CPB faces scrutiny from Ted Cruz over diversity policy

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Gage Skidmore/Flickr via Creative Commons

Sen. Ted Cruz at the 2021 Young Latino Leadership Summit in Phoenix.

In a letter sent to CPB President Patricia Harrison Friday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) questioned the constitutionality of the corporation’s revised Community Service Grant diversity requirements. 

In October, CPB’s board agreed to scale back diversity requirements for its CSG program, instead requiring grant recipients to adopt a “Community Representation Statement” detailing plans and goals for representing their community. These statements must be posted on stations’ websites or made available at their offices. The policy does not require grantees to detail specific measures they take to reflect community diversity.

“CPB encourages stations to continue to reflect and include their communities in station employment, membership on boards primarily responsible for station governance, community advisory boards (if required) and to provide educational, informational, and cultural content that meets the need of the community populations they serve,” the new policy states.

Previously, CPB had required CSG recipients to post diversity statements on their websites of approximately 500 words in length. The statements were required to comment on the importance of diversity in stations’ work, how their staffs reflected diversity, and the progress stations had made in increasing diversity over the past two to three years.

Stations were also required to complete at least one of five specific actions annually, such as attending “minority or other diversity job fairs.” They were also “strongly encouraged” to interview at least one “diversity candidate” for any senior position they hired. The updated policy does not include that language. 

In his letter, Cruz asked CPB whether the new requirement or the policy it replaced violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He argued that the new requirement faces “the same problem as the old ‘diversity’ requirement: it undermines the very pluralism and individuality it’s supposed to protect. It also enables CPB to pass the buck. Rather than hold itself accountable for supporting a variety of stations, as the Public Broadcasting Act requires, CPB insists that grantee stations prioritize ‘diversity’ in their makeup and programming.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned decades of precedent by striking down affirmative action in college admissions. The court ruled that Harvard College and the University of North Carolina violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protections clause in its admissions process. A press release about Cruz’ letter cites the Supreme Court’s decision.

“After this summer’s Supreme Court ruling that affirmative action, which considers traits like race as a plus-factor in college admissions or employment, violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, Sen. Cruz’s letter questions the legality of the requirements,” the release said.

Cruz said CPB has “misconstrued” the Public Broadcasting Act’s diversity mandate by restricting CSGs “to stations that strive to be ‘diverse’ by considering traits like race and ethnicity in hiring and workforce development. Meanwhile, CPB board members openly discuss circumventing civil rights laws to allow for unlawful discrimination.”

He also questioned CPB’s funding of certain programs, including the Independent Television Service and the National Multicultural Alliance. 

Cruz sought documents and asked questions of Harrison in his position as ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to “assess CPB’s compliance with federal law and the Constitution,” he wrote.

Among the documents Cruz is seeking are “CPB’s personnel policies, Manager’s Guidebook, and diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings for staff or leadership from Fiscal Year 2019 to present” and the memo to the board about the CSG policy change, according to his letter.  

“CPB has received Senator Cruz’s letter and we will respond to it as requested,” a CPB spokesperson told Current. 

‘A simpler approach’

At an Oct. 16 CPB Board meeting, Kathy Merritt, CPB’s SVP of radio, journalism and CSG services, said the corporation was seeking to change the diversity requirements “primarily because it needs to be simplified.”  

“Stations have to take multiple actions to fully comply, and sometimes they unintentionally don’t complete all the steps,” she said. “They’re committed to diversity, but they just don’t get the mechanics of compliance right.”

She pointed to recent CPB Inspector General reports that cited stations, including small Native-owned stations, for failing to comply with the diversity requirements. The requirements also duplicated some Equal Employment Opportunity and FCC requirements, she said. 

Merritt said another concern was that for stations governed by state commissions or boards of regents, “it’s very challenging to administer some of these requirements.” She also referred to anti-DEI laws that some states have passed or are considering that may conflict with CPB’s requirements. Laws that have passed in states such as Florida and Texas restrict diversity statements at state institutions, which include some that hold licenses for public media stations. 

“We are proposing a simpler approach that gives stations greater flexibility in administering their goals for diversity,” she said.

Board member Bruce Ramer asked during the meeting whether the new policy is “dilutive of the commitment to diversity throughout the system.” 

“The general issue of diversity is not getting, at least in my personal opinion, the attention it deserves,” he said. 

Merritt said no. “This is really about giving stations more flexibility in the way they present and pursue their diversity goals,” she said, adding, “I don’t think CPB would ever back away from a commitment to diversity.”

Board member Liz Sembler said the change would be “protective” of stations in states where diversity is a “dirty word.” The previous diversity requirements “would be punitive for us in places like that,” she said.  

The board approved the changes, which went into effect for the 2024 CSG cycle. 

Cruz said the board’s discussion indicated that the new rules aim to “avoid legal challenges” and show that “CPB remains committed to ensuring that traits like race and gender factor into stations’ hiring decisions,” despite the absence of race and gender hiring requirements in the new CSG policy. 

Signaling that his concerns go beyond the CSG program, Cruz also asked whether CPB is required to fund the Independent Television Service and the National Multicultural Alliance. ITVS was funded through 1988 legislation requiring CPB to start an independent program service “to expand the diversity and innovativeness of programming available to public broadcasting.” 

The National Multicultural Alliance comprises Black Public Media, the Center for Asian American Media, Latino Public Broadcasting, Pacific Islanders in Communications and Vision Maker Media. CPB provides the organizations with more than $9 million in funding annually.

Cruz also referred to objectivity in public broadcasting programming, citing NPR airing audio of an abortion and a PBS NewsHour article about the Israel-Hamas war. 

“How does CPB ensure ‘strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature’ in the public telecommunications it funds while avoiding editorial ‘control over the content or distribution of public telecommunications programs and services?’” Cruz asked.

CPB has until Dec. 22 to reply, according to the letter.

Update: This article has been updated to include CPB’s deadline to respond.

One thought on “CPB faces scrutiny from Ted Cruz over diversity policy

  1. “How does CPB ensure ‘strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature’ in the public telecommunications it funds while avoiding editorial ‘control over the content or distribution of public telecommunications programs and services?’” Cruz asked.
    Does he ask the same thing of Fox, whose local stations use the public airwaves under FCC license?

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