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Former VOA chief is new head of CPB
Newsman Richard Carlson takes office in July [1992]

Originally published in Current, March 30, 1992

Richard W. Carlson, 51, a longtime print and TV journalist, former director of the Voice of America and current diplomat, takes office in mid-July [1992] as president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The CPB Board unanimously elected Carlson March 24 after a six-month search. He will succeed Donald Ledwig, who announced his resignation last September.

Ledwig will speak for CPB at its congressional hearing next week, but Carlson will take office in time for the 25th anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act later this year. CPB describes Carlson as "a speaker at more than 500 forums since 1977."

Carlson's articulateness was not the main reason he was hired, however, said CPB Board Chairman Marshall Turner. "We hired him because he's a leader. That's his key characteristic. The second characteristic: he understands the product. What we're all here to do ends up in front of people's eyes and ears. ... He's rooted in the product."

After his hiring was announced, Carlson flew back to the Republic of Seychelle, a tiny Indian Ocean island nation where he has been U.S. ambassador since 1991.

The ambassadorship followed his five-and-a-half-year tour at Voice of America, which culminated in a dispute over VOA's editorial independence.

Defied censorship

Carlson broke with his former boss, U.S. Information Agency Director Bruce Gelb, when Gelb directed him not to air interviews with Chinese dissident Fang Li Zhu. VOA is editorially independent under the law, Carlson says, and its interview went ahead anyway. Gelb pushed for reorganization of the independent-minded VOA under more direct USIA control. The "long-simmering feud" eventually "led the White House to remove both men," summarized National Journal.

"We looked carefully at that experience at VOA and that was key to our perception of him as a solid, independent leader," Turner said. "At VOA, he showed he knew how to hold the helm firmly and steer an independent and consistent course through stormy seas."

"The board coalesced around Carlson, a leader of great integrity and a perfect person for the job," said CPB Vice Chair Sheila Tate in a CPB press release.

"Carlson is noted for his fairness, evenhandedness and nonpartisanship," commented retiring CPB Board member Sharon Rockefeller, president of WETA-FM/TV, Washington, in the release.

Carlson has worked since 1962 as a wire-service reporter, investigative reporter for commercial TV stations and news anchor at the CBS affiliate in San Diego. He also served as a senior v.p. at Great First American Bank in San Diego and on diplomatic delegations to Moscow and Beijing.

Carlson shared a Peabody Award for an investigative report for KABC, Los Angeles, in 1976, among 18 major journalism awards, including three Emmys.

In public broadcasting, he appeared on News in Review for KCET, Los Angeles, and chaired a fundraising auction for KPBS, San Diego.

"This is going to be a tough job, I anticipate," Carlson told Current. He compared it with the position of VOA director, which he held between early 1986 and July 1991. "There is not a much more difficult management job than VOA. It's loaded with snares and traps, and it experienced regular, direct assaults." But he also anticipated that the new job will be rewarding, as VOA was.

Public broadcasting, he told the Washington Post, "is a great, worthwhile thing to save. I know there are some people who want to cut it back, but that's kind of a cyclical thing. I'm interested in mending some fences. I intend to spend time talking to some of the critics of public broadcasting and listening to what they have to say."

Carlson is not the first CPB president to have resigned as VOA director after a censorship dispute with federal superiors. Henry Loomis, who served as CPB president in the 1970s, had directed the Voice in 1958-65 and quit in a dispute with the Johnson Administration.

CPB approached Carlson

CPB Chairman Marshall Turner, who led the search effort with Tate, was nearly gleeful to announce Carlson's hiring on the last day of his own board term, March 26. Turner had aimed to wrap up the task before his term expired. "I'm having a good last day," he said.

SpencerStuart, a New York recruiting firm, had listed as many as 200 candidates for the job, and board members interviewed about 25, narrowing the field to several people interviewed by the whole board during its March 23-24 meeting, according to Turner.

In Carlson's case, CPB's search team sought him out. Turner and a SpencerStuart headhunter approached him late in February during a visit to the states, he recalls. Carlson flew back to Washington March 21 for the board's interview.

. To Current's home page
. Later news: Carlson resigns, January 1997.

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