephen Labaton, "Inquiry Criticizes U.S. Broadcasting Official Over Hiring," New York Times, 29 Aug. 2006.