Did PBS use a White House appointee to discuss administration policy as an unaffiliated "conservative commentator," failing to tell their viewers her real ties?
The Washington Post's Al Kamen uncovered some strange goings-on out of the Department of Labor: a senior appointed official for years has been ducking out to do media appearances as a conservative pundit, without disclosing her affiliation to the Bush administration.
Since being tapped in 2001 to serve as senior adviser to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Karen Czarnecki has been appearing semi-regularly on the PBS show, "To the Contrary," as a conservative commentator, Kamen reported. She has appeared elsewhere, Kamen said, but PBS appears to be her main gabber gig. (See also ThinkProgress.)
Kamen checked the details of Czarnecki's behavior against federal ethics rules and didn't come up with much. She did it on her own time, and away from federal property.
But PBS may not get off so easily. A review of transcripts of her appearances reflects that the government-supported network used Czarnecki as a commentator on labor issues -- with nary a mention that she enjoyed a White House appointment to serve among the senior ranks of the Labor Department.
A PBS spokeswoman told me her network adhered to a sound policy. "She's not speaking as a spokesperson for the Labor Department, so the policy is, if it's somebody speaking for themselves, we identify them according to political spectrum," Carrie Johnson told me.
In at least one instance, Czarnecki defended a specific Bush administration policy.
-- On a Bush administration proposal which, unions claimed, would eliminate overtime for millions of nurses, paralegals, store managers and other hourly workers:
"No, it's not true. There's a huge misinformation campaign out there. . . . [I]t's only a proposed rule right now, and it's going to take the next three months to come out of OMB. But the bottom line is this, nurses, firefighters, policemen, and first responders won't be affected by this. . . . [U]nion workers aren't affected by this. And this is strictly white collar workers we're talking about, people typically in the workforce." (4/11/04)
In others, she took positions friendly to the White House and its legislative goals:
-- On whether government-funded family and medical leave was a good idea:
"No, creating flexible workplace options for families is preferable to federal mandates any day." (3/13/05)
-- On the Family and Medical Leave Act:
"There have been a lot of abuses. . . . For example, somebody who has a hangover -- somebody whose husband has a hangover can claim to stay home under the Family Medical Leave Act right now saying they have to take care of a family member." (3/13/05)
-- On why women, on average, earn less than men:
"The bottom line, you don't have women going into the fields, the high tech fields, and the science and engineering, where it pays. . . . women do choose the more compassionate fields, which don't pay as much, and that's got a huge -- that has a lot to do with it." (3/13/05)
-- On a new study showing working women over 50 were more likely than their male counterparts to be working for someone else, instead of being their own boss -- even though the pay was half as much:
"Oftentimes women in their fifties need to interact with other adults. . . they really like the camaraderie in the workplace." (12/19/05)
"It's a balanced discussion program, regardless of the topics," PBS' Johnson said, noting that Czarnecki was one of four commentators in every panel discussion. "The others from the left and conservative commentators are able to speak their opinion. Her thoughts don't go unchallenged."