President Bush made a recess appointment of Warren Bell, writer and producer of “According to Jim,” to fill the remaining vacant seat on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The move is raising hackles because Bell has reportedly said he’d like to “dismantle” public broadcasting, and his name actually was taken off the agenda when Bush tried to push his nomination through the Senate in September because some Democrats registered complaints.
Bell has said that he is “thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues.” But he also said that he has no intention of letting his personal political beliefs influence his role on the board, although he is a gifted comedy writer. When he was first nominated he wrote on his National Review Online blog that he I intends “to open my confirmation hearing thusly: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate, three words: No. More. Elmo.'”
The recess appointment means that his term will last until the new Congress adjourns. Bush did the same thing when he appointed John Bolton as U.N. ambassador. Bolton faced opposition in a standard Senate confirmation process, and resigned earlier this month.
The Center for Digital Democracy’s Jeff Chester told B&C that Bell’s appointment is like “a Christmas gift to the right wing of the media establishment.” But there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room for major changes to public broadcasting with Democrats — traditional allies — now in control.
As for whether Bell actually said he wants to “dismantle” public broadcasting, that’s a view that is itself open to debate. Here’s what the newspaper Current published in September:
“Although Bell’s own writings fueled grassroots opposition to his nomination, a letter from two former Hollywood colleagues influenced the Senate committee’s decision to drop Bell from the hearing agenda. Jeffrey Hodes and Nastaran Dibai, who worked with Bell on According to Jim, said he told them years ago that he was opposed to federal funding for public broadcasting.
In an interview, the couple recalled a lunchtime conversation about public broadcasting in which Bell said he would “dismantle” publicly funded stations.
“This was what he stated before he was up for the job, so this must be his true feelings,” Dibai said. “He has modified his position since being nominated.”
Hodes and Dibai decided to contact the committee because other former colleagues who joined the lunchroom debate still work for Bell.
“We felt that someone had to stand up who had nothing to gain and something to lose,” said Dibai. “This is not personal and it’s not professional, but we need to say, ‘This is the wrong person for the job, based on his views and his own public statements.’”
Another “According to Jim” writer, Ron Hart, who still works with Bell, said he’s discussed public broadcasting with Bell and never heard him say “anything remotely close to ‘It should be dismantled’ or ‘It shouldn’t exist.’” He’s vouching for Bell on his own volition, he said. “The sense I get from Warren is that he thinks his background in scripted programming could be helpful to PBS, and he could inspire or motivate a new emphasis on scripted programming,” Hart said. “There’s been a void there.”