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Report: Former CPB chair violated law

Is accused of trying to turn public radio, TV into GOP mouthpiece
/ Source: The Associated Press

The former chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting broke federal law by interfering with PBS programming and appearing to use political tests in hiring the corporation’s new president, internal investigators said Tuesday.

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, a Republican, also sought to withhold funding from PBS unless the taxpayer-supported network brought in more conservative voices to balance its programming, said the report by CPB inspector general Kenneth A. Konz.

Tomlinson was chairman of the corporation until September and resigned as a board member earlier this month after Konz privately shared his findings with the board. The report was publicly released Tuesday.

The corporation — which funnels hundreds of millions of federal dollars to National Public Radio, the Public Broadcasting Service and noncommercial radio and television stations — was created by Congress in the late 1960s to shield public broadcasting from political influence.

Specifically, the report said Tomlinson violated the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 and ethical standards by dealing directly with one of the creators of the conservative-leaning “Journal Editorial Report,” hosted by the editor of The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

In internal e-mails, Tomlinson told CPB staff to threaten to withhold funds from PBS “if they didn’t balance their programming,” the report said.

There was evidence, the report said, to suggest that “political tests” or qualifications were used as a major factor in the hiring of new CPB President Patricia S. Harrison, in violation of federal rules. Harrison, who was backed by Tomlinson, is a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

The report also faulted Tomlinson for hiring a consultant to review program content on PBS shows such as “Now With Bill Moyers.” The IG said Tomlinson didn’t obtain the proper authorization from the board for the consultant’s $20,000 contract. The consultant kept track of whether guests on the shows were “anti or pro-Bush,” and “anti or pro-Tom DeLay.”

New leadership now at helmThere are no criminal penalties associated with the laws the report said Tomlinson broke, the IG’s office said. The board could have taken disciplinary action if Tomlinson were still a board member.

A call seeking comment from Tomlinson was not returned Tuesday afternoon. He has defended his actions as an effort to bring political balance to public-affairs programming and maintained no wrongdoing.

Democrats see it differently, and have accused Tomlinson of trying to turn public radio and TV into a mouthpiece for the GOP.

“The report shows that Mr. Tomlinson was willing to ride roughshod over the law to impose his political mindset on PBS programming,” said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis. “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting needs significant reform and vigorous oversight.”

Obey and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., had called for the IG investigation.

With new leadership at the helm, the CBP’s Harrison said the report offered an opportunity for much-needed changes. “It is going to give us a guideline to do things that probably should have been put in place a very long time ago,” she told The Associated Press.

After the release of the report, the board approved steps aimed at improving operations, including setting up a committee to develop corporate governance guidelines and practices.

A public watchdog group, meanwhile, urged the entire board, as well as Harrison, to resign.

The board has “demonstrated an inability to effectively govern CPB,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

He called Harrison’s hiring “a sweetheart inside deal by Tomlinson,” and said her “platitudes today in responding to the IG report demonstrate she has no real comprehension of the seriousness of the problems at CPB.”