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Static Rises on Capitol Hill Over Broadcast Board Member

Norman J. Pattiz has not been renominated by Bush. A key Democrat comes to his defense.

June 17, 2005|Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Norman J. Pattiz, a Los Angeles radio executive who has helped shape the U.S. effort to reach out to the Arab world, is at the center of a struggle between the White House and congressional Democrats.

Pattiz is a Democratic member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors whose reappointment is in limbo. The board has nine members; by law, four are Democrats, four are Republicans and one is the secretary of State.

In 2000, President Clinton appointed Pattiz to the board. President Bush renominated him in 2002, but has not sent his name to the Senate for a third two-year term.

Pattiz has been serving as a holdover since August.

The White House, which said it was reviewing the issue, would not disclose why Bush had not acted. Pattiz said he would serve until he got "a letter from the White House thanking me for my services."

Pattiz is a major contributor to Democratic candidates. He supported Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in last year's presidential race, and recently held a fundraiser at his Beverly Hills home for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

The question of his tenure became an issue this week in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) blocked the nomination of Dina Powell, head of presidential personnel, to be deputy undersecretary of State for public diplomacy, until the administration renominated Pattiz.

Powell, an Egyptian American whose family immigrated to Texas when she was 4, was nominated to serve under presidential counselor Karen P. Hughes in a public diplomacy effort to reach out to the Arab world.

Reflecting the breadth of support for Powell, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a liberal Maryland Democrat, and Sen. John E. Sununu, a conservative New Hampshire Republican, have praised her.

The committee is expected to approve Powell next week, because a senator can block an appointment for no more than a week during the committee process. But Biden, angered that Pattiz had not been reappointed, may also put a hold on Powell's nomination on the Senate floor.

"Norm Pattiz has been the driving force behind our most successful public diplomacy undertakings since 9/11," Biden said in a statement.

Pattiz, who serves on the University of California Board of Regents, founded Westwood One, the largest radio network in the United States.

After the Sept. 11 attacks left many stunned by Muslim hatred of the United States, Pattiz persuaded the Broadcasting Board of Governors -- which oversees international broadcasting, including Voice of America and Radio Marti -- to set up a station in the Middle East.

Called Radio Sawa ("together" in Arabic), the Arab-language station went on the air in March 2003. Aimed at young listeners, Sawa features pop music and news. It is broadcast in Jordan and throughout the Persian Gulf.

After the U.S.-led war in Iraq toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, the broadcasting board established a television station in Iraq called Al Hurra, which in Arabic means "the free one."

"Radio Sawa and Al Hurra TV are attracting significant audiences in the Middle East," Biden said.

In an interview Thursday, Pattiz said he thought the board had "done some amazing things in terms of creating radio and TV operations in the Middle East that, according to independent research, are reaching tens of millions of Arabs on a weekly basis with news that is seen as reliable and credible."

Pattiz said he never sought reimbursement for his expenses. He said he had spent "in seven figures" to make trips to the Middle East to pave the way for Radio Sawa.

"I've been fortunate in my business, and I've been fortunate to be appointed by two presidents to do something that takes advantage of what I've done professionally for 30 years," he said. "I look at this as a way of giving back."

If Bush were to replace Pattiz, he would have to do so with a Democrat.

The board's chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, was appointed by the Bush White House to head the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He has shaken up the establishment there with charges that PBS programming has a liberal bias.

On the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Tomlinson and Pattiz have clashed over Tomlinson's efforts to select staff for projects that Pattiz oversees.

White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said the president had made "no decision yet." She said the White House had urged the Senate to "move forward as quickly as possible" on Powell's nomination.

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