Report Finds Ex-CPB Chair Violated Law
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The former chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting violated federal law while fighting what he said was liberal bias on the public airwaves. That is the conclusion of an internal investigation into Kenneth Tomlinson. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK reporting:
Kenneth Tomlinson delivered an earful late last month to a media industry group in Washington. Tomlinson said he was proud of his work to bring more conservative voices to public broadcasting, especially PBS.
(Soundbite of speech)
Mr. KENNETH TOMLINSON (Former Chairman, CPB): This thing of balance is not rocket science, and that's why I had so little tolerance sometimes for public broadcast's inability to achieve balance.
FOLKENFLIK: But Tomlinson didn't have much to say yesterday. CPB inspector general Kenneth Konz released a report that found Tomlinson violated federal law. Tomlinson had demanded that PBS broadcast a show built around the conservative editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, and then dictated the show's structure. As a member of the board, he's prohibited from doing that. CPB is a not-for-profit corporation that distributes federal money to NPR and PBS member stations. The CPB is supposed to insulate public broadcasters from political pressure, but also ensure balance on their news programs.
Tomlinson was CPB's board chairman until September, but he was forced to quit the board entirely when it received the inspector general's findings earlier this month. The report found Tomlinson e-mailed President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, about CPB matters. It also found he sought White House recommendations for people to hire for the corporation, and the report said Tomlinson violated ethical guidelines in hiring a consultant to monitor news shows on PBS and NPR without telling the rest of the board.
Tomlinson rejected the report in a letter. Tomlinson called the findings, quote, "malicious and irresponsible," saying he routinely consulted CPB officials or board members. But Wisconsin Representative David Obey was among the congressional Democrats who said Tomlinson has damaged public broadcasting.
Representative DAVID OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin): He did the very thing that he claimed he was trying to prevent, which is to bring politics into programming and bring politics into hiring.
FOLKENFLIK: This summer, the CPB board picked Tomlinson's candidate as the new president and CEO. Patricia Harrison's a former US assistant secretary of State and former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. But some liberal advocacy groups now say Harrison's appointment as president was tainted. Chellie Pingree, the CEO of Common Cause, says Harrison should step down.
Ms. CHELLIE PINGREE (CEO, Common Cause): There should not be someone at the helm, particularly in a time when so many questions are being raised, who comes from a highly partisan background, and there was obviously some influence of the White House on the choice of her as the president and CEO of the organization.
FOLKENFLIK: But Patricia Harrison said yesterday she had no partisan agenda for CPB.
Ms. PATRICIA HARRISON (President and CEO, CPB): I have too much pride, or ego, depending on how you want to view me, to ever subsume the goals of this organization for political purposes.
FOLKENFLIK: In his talk last month, Tomlinson said he was the one seeking to ensure public broadcasters were being ideologically even-handed.
(Soundbite of speech)
Mr. TOMLINSON: Everyone knows I'm a Republican, supply-sider, equal-opportunity conservative. But despite my politics I think I've had a career here of being known as an honest broker.
FOLKENFLIK: But Tomlinson's critics are pointing to the inspector general's report as proof that he's not. Meanwhile, Tomlinson has kept his other post as chairman over the agency that runs the government's international broadcasting efforts, such as the Voice of America and the Arab-language television service Alhurra. Some of Tomlinson's activities there are under investigation as well.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: If you like, you can read the inspector general's report for yourself by going to npr.org.
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