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Embattled ex-chairman resigns from PBS board

Tomlinson steps down after investigative review of his tenure
/ Source: The Associated Press

Under fire for promoting conservative programming, the former Corporation for Public Broadcasting chairman has resigned from the corporation’s board after the panel reviewed an investigative report on his tenure.

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, whose term as board chairman ended in September, left the board after the third day of closed-door meetings by the board of directors to review the findings of the agency’s inspector general about his work.

“Both the board and Mr. Tomlinson believe it is in the best interests of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that he no longer remain on the board,” the board said in a statement e-mailed Thursday evening to reporters and interest groups.

Critics of Tomlinson’s nearly two-year tenure were not completely satisfied by his departure. They called for prompt public release of the investigative findings and for the board to repudiate his policies.

“Tomlinson strongly disputes the findings” of the inspector general, the board said without detailing them. The report is expected to be released in mid-November.

Tomlinson did not respond to a voice mail message left on his home telephone Thursday night seeking his comments.

The investigation was begun after Reps. David Obey, D-Wis., and John Dingell, D-Mich., in May called for CPB Inspector General Kenneth A. Konz to look into reports that Tomlinson used questionable tactics and corporation funds to exert political influence over public broadcasting.

The board said it “does not believe that Mr. Tomlinson acted maliciously or with any intent to harm CPB or public broadcasting” but it “expresses its disappointment in the performance of former key staff whose responsibility it was to advise the board and its members.”

Corporation spokesman Michael Levy could not be reached Thursday night for elaboration on which former staff members were being criticized and for what.

Finally, the board commended Tomlinson “for his legitimate efforts to achieve balance and objectivity in public broadcasting.”

Obey and Dingell asked the inspector general to investigate a consulting contract that, according to The New York Times, was initiated by Tomlinson to review the “Now With Bill Moyers” public television show for political content. They also asked for an inquiry into CPB’s decision to hire two ombudsmen to review public programming.

The Times reported that the consultant kept track of “anti-Bush,” “anti-business” and “anti-Tom DeLay” guests on Moyers’ show. Moyers, who served in the Johnson administration, has left the show.

Tomlinson, a Republican who formerly edited Reader’s Digest, has said public broadcasting shows were too liberal and didn’t give equal treatment to conservative views.

“Tomlinson’s resignation should be used to bring people together, not divide them as he and the administration have done,” Obey said.

Dingell called the resignation “long overdue.”

“We will need to determine how to stop this kind of misbehavior in the future,” Dingell added. “We hope today’s action is the first step by the board to operate in a more professional, nonpartisan manner.”

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he expected to see the inspector general report shortly. He said a conservative political consultant Tomlinson hired to analyze political bias in programming had no professional standing as a media analyst. He said there were complaints Tomlinson had acted without board approval and outside CPB bylaws.

“Tomlinson’s legacy at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a negative one,” Dorgan said. “He has done far more harm to the CPB than good.”

On its Web site, Common Cause, a private watchdog group, called it “distressing” that “the board’s statement ... fails to reflect any regret that Tomlinson’s methods were unacceptable and unethical.”

“CPB needs a thorough house-cleaning,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, which advocates more public interest programming on digital media. Tomlinson “has engaged in unethical, if not illegal, behavior,” Chester said, but his departure “is unlikely to stop the behind-the-scenes programming pressure” by other conservatives on the board and in CPB executive jobs.

Set up by Congress in 1967 to shield public broadcasting from political influence, the corporation funnels federal dollars to the Public Broadcasting Service, National Public Radio and hundreds of public radio and television stations.