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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 Salon.com 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."

"CPB's own research has shown that the American public believes public television and radio programming is objective and balanced," Dingell and Obey wrote.

"If CPB is moving in the direction of censorship of public affairs content based on partisanship and political views, this will severely erode the public trust that public broadcasting heretofore has enjoyed. Therefore, we are asking that your office fully investigate the issues . . . and report back to us in an expeditious manner."

Jeff Chester of the advocacy group Center for Digital Democracy said yesterday that he hopes the congressional attention "will shed some light on what appears to be a channeling of Richard Nixon's 'dirty tricks' by CPB chair Ken Tomlinson. Reporters on enemies lists, back-channel White House communications, and senior employees axed Friday at 5."

Dave Chappelle has checked himself into a mental health facility in South Africa, Entertainment Weekly reported yesterday.

Last week, Comedy Central network abruptly yanked production of the "Chappelle Show's" third season and scrubbed the highly hyped May 31 debut date. At the time, a spokesman for the network and for Chappelle declined to discuss the circumstances.

Chappelle flew from Newark to South Africa on April 28 for treatment, said the magazine, quoting a source close to the show that it would not identify. Entertainment Weekly told the Associated Press it had corroborating sources for its story.

"We don't know where he is," Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox told AP. "We've heard about South Africa. We don't know. We haven't talked to Dave."

Chappelle's spokesman, Matt Labov, would not comment on the magazine's story, the wire service reported.

Ten episodes were scheduled for the show's third season; none has been completed.

We Watch So You Don't Have To:

Results night on "American Idol." In which we learn that if you cry after your performance, no matter how bad, you will make it to the final three on "American Idol."

And if you pick a lousy first song, and butcher it to boot, but look hot -- in a "Miami Vice" meets Blues Brothers way, with sandals, suit and dark glasses -- for your second number, you, too, will make it to the final three on "American Idol."

And if you happen to be cute, buxom and blond you will definitely be named homecoming queen . . . I mean, make it to the final three on "American Idol," even though you demonstrate week after week that you have absolutely no curiosity about -- and can't even remember the words to -- any music except twangy country tunes you can sing in the shower.

Poor Anthony Fedorov learned this last night on "American Idol."

But not until he got to harmonize one more time with the Idolettes, this time doing an Abba-esque interpretation of "Islands in the Stream."

Bye-bye, sweet Anthony.

Another CNBC show has bitten the dust.

The cable network is pulling the plug on "Dennis Miller," the nightly talk show hosted by the comedian turned political commentator. Despite format changes during its 16 months on the air, the show never attracted an audience. This year, it has been averaging a paltry 115,000 viewers in its 9 p.m. time period.

Still, that's a substantially bigger audience than that enjoyed by Tina Brown's CNBC series "Topic A," which is ending its run this month; Brown says she's too busy working on a new book. Her show is only clocking an average of 74,000 viewers on Sunday nights.

The last original "Dennis Miller," which was taped Tuesday, ran last night; CNBC will air repeats tonight and tomorrow.

Starting Monday, the cable network will re-air the Jim Cramer-hosted "Mad Money" in place of Miller at 9 p.m. "Mad Money" has its first run at 6 p.m. In July, CNBC will introduce a business program at 7 p.m., replacing repeats of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" as the network tries to firm up a more business-oriented prime-time lineup.

CNBC had hoped Miller would stay through early summer as it moved to the new schedule.

But Miller "has let me know that his strong preference is to leave his program immediately," CNBC President Mark Hoffman wrote in a memo to staffers released yesterday.

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