WASHINGTON — Democrats are demanding an investigation into defense officials’ decision to delay a liberal talk show’s debut on American Forces Radio last week.

On Thursday, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., and other House Democrats requested the Defense Department inspector general look into “the Pentagon’s delay in providing balanced programming on AFN Radio.”

In addition, about 90 House Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asking for a timetable on when liberal radio programs might start airing on the military’s international network, saying the current offerings lack political balance.

Producers of the Ed Schultz show, broadcast in about 100 markets in the United States, had been told by AFN staff in September that the first hour of the show would be aired for troops overseas starting Oct. 17.

But that morning, defense officials scrapped those plans, telling the talk show host that officials had not sufficiently reviewed the decision.

Schultz was in Washington on Thursday to meet with Democratic leaders on the issue, and said he still has not received word when or if the show will air on AFN Radio.

“We did all our homework,” he said. “We provided them with all the demos and notes. They knew exactly what they were getting.

“The timing on this is very suspect.”

A Defense Department spokeswoman said the decision on Schultz’s show is still under consideration, a process that includes a review of all department guidelines for new programs.

She also said the network is designed to “reflect the same type and quality of American radio and television news, information, sports and entertainment that would be available to [troops] if they were stationed in the United States.”

Democrats said they’re suspicious of the timing of the delay, but that the Schultz issue is just the latest in a multiyear battle to include liberal talk shows on the overseas radio network.

Currently, the American Forces Radio lineup includes radio personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Laura Schlessinger and Paul Harvey, as well as news headlines from CNN and National Public Radio.

“Really, what’s at stake here is the right of our servicemembers to hear a diversity of opinion,” said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. “What the Department of Defense is trying to do is pre-program the information that our soldiers get to receive.”

Also Thursday, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he plans to offer an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill to require “political balance in talk radio programming” on AFN Radio. That measure is expected to come before the Senate in the next few weeks.

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