House Democrats Seek Probe of 'Political Ideology' at CPB

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, May 12, 2005

The ranking Democrats on two House committees with control over public broadcasting want recent activities of Corporation for Public Broadcasting Chairman Ken Tomlinson investigated to see whether he violated the 1967 law that established the private, nonprofit organization.

"Recent news reports suggesting that the CPB increasingly is making personnel and funding decisions on the basis of political ideology are extremely troubling," Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) wrote in a letter sent late yesterday to CPB Inspector General Kenneth Konz.

The ranking members on the Energy and Commerce and Appropriations committees, respectively, asked Konz to investigate several recent CPB activities and to turn over all relevant documents to them.

Specifically, they call for an investigation of a report that without the knowledge of his board, Tomlinson contracted an outside consultant last year to monitor the "political content" of PBS's "Now With Bill Moyers" for "anti-Bush," "anti-business" and "anti-Tom DeLay" "biases." (Moyers left the show in December and the program was renamed "Now.")

A call placed late yesterday to CPB seeking comment from Tomlinson had not been returned at press time.

Dingell and Obey also want Konz to look into a report that Tomlinson told members of the Association of Public Television Stations meeting in Baltimore with CPB and PBS officials last November that they should make sure their programming better reflects the Republican mandate. (Tomlinson has said his comment was in jest; PBS President Pat Mitchell was quoted as saying she present at the time and "surprised by the comment," which she called "inappropriate" in a recent New York Times article.)

The congressmen also cite reports that Tomlinson was involved in securing $5 million in corporate funding for "The Journal Editorial Report," headlined by the editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, and pressed PBS into distributing it. They want investigated whether Tomlinson played a personal role in the funding and approval of a show for PBS hosted by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, and whether any attempt was made to review the "objectivity and balance" of those two shows in the same way "Now" was scrutinized.

The congressmen noted in their letter that "Congress intended that the CPB serve as a shield rather than a source of political interference into public broadcasting." The Public Broadcasting Act forbids CPB to produce, schedule or distribute programs and requires any assistance to the production and acquisition of programs to be "evaluated on the basis of comparative merit by panels of outside experts, representing diverse interests and perspectives, appointed by the Corporation."

They want Konz to investigate reports that White House personnel were involved in the development and guidelines for the new CPB ombudsmen in reviewing PBS programming for "balance and accuracy."

And they want him to look into news reports that Tomlinson hired Mary Catherine Andrews, while she was still director of the White House Office of Global Communications, to draft guidelines for the ombudsmen's work. She subsequently was hired as a senior staffer at CPB.

They also question the process used by CPB to oust Kathleen Cox as CEO, and the hiring of Ken Ferree, a Republican and adviser to then chairman of the Federal Communications Committee Michael Powell, who has temporarily replaced Cox. And they ask Konz to investigate the hiring of Michael Pack, senior vice president for television programming, who, the letter said, citing a New Yorker article, "was named a few weeks after he represented Lynne Cheney, the Vice President's wife, in a meeting with PBS to request a series of programs on which Mrs. Cheney would appear."

Much of the information cited by the two congressmen came from a recent article in the New York Times; other information came from articles on and in the New Yorker. The two men also mention a recent commentary by Tomlinson in the Washington Times in which he "cited 'the left-wing bias' of 'Now' as a reason for his active support" of "The Journal Editorial Report."

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