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Correction to This Article
The TV Column in the April 9 Style section incorrectly described Ken Ferree as the chief executive of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He is the chief operating officer.

It's Friday Night and CPB's Brief Chief Is Out the Door

By Lisa de Moraes
Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page C01

One of the things you learn as a cub reporter at the Podunk Independent is that when a company puts out a news release at 5 p.m. on a Friday, they're hoping the reporter already has left to get a head start on the weekend and won't see it until Monday.

In other words, something big and unpleasant is up. Or, more usually, someone's out.

At 5 p.m. yesterday, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced that "after implementing the findings of the McKinsey study" (say what?), CPB President Kathleen Cox feels that it's a natural time for her to step aside and let the board conduct a search for her successor.

For the time being, CPB said, Ken Ferree will take over. A senior official for then-Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell, Ferree was named CPB's chief executive officer and executive vice president a mere three weeks ago.

Cox has been CPB president since July 1.

That would make it just about nine months that she has had the job. Interestingly, her predecessor, Robert T. Coonrod, who had been president since 1997, was quoted in public television trade paper Current as saying that he had been grooming her for the job for four years. That is a long time to groom someone for a job she's only planning to hold nine months.

In July, when Cox addressed the Senate Commerce Committee to pitch its members long and hard on why it was so important that they reauthorize the CPB, she noted she been on the job only 12 days -- little realizing that those 12 days would account for a hefty chunk -- 4 percent -- of her time in office.

Or did she?

CPB said in its news release -- issued at 5 p.m. on a Friday -- that last spring Cox, who has been with CPB since 1997, and CPB agreed to a one-year contract for her to serve as president and chief executive officer "in no small part because of her significant contributions to this process."

"This process" refers to "implementing the findings of the McKinsey study." The study, a nice spokeswoman for CPB told us, is "an economic analysis that was conducted to help understand better the economic landscape of public television and identify opportunities for improvement."

The study by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. was undertaken in 2002 for CPB, which was created by Congress to dole out federal funds to public television and radio.

Yesterday's announcement comes just three days after CPB appointed two ombudsmen to critique the work of public TV and radio. At the time, Cox told The Post's Paul Farhi that the appointments were part of an effort "to raise public broadcasting's ability to address [public] concerns about issues of journalism." She declined to say what, if any, journalistic issues have arisen recently, Farhi reported.

Earlier this year, PBS received a sharply worded letter from new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings for using some of her department's Ready to Learn program funds on an episode of "Postcards From Buster" in which the title character, an animated rabbit, visits children in Vermont who are living with their two mothers. Spellings demanded that all mention of Buster's clambake be stricken from the offending episode. PBS announced it would not distribute the episode.

Late yesterday, PBS chief Pat Mitchell scrambled to put out a statement saying she was surprised to learn about Cox's exit.

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