PBS President Pat Mitchell said Tuesday she supports an investigation of what she called a “very troubling” use of federal money to track the political leaning of programming on public television.
Mitchell declined to say whether Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, should lose his job over surveys he ordered of PBS programming. The corporation funnels the federal funds that pay for a part of public TV.
The CPB inspector general is reviewing Tomlinson’s actions at the request of two Democratic legislators.
“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 in response to questions about Tomlinson from members of the Television Critics Association.
But she suggested rough waters were ahead for Tomlinson.
The internal CPB review of the surveys and use of taxpayer dollars are “obviously big issues and they’re not going to go away,” she said. “But it’s up to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s board to make that decision about whether he’s asked to step down.”
Democratic Reps. David Obey and John Dingell asked for the review into several actions by Tomlinson, a Republican, including the hiring of a consultant to review the guests on the show “Now With Bill Moyers.”
The New York Times reported that the consultant kept track of “anti-Bush,” “anti-business” and “anti-Tom DeLay” guests on the show. Moyers, who served in the Johnson administration, has left the show and now hosts “Wide Angle” on PBS.
On Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota said that CPB Inspector General Kenneth A. Konz’s investigation has expanded to include how CPB’s new president was hired.
Dorgan requested the inquiry after complaints that last month’s selection of Patricia S. Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, as president and chief executive was rushed and didn’t follow normal protocols.
Appearing Monday before a Senate subcommittee hearing on CPB appropriations, Tomlinson defended his leadership. He said he’s seeking political balance in public affairs programming and is not bent on silencing liberal voices.
Although Mitchell called Tomlinson’s actions “very troubling,” she said she takes him at his word that his goal was to broaden support for public television.
But tactics other than “secret reports” would be more constructive, she said, referring to the surveys. Besides, PBS could have provided him a list of Moyers’ guests for free, Mitchell added.
CPB was established to provide a “heat shield” to protect programming produced for PBS or local public-TV stations from political interference, Mitchell said.
“There are clearly questions, and rightly so, about whether the heat shield is in place,” she said.