Official to probe hiring of CPB chief

Selection process is challenged

July 13, 2005|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,SUN STAFF

The turmoil over whether the top echelon of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has been tainted by political partisanship took a fresh turn yesterday.

CPB's inspector general, who among other duties oversees questions of ethics within the organization, plans to investigate whether chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson acted appropriately in selecting a new CPB president. Both Tomlinson and the new president, Patricia Harrison, are prominent Republicans.

The inspector general, Kenneth A. Konz, had already embarked on a probe of Tomlinson's decision to spend more than $14,000 of taxpayers' money to hire Republican lobbyists and consultants to advise him on working with Congress and to study the political bent of public broadcasting, particularly Now With Bill Moyers on PBS.

Last month's appointment of Harrison, a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee, raised eyebrows among Democratic members of Congress and supporters of public broadcasting, who feared that it was part of a GOP effort to shift the Public Broadcasting Service, National Public Radio and other public broadcasters to the right.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, issued a statement yesterday saying he had asked Konz to investigate Tomlinson's hiring of Harrison, which he said had not followed "normal protocols." He also said he had received a letter from Konz in return saying that he would investigate.

"Complaints that the selection process was inadequate are significant and come from people in a position to know the facts," Dorgan said. "I think such an investigation is not only appropriate but very much needed. We rely on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to be a fair and unbiased steward for public broadcasting. The selection of its president should be beyond reproach."

Both Tomlinson and Harrison appeared on Monday before a Senate appropriations subcommittee that has been considering coming budget allocations for public broadcasters, and both denied suggestions from Democratic senators that their political leanings would have a detrimental effect on objectivity in public broadcasting programs.

Tomlinson told the senators that he was merely seeking political balance in public-affairs programming, and readily admitted that he had had a "problem" with Moyers' show.

In Beverly Hills, Calif., where PBS programmers yesterday were unveiling their new shows for members of the Television Critics Association, PBS President Pat Mitchell told reporters that the use of federal money to monitor the politics of public television programming was "very troubling." She declined, however, to say whether Tomlinson should lose his job, as 16 senators have done.

"Just like I don't report to him, he doesn't report to me, and I have no say over his coming and going," Mitchell said. "It's up to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's board to make that decision about whether he's asked to step down."

Eben Peck, a spokesman for the CPB, said by telephone from Washington yesterday that the organization is "confident that the inspector general's report will conclude that all the steps taken with regard to Patricia Harrison's hire were appropriate."

Last month, in making the announcement of Harrison's appointment, Tomlinson paid tribute to an executive-search firm for "conducting a comprehensive review of potential candidates" for the position.

"They reached out to over 200 people and had extensive discussions with more than 80 contacts," Tomlinson said. "Over 50 diversity profiles were developed and 11 diversity candidates were reviewed by the committee."

Harrison was selected on June 22. The corporation she heads, which was set up by Congress in 1967 to shield public broadcasting from political interference, provides federal money to PBS, National Public Radio and more than 1,000 other public television and radio stations.

The Center for Digital Democracy, a media-watchdog group, said last month it was inalterably opposed to Harrison's appointment. In a statement, it said that Tomlinson, four "fellow arch-conservative CPB board members" and Harrison "will continue their crusade to transform public broadcasting through a campaign of intimidation."

"Their goal is to ensure that public television in particular becomes more of a reflection of a GOP dream world where the public is fed government-approved programming," the group said. "New programs featuring investigative journalism, controversial point-of-view independent programming, and risk-taking cultural perspectives won't be tolerated."

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