NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · WASHINGTON, D.C. · Broadcasting · Nov. 16, 2005
Ex-CPB chair violated law by interfering with programming
Nov. 16, 2005 · Former Corporation for Public Broadcasting Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson violated federal law by improperly creating a public affairs program and using “political tests” to recruit Patricia Harrison as president and chief executive officer, an internal report revealed Tuesday. The review said Tomlinson, a Republican, had wrongly interfered in the creation of the show “The Journal Editorial Report” in an attempt to further a conservative agenda and counter what he considered to be a liberal bias on the network. Such interference violates the Public Broadcasting Act, the report said.
The report came after Reps. David Obey (D- Wis.) and John Dingell (D- Mich.) asked investigators at the corporation in May to look into whether Tomlinson violated the Public Broadcasting Act in hiring a consultant to analyze a news program to determine if it was “liberal,” and for enlisting a White House staffer to write guidelines for two new ombudsmen.
Tomlinson was forced to resign as CPB chairman Nov. 3.
Inspector General Kenneth Konz found that Tomlinson repeatedly broke federal law in what the former chairman said was his attempt to address a lack of objectivity and balance in public television programs. The report said Tomlinson had violated the Public Broadcasting Act by being closely involved in securing more than $4 million for the news program “The Journal Editorial Report,” which features writers of the conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. Tomlinson “violated his fiduciary responsibilities and statutory prohibitions against Board member involvement in programming decisions” in his handling of the show, Konz’s report read.
The report also revealed that Tomlinson “admonished CPB senior executive staff not to interfere with his deal to bring a balancing program” to public broadcasting. CPB’s board is prohibited under the Public Broadcasting Act from becoming involved in programming decisions, a limitation that Tomlinson ignored, according to evidence in the report.
He also hired an outside consultant to gauge political bias in noncommercial programs, mainly Bill Moyers’ show “Now,” a decision that outraged many outside of the CPB and prompted the investigation.
Tomlinson had made known to the public his lack of tolerance for “public broadcasting’s inability to achieve balance,” and told Broadcasting & Cable Tuesday that if a liberal program were to air “you should air a conservative program by its side.”
“If I threatened the cozy atmosphere of public broadcasting over the failure to balance the liberal advocacy journalism of Bill Moyers, so be it,” he told the magazine.
Controversy also arose when Tomlinson, then the chairman of the corporation, recruited Harrison for consideration as president and CEO of the nonpartisan organization. The report suggests that he imposed “political tests” to recruit Harrison, a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee and senior State Department official. The Public Broadcasting Act states explicitly that “no political test of qualification shall be used in selecting, appointing, promoting, or taking other personnel actions with respect to officers, agents, and employees of the Corporation.”
Watchdog groups, including Free Press, the Center for Digital Democracy, and Common Cause, are calling for Harrison’s resignation, citing the finding of “political tests” in the report. The CPB board has expressed its unanimous confidence in Harrison.
Tomlinson also was faulted for his decision to hire two Republican consultants to help with lobbying efforts against broadcasting legislation. Hiring the consultants was legal, but how their contacts were issued and overseen violated contracting rules, the report said.
Konz attributed the violations to Tomlinson’s “personal actions to accomplish various initiatives,” but he also found “serious weaknesses in corporate governance.” These weaknesses include a lack of specificity in the individual responsibilities of each member of the board and the chair and lack of transparency in decision-making.
“[Tomlinson’s involvement was] often exceeding the oversight role of a Board member in making procurement and programming decisions,” Konz wrote. “Further, the CPB’s internal controls did not function to ensure that the Board was fully informed about new policy initiatives being implemented and whether CPB operating procedures were being followed.”
In response to the report, Tomlinson said in a statement that the allegations were “malicious and irresponsible.” He said, “All of my actions were open, lawful, and were taken after consulting and receiving advice from CPB’s General Counsel, its President, or the CPB Board of Directors.”