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Journalists with cameras, recorders and notepads  pursue CPB chairman.

Reporters question Tomlinson as he leaves CPB's boardroom. (Photo: Current.)

Opponents want him gone but Tomlinson sits tight

Originally published in Current, June 27, 2005
By Jeremy Egner

Embattled CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson opened last week’s CPB Board with remarks designed to rebut widespread assumptions that he’s a greater promoter of Republicanism than of public broadcasting.

“When people with partisan traditions come to institutions like CPB, they leave these traditions at the door,” he said. “The best way to encourage support for public broadcasting is to encourage this bipartisan tradition.”

By the end of last week, dozens of Democratic lawmakers and liberal activists had said they’d rather encourage bipartisanship by seeing Tomlinson resign.

Anti-Tomlinson sentiment ran rampant even before June 23, when the board hired his choice for CPB president, former Republican Party Co-chair Patricia Harrison (separate story). Two days earlier, 16 Democratic senators sent a letter to President Bush asking him to fire the chairman. “We urge you to immediately replace Mr. Tomlinson with an executive who takes his or her responsibility to the public television system seriously, not one who so seriously undermines the credibility and mission of public television,” the senators said. The White House confirmed that Tomlinson will not be dismissed, according to press reports.

Earlier that afternoon, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) called for Tomlinson’s dismissal at a Capitol Hill rally for public broadcasting.

The lawmakers’ requests came one day after progressive groups Common Cause and Free Press presented acting CPB President Ken Ferree with a petition accusing Tomlinson of “abusing his position to pursue a partisan agenda” and asking him to quit. The petition had more than 100,000 signatures.

Tomlinson, who had little comment for the reporters who swarmed him after the board meeting, did say that he had no plans to step down.

“I’m confident the inspector general’s report will conclude that all of my actions were taken in accordance with the relevant rules and regulations and traditions of CPB,” he said, referring to the ongoing CPB investigation requested by Reps. David Obey (D- Wis.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.).

There’s no date set for the report’s release, said Sandy Keith, counsel in the inspector general office. CPB Board member Beth Courtney said she expects it in late July.
Press reports documenting the chairman’s secretive efforts to monitor pubcasting balance and influence legislation fueled the anti-Tomlinson sentiment.

The New York Times revealed the chairman contracted with several consultants with right-wing ties without the knowledge of the CPB Board.

Fred Mann was hired to monitor the political affiliations of guests on Now with Bill Moyers, the Times reported. Mann worked until last year at the National Journalism Center, a journalism training program operated by conservative groups.

Republican lobbyists Mark Buse and Brian Darling gave strategic advice on legislation Tomlinson opposed that would have increased stations’ representation on the CPB Board, according to the Times. Buse and Darling formerly worked for Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), respectively.

CPB reps and Tomlinson have said they won’t comment on specific charges until the IG’s report is released. At the board meeting, Tomlinson explained that he kept his actions under wraps to avoid controversy that would damage pubcasting.

“I sought to keep the discussion over balance within the public broadcasting family but as events have proven, this is such an explosive issue that we could not contain it within the family,” he said.

CPB has also declined to share results of the much-discussed Now study.

However, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees CPB, said Tomlinson sent him raw data from the study after the senator requested information.

In a Senate speech, Dorgan said the study seemed more concerned with identifying “pro-Bush” or “anti-Bush” guests on the PBS program than giving their actual political affiliations. In the data, he said, Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) was classified as a liberal because he disagreed with part of the president’s policy on Iraq.

“This is pretty unseemly, frankly, spending public money on a consultant who then sits down and looks at all of these programs to see if something is being said that might be critical about a president or Congress,” Dorgan said.

Web page posted June 27, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Current Publishing Committee

EARLIER ARTICLES

Recapping the CPB balance debates so far, as of May 2005.

Slow to rally, station execs begin decrying melting of heat shield.

Media reform activists on the left focus on Tomlinson at conference.

RELATED ARTICLES

Over objections from the field, CPB Board hires Tomlinson's choice for president, former GOP official, Patricia Harrison.

House restores CPB funding in 2-to-1 vote.

PubTV lobbies and bids to keep grants for kidvid.

LINKS

The researcher who evaluated the political content of Now with Bill Moyers worked for 20 years at a journalism center aligned with the conservative movement, reports the New York Times.

The executive committee of NETA, one of the largest associations of pubTV stations, told the CPB Board in a letter May 31 that it had gone about its balancing efforts in the wrong way — at the national level. The letter explained: "...The solutions will not be found in press statements or surreptitious studies. Instead, bring them to the licensees. We have a direct relationship with our audience and we have the authority and responsibility to act."

Bill Moyers talks with Amy Goodman about the Republican agenda and public broadcasting.

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