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PBS prexy Duggan ankles

Timing with donor list release called coincidence

WASHINGTON — Ervin Duggan, who has overseen a vigorous and controversial expansion of the Public Broadcasting Service — even as it was attacked by a Republican majority in Congress — is stepping down after 5-1/2 years as PBS prexy.

PBS and Corp. for Public Broadcasting officials insist that it was just a coincidence that Duggan’s announcement came on the same day that pubcasters released a report covering allegations that several pubcasting outlets regularly traded their donor lists with Democratic political candidates (Daily Variety, July 14).

Duggan, a former FCC commissioner, is stepping down to pursue other endeavors, but has not yet lined up anything, PBS spokesman Tom Epstein said. Duggan’s resignation had absolutely nothing to do with controversy over the bartering of PBS station donor lists, Epstein said. Other pubcasting sources said Duggan has been contemplating his resignation for several months.

Scapegoat claims

While PBS and other CPB officials insisted that Duggan was resigning simply to pursue other opportunities, Ken Johnson, spokesman for Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), said the PBS prexy had been made a scapegoat. “The unfairness is that (Duggan) was forced to walk the plank,” Johnson said, adding “He is no more responsible for this donor list fiasco than I am.”

But pubcasting vet Bill Moyers told Daily Variety that Duggan had been talking about stepping down since May. Moyers, who has known Duggan since their days together in the Johnson administration, said that after five years in the job, Duggan is “just worn down.”

Moyers pointed out that when “(former House Speaker) Newt Gingrich and the rest of the right wing rowdies” tried to eliminate public broadcasting’s federal subsidy in 1994, it was Duggan who led pubcasting’s successful grassroots response. “It was his leadership that led us to a defense that prevailed,” Moyers said.

Independent documaker Ken Burns also credited Duggan for his leadership of pubcasting during a difficult time. “I think he has been pretty tremendous and I’ve been under several PBS presidents,” Burns said.

List-trading controversy

One of the most controversial elements of Duggan’s tenure has been his relationship with some of PBS’ member stations. In the face of congressional threats to withdraw financial support for pubcasting, Duggan has demanded that the stations share revenue with PBS.

At the same time, Duggan has been very successful in building revenues for pubcasters, according to a statement released Thursday by PBS. Much of that money has come through marketing and more attention to backend deals. But PBS has also taken an aggressive approach to corporate sponsorships. The sponsorships allow companies to advertise, in a restricted way, on PBS. Some pubcasters fear that the sponsorships are corroding pubcasting’s traditional role as a nonprofit educational and cultural network.

Duggan, who was not available for comment Thursday, has expressed his own doubts about the growing commercialization of pubcasting.

At the request of Tauzin, the CPB’s inspector general issued a report Thursday that found 9% of all PBS stations have traded their mailing lists with political organizations. Although PBS outlets traded names with some Republicans, including New York Gov. George Pataki, most of the name- swapping was between Dems and PBS outlets.

PBS outlets in Los Angeles (KCET) New York (WNET) and were active in swapping their names with political organizations. WNET “exchanged or rented out” a total of 1,193,666 member names to political organizations, according to the inspector general.

KCET, which adamantly denied any involvement with the so-called donor list scandal, actually traded 12,000 names. Like other PBS stations, KCET blamed third-party list brokers for trading political donor lists without the knowledge of station management. Among the political organizations that KCET did business with are: Conservative Republican Donors, Jewish Democratic Liberal Donors, Jewish Republican Donors, Republicans for Choice and California Gold Democrats.