By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., July 12
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting's inspector general is expanding his investigation of corporation Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson to include a look at how former Republican National Committee co-chair Patricia Harrison was installed as the new CPB president.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said Tuesday from Washington that he had asked CPB Inspector General Kenneth Konz to look into the hiring of Harrison, who was Tomlinson's choice for the gig, after receiving complaints that the process may have been "rushed" and "outside normal practices."
"Complaints that the selection process was inadequate are significant and come from people in a position to know the facts," Dorgan said in a statement. "I think such an investigation is not only appropriate but very much needed."
A confident CPB spokesman, Eben Peck, told the Associated Press the corporation was certain the latest investigation "will conclude that all of the steps taken with regard to Patricia Harrison's hire were appropriate."
But Jeff Chester, executive director at the media watchdog group Center for Digital Democracy, was equally sure the investigation will reveal that the search process for the CPB president was a "charade" and "another example of how Mr. Tomlinson is using CPB as his private fiefdom." Which just goes to show.
Konz already was up to his gills in Tomlinson investigations, including a look at the agency chairman's decision to spend more than $14,000 of CPB funds to monitor public TV programming for signs of political bias, and his decision to hire Republican consultants to keep tabs on legislation in the Senate that would have added more public radio and TV representation to the CPB board.
Earlier in the day, PBS President Pat Mitchell said she supported the investigation of Tomlinson's "very troubling" use of CPB bucks to monitor public TV programming.
While the PBS board has not called for Tomlinson to resign, others have, Mitchell noted, swiveling happily on a bar stool onstage at the Beverly Hilton on the first day of Summer TV Press Tour 2005.
"This inspector general's reports, about the surveys and use of taxpayer dollars, are obviously big issues and they're not going to go away. But it's up to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's board to make that decision about whether he's asked to step down," she said.
Mitchell, still swiveling, said that she thought there were other, more constructive ways for Tomlinson to have kept tabs on PBS shows than his methods of choice.
For instance, she said helpfully, "we could have provided him a list of [Bill] Moyers's guests for free."
(Interestingly, during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing in Washington on Monday, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) told Tomlinson that he could have saved a lot of CPB funds if, instead of hiring those lobbyists to gauge congressional opinions about that legislation to change the composition of the CPB board, he had just picked up the phone and called. "You could have saved $10,000," Specter calculated.)
Getting the press tour here off to a rollicking start, Mitchell noted that CPB was set up to provide a "heat shield" between politicians with agendas, who are charged with doling out dollars to public television, and PBS itself.
"There are clearly questions, and rightly so, about whether the heat shield is in place," she told the Reporters Who Cover Television. "That's why the [CPB] inspector general has been ordered to look at how this chairman has used public funds."
Nearly two months ago, ranking Democrats on two House committees with control over public broadcasting demanded that Konz probe whether Tomlinson had violated the 1967 law that established PBS.
Reps. John Dingell of Michigan and David Obey of Wisconsin wanted Konz to look at Tomlinson's hiring of Indiana consultant Frederick W. Mann to keep tabs on the political leanings of guests on several public broadcasting shows, including PBS's "Now With Bill Moyers" and "Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered," as well as NPR's Tavis Smiley- and Diane Rehm-hosted programs. They also said they were concerned about reports that Tomlinson hired Republican consultants to monitor that proposal for more public radio and TV representation on the CPB board.
On Monday, before the Senate Appropriations panel, Tomlinson defended his actions, saying he had brought the issue of "political balance" to the table.