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Friday, December 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bush slips public-TV board member by Senate

Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK — President Bush quietly appointed television sitcom producer Warren Bell to the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting this week, overriding opposition from public-broadcasting advocates who fear the outspoken conservative will politicize the post.

Bell's nomination had been stalled since September because of concerns about his qualifications among several members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which must approve nominees to the board of the CPB, the private nonprofit that distributes federal money to public television and radio stations.

But Bush was able to circumvent the need for Senate approval by naming Bell to the board Wednesday evening as a recess appointee. His term will last about a year, unless a permanent nominee is confirmed before then.

"There had not been action in the Senate on his nomination," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "The president felt the need to get it done."

Fratto said Bush believes Bell's 17 years of experience in network television gives him the right credentials. "He has innovative ideas on making public television more competitive with mainstream media, and expressed a very strong commitment to improving CPB," he said.

Bell, one of the executive producers of ABC's "According to Jim," said he hopes to strengthen public broadcasting during his time on the board. He added that the nomination process "has not been a lot of fun."

"The whole thing completely blindsided me," Bell said. "I don't think I was remotely aware of what a hot spot public broadcasting is politically."

Indeed, his appointment was condemned Thursday by some Commerce Committee members, who said Bell's lack of public-broadcasting experience and his partisan writings for the conservative National Review made him an inappropriate choice.

"This appointment by the Bush administration makes it clear that they simply don't care about the integrity or quality of our public-broadcasting system," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

As a contributor to the online edition of the National Review, Bell has made no secret of his political views, writing in one piece that he is "thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues."

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His comments alarmed some public-broadcasting advocates, who worry he would plunge the system into the kind of rancorous debate that erupted last year when Kenneth Tomlinson, then chairman of the CPB board, sought to promote more conservatives in the system. Tomlinson resigned after an internal investigation concluded his actions broke federal law.

But Bell, whose appointment is effective immediately, said he will separate his politics from his role as a board member.

"I'm a comedy writer," he said. "I'm not on a crusade, except to maybe make PBS a really great network for people to watch."

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