Kenneth Tomlinson Quits Public Broadcasting Board

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 4, 2005

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, who sparked controversy by asserting that programs carried by public broadcasters have a liberal bias, resigned yesterday from the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting a day after the agency's inspector general delivered a report apparently critical of his leadership.

Tomlinson, a staunch conservative who was CPB's chairman until September, brought unprecedented attention to his agency by publicly criticizing the alleged political favoritism of news programs, primarily those carried by the Public Broadcasting Service. CPB wields great influence over public radio and TV stations through its distribution of about $400 million in federal funding each year.

Despite Tomlinson's high-profile campaign, it was his behind-the-scenes moves that apparently contributed to his departure.

The CPB's inspector general has been investigating Tomlinson's practice of using agency money to hire consultants and lobbyists without notifying the agency's board. Tomlinson last year hired a little-known Indiana consultant to study the political leanings of guests on such programs as "Now With Bill Moyers" and "The Diane Rehm Show" on National Public Radio. He also hired lobbyists to defeat legislation that would have changed how CPB's board is structured.

The inspector, Kenneth Konz, also had been looking into whether Tomlinson violated agency procedures in his recruiting of former Republican National Committee co-chairman Patricia de Stacy Harrison to be CPB's chief executive, and into possible White House influence in the hiring of two in-house ombudsmen to critique news programs on NPR and PBS.

Konz delivered his preliminary findings to CPB's board Tuesday night, but the report will not be made public until midmonth.

In announcing Tomlinson's departure yesterday, the CPB added a curious addendum: "The board does not believe that Mr. Tomlinson acted maliciously or with any intent to harm CPB or public broadcasting, and the board recognizes that Mr. Tomlinson strongly disputes the findings in the soon-to-be-released Inspector General's report. The board expresses its disappointment in the performance of former key staff whose responsibility it was to advise the board and its members."

CPB officials declined to identify the "former key staff" mentioned and a spokesman, Michael Levy, declined to answer questions, citing "a legal agreement" between the board and Tomlinson. He could not be reached for comment.

In many ways, Tomlinson's resignation has more symbolic than practical import. His remaining term as a board member would have run out Jan. 31 (he could have stayed on the board through the end of next year had President Bush failed to appoint someone to replace him).

Despite his departure, the CPB remains firmly controlled by conservatives. Tomlinson's successor as chairman, Cheryl F. Halpern, is a longtime contributor to Republicans, including President Bush and Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.). Its vice chairman, Gay Hart Gaines, another Republican contributor, was a founder and former chairman of GOPAC, a powerful GOP fundraising group.

Tomlinson, a former editor of Reader's Digest, remains chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a federal agency unrelated to CPB that oversees the government's international broadcasting services, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and the Arabic-language Radio Sawa.

Some Democrats, as well as public broadcasting and public interest groups, recently have called for restructuring the CPB.

Tomlinson's resignation "comes as welcome news," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.), who was among several Democrats who earlier this year called for the inspector general's investigation. "There's no doubt in my mind that Mr. Tomlinson's legacy at CPB is a negative one and that he has done far more harm to the CPB than good."

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, an advocacy group, said: "It was time that Mr. Tomlinson stepped down. He has engaged in unethical, if not illegal, behavior." He predicted, however, that Tomlinson's departure "is unlikely to stop the behind-the-scenes programming pressure on PBS and perhaps NPR" because conservatives remain in charge.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company