Ex-chair of CPB broke rules, report says

November 16, 2005|By NICK MADIGAN | NICK MADIGAN,SUN REPORTER

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the former chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, improperly used "political tests" in recruiting top officials, an internal investigation revealed yesterday.

The report by the corporation's inspector general, Kenneth A. Konz, suggested that Tomlinson, a Republican who resigned from the CPB chairmanship in September, sought to place like-minded colleagues in the corporation as part of his effort to tilt it toward the right. His actions were in direct contravention of the CPB's mandate to shield public broadcasting from political influence.

The CPB funnels federal funds - about $400 million a year - to the Public Broadcasting Service, National Public Radio and other noncommercial television and radio stations.

Tomlinson, who was outspoken in his objections to what he considered a liberal bent in programs such as Now with Bill Moyers, broke federal rules and violated an ethical code by dealing directly with a creator of a public-affairs program, even though he was not supposed to be involved in programming. The show that resulted, with a conservative viewpoint, was Journal Editorial Report, hosted by the editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

Konz's report, which was sent to Capitol Hill yesterday, said Tomlinson threatened to withhold funding from PBS unless the network included more conservative voices in its programming.

The violations, Konz concluded, were "the result of the former chairman's personal actions to accomplish his various initiatives."

In a statement, Tomlinson, 61, lashed back at the inspector-general. "Any suggestion by Mr. Konz that I violated my fiduciary duties, the director's code of ethics or relevant statutory provisions is malicious and irresponsible," Tomlinson said. He described Konz's report as "audacious and grasping."

Tomlinson, an appointee of the Bush White House, resigned from the CPB board on Nov. 3 after the thrust of Konz's findings became known. He had been chairman of the corporation until September, when he handed over the reins to Cheryl F. Halpern, who is active in Republican fundraising circles. In June, Patricia de Stacy Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and Tomlinson's choice to be the CPB's president and CEO, was selected to lead the agency.

Political litmus tests were a "major criteria" in Harrison's recruitment, "which violated statutory prohibitions against such practices," the report said. It cited what it called "cryptic" e-mail messages that implied he consulted with White House officials before settling on high-level appointments.

The report also criticizes Tomlinson's secretive hiring of Republican consultant Frederick Mann to evaluate the political inclinations of guests on Moyers' show and other programs without authorization from the CPB's board.

Tomlinson has defended his actions by saying he was seeking political balance in public broadcasting because, he said, much of its programming is too liberal.

Democratic lawmakers yesterday criticized both the corporation and the Bush administration for Tomlinson's excesses. "The Bush administration may not like the objective reporting heard on public television and radio, but that's no justification for Mr. Tomlinson's crude attempt at political interference," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat.

White House spokeswoman Erin Healy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In response to the report, several public interest organizations that have been monitoring Konz's investigation - Free Press, the Center for Digital Democracy and Common Cause - called on Harrison to resign. In a joint statement, the groups called for new leadership at CPB and said Congress "must implement sweeping reforms to ensure the health and independence of PBS, NPR and other public media."

"It's time to clean house at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press. "This report shows that officials at the very top of the CPB were conspiring to conduct an extreme makeover of our public broadcasting system. Congress needs to immediately clear out the zealous partisans remaining at the CPB and institute sensible reforms that will permanently protect public broadcasting from political interference."

Harrison, 66, refused to step aside and the board rejected calls to dismiss her. "Integrity, leadership - these are the criteria on which I was chosen," said Harrison, who makes $180,000 a year, in a meeting with reporters. "No one owns me, ever. I do not have a political agenda."

The corporation's board backed Harrison in a statement and said it is setting up two committees to improve management controls and to create hiring policies "designed to maintain CPB's tradition of nonpartisanship."

The inspector general's report "documents the unnecessary and inappropriate politicization of public broadcasting," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "Through a series of covert and overt activities, the CPB board has helped undermine the foundation of public broadcasting."

Tomlinson remains chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees government broadcasts to other countries, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. In this capacity, he is the subject of another federal probe, by the State Department inspector general. That investigation is examining possible misuse of federal money and use of phantom or unqualified employees, The New York Times reported this month.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Bloomberg News Service contributed to this report.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.