The Corporation for Public Broadcasting's former chairman may have violated federal law by steering a conservative-oriented talk show onto PBS's schedule and used "political tests" to recruit a former co-chairman of the Republican National Committee as its president, an internal investigation has found.
Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the former chairman, also threatened to withhold federal funds if PBS refused to "balance" its programming with more conservatives and he hired lobbyists, consultants and two ombudsmen without the board's knowledge or approval, according to a five-month investigation and report by the CPB's inspector general, Kenneth A. Konz.
Konz's report, requested by Democrats in Congress and released publicly yesterday, appears to end a chapter in Tomlinson's controversial two-year tenure as head of the agency that passes about $400 million in federal funds to public radio and TV stations and is supposed to shield public broadcasting from political pressure. Tomlinson, a Republican, whipped up controversy in the past year by asserting that public broadcasting's news and public-affairs programming is dominated by liberals and that the CPB had a responsibility to restore balance.
Tomlinson resigned from the CPB board this month as it privately reviewed Konz's findings. In a statement included as part of Konz's report, Tomlinson blasted the inspector general's conclusions as "preconceived and unjustified." He added, "Regrettably, as a result, balance and objectivity will not come soon to elements of public broadcasting."
Konz said in an interview that he found no criminal violations. His report, however, documented a series of Tomlinson-led initiatives that were undertaken without the knowledge of CPB's board or that directly violated the agency's statutes and procedures.
Although some public broadcasters and Democrats have said Tomlinson's actions were designed to bring a rightward tilt to CPB and public TV and radio, Konz said, "I did not see any real effort to build a conservative Republican force here at CPB."
Konz noted, however, that Tomlinson coordinated some of his activities with White House officials, particularly hiring decisions, and exchanged e-mails with presidential adviser Karl Rove, an old friend of Tomlinson's. "There is no question, [Tomlinson] was looking for Republicans to fill some of the vacancies," Konz said. "He did ask for feedback on some of the candidates." His report was particularly critical of Tomlinson's recruiting of former RNC co-chairman Patricia Harrison to become CPB's president and chief executive in April, saying the e-mail exchanges suggested Tomlinson was "strongly motivated by political considerations."
In response to the investigation, several interest groups, including Common Cause, called on Harrison to resign. In an interview, she indicated she had no intention of leaving her job. She noted that the agency's board gave her a unanimous vote of confidence in its reply to the inspector general.
The report's most damning finding might have been Tomlinson's efforts to steer "The Journal Editorial Report," a conservative-oriented talk show featuring commentators from the Wall Street Journal, onto PBS's regular weekly schedule. Under federal statutes, board members are prohibited from involvement in programming decisions. But Konz said that Tomlinson was intimately involved in the development of the program, which he had touted as an ideological alternative to "Now . . . With Bill Moyers," and that he helped get funding for it -- a possible violation of Tomlinson's fiduciary responsibilities.
Among other things, Tomlinson advised Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot on how to get his show on PBS, suggested a format and admonished other CPB officials not to interfere with his efforts. Konz said Tomlinson also sent e-mails to CPB staff members telling them to threaten to withhold federal funds from PBS if the network did not "balance" its schedule.
PBS officials declined to comment, saying they were reviewing the report.
The inspector general was critical of CPB's executive staff, including former chief executive Kathleen Cox, citing the failure to apprise the board of Tomlinson's various contracting and programming initiatives.
Through her attorney, Cox denied that allegation, saying she had made good-faith efforts to communicate with the board but was blocked by Tomlinson, who sometimes admonished her in a "stern and intimidating" manner.
Cox resigned as chief executive this year after nine months in that post, during which she had a stormy relationship with Tomlinson. She received what Konz termed "a very generous" severance package worth more than $610,000, or approximately three times her annual salary and benefits. The package was apparently unilaterally negotiated by Tomlinson without the board's knowledge, Konz said.
In response to the report, CPB's board yesterday voted to undertake a lengthy series of changes recommended by Konz, including starting a compensation committee to review contracts and a corporate governance committee to investigate alleged violations.
The CPB investigation might not be the end of Tomlinson's troubles. Another investigation involves his chairmanship of the Board of Broadcasting Governors, a State Department agency that oversees the federal government's international broadcasting operations, including Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. The investigation reportedly centers on Tomlinson's hiring and spending practices.