Union-Tribune backs KPBS on Full Focus

Peter Q. Davis asked to pout money where mouth is

Union-Tribune editorial pages have opened fire on City Attorney Mike Aguirre for asking for previously unrevealed details about the finances of KPBS, the public broadcasting operation owned and operated by San Diego State University. The U-T itself has long been a funding mainstay of KPBS, enjoying favorable publicity and plenty of air time for its roster of status-quo-leaning pundits. In years past, the stations have also given short shrift to critics of the paper's biggest causes; any on-air criticism of the U-T is obviously a definite no-no. Publisher David Copley and his late mother Helen have been so generous over the years that the building housing the station bears the family name. Aguirre's interest was piqued by this summer's controversy over the cancellation of Full Focus, a public affairs show that station manager Doug Myrland, a state employee who reports to SDSU president Steve Weber, said was too expensive for the small number of viewers it drew. Grant money and pledge-night contributions to the station have flattened or dropped in recent years, making the station ever more dependent on big, agenda-bearing donors like Copley. Aguirre's public records act request asked for the station's top 20 donors, information it has previously denied others. His efforts bore some partial fruit late last week when KPBS turned over a ream of e-mails and memos relating to the Full Focus controversy. The crisis produced some new fundraising ideas from station staff, judging by an August 7 e-mail to Myrland from a staffer whose name was redacted by KPBS from the document before its release. (In a telephone interview earlier this week Myrland identified the staffer as Gloria Penner, the station's director of public affairs and host of its Editor's Roundtable.) Penner forwarded Myrland a note said to be from Peter Q. Davis, the retired banker and ex-GOP mayoral candidate. It noted that municipal elections were approaching and said, "I believe democracy is also well served when there are experienced reporters, and you are the BEST -- questioning the candidates." Davis went on to say "I'm not sure how decisions on programming are made -- it sounds like viewer polls or feed back is the deciding factor, perhaps it should be what 'sponsors' want." He added, "I do know at a recent Bank Board meeting -- Jason Hughes of Irving and Hughes told the board that the best return on their advertising dollar was from sponsorship of KPBS programs." Penner suggested to Myrland that, "since Peter Q. is connected to the banking industry in San Diego, maybe I can get him to lead us to some money for a weekly public affairs program that could be the platform for elections."

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