A report issued by the inspector general of the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting (CPB) reveals that its former chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, violated
federal laws in his efforts to refashion public radio and television as propaganda
organs for the Republican right and the Bush administration. The report suggests
that the entire CPB board was to one degree or another complicit in Tomlinson’s
Tomlinson served as CPB chairman from September 2003 to September 2005. A right-wing
Republican and long-time acquaintance of Bush’s chief political advisor
Karl Rove, Tomlinson was formerly head of Voice of America. He resigned from
the CPB board in early November after the first details of the inspector general’s
report were reported in the press.
The report charges that Tomlinson repeatedly violated the Public Broadcasting
Act and “ethical guidelines” in order to eliminate what he called
“liberal bias” in public broadcasting.
The author of the report, Kenneth Konz, was hired as inspector general by the
CPB in the 1990s after serving in the inspector general’s office at the
Environmental Protection Agency. Konz indicated he will not seek prosecution
The report demonstrates the Bush administration’s contempt for the law
and basic democratic rights. The White House engineered the takeover of the
CPB board—which is supposed to be a “firewall” between programming
and political influence—by right-wing operatives after having failed in
attempts to cut off its funding.
The public broadcasting budget has been a target of right-wing attack for decades.
As a consequence, local affiliates have had to rely more and more on corporate
and private donations to sustain operations. However, efforts to completely
shut down public radio and television have failed largely because they have
broad popular support. They are seen by many as an alternative, however limited,
to the barren fare offered by the corporate media.
According to the inspector general’s report, Tomlinson improperly involved
himself in efforts to get $4 million for a program featuring editorial page
writers from the Wall Street Journal. The inspector general found that the former
CPB head “violated statutory provisions and the Directors Code of Ethics
by dealing directly with one of the creators of a new public affairs program
with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the CPB over creating the show.”
It says he “admonished” other CPB senior executive staff not to
hinder his plan to create a platform for the right-wing views of the Journal
on public television.
The report also found that Tomlinson imposed a “political test”
in hiring the board’s new president, Patricia Harrison, a former co-chair
of the Republican National Committee. In addition, it said that Tomlinson hired
consultants to carry out reviews of program content for “objectivity and
balance” without informing the Board, and “signed a contract without
Tomlinson paid a consultant $10,000 to monitor the program “Now with
Bill Moyers” for three months. Moyers’ liberal-oriented program
was targeted by Tomlinson and the White House in their effort to portray the
conventional, generally pro-establishment programming of PBS televison and National
Public Radio (NPR) as left-wing and biased. Moyers has since left PBS.
Tomlinson worked hard to promote the “Journal Editorial Report,”
even though board members are prohibited from becoming involved in programming
decisions. In December 2003, he sent an email to Paul Gigot, editor of the Wall
Street Journal editorial page, saying he was “trying to pressure (PBS
President) Pat Mitchell to produce a real conservative counterpoint to Moyers.
Would you be available for such an effort?” Gigot later became host of
In an interview with Reuters, Konz said he had seen emails sent by Tomlinson
to Karl Rove “bragging” about his success in getting the “Journal
Editorial Report” on the air.
Evidently embarrassed by these revelations, the Wall Street Journal announced
it was ending its program. The last show is set for December 2.
Investigators indicated they had seen emails between Tomlinson and the White
House that indicated the CPB chief was “strongly motivated by political
considerations” in selecting Harrison for the post of president and CEO.
It pointed out that Harrison got the job after being recommended by an unidentified
White House official.
The report noted a New York Times report that Tomlinson had made a speech at
a 2004 dinner in Baltimore declaring that PBS programming should reflect “the
Republican mandate.” The report also found that Tomlinson asked one prospective
candidate for an executive post about her political contributions in the last
Despite these revelations, the CPB board strongly defended Harrison, denying
suggestions that she had a right-wing political agenda. In fact, the CPB board
endorsed and participated in Tomlinson’s attempt to turn PBS into a sounding
board for the Republican right.
Cheryl Halpern, who replaced Tomlinson as CPB chairman, was a fundraiser for
the Republican Party. Tomlinson said that he chose Halpern as his successor
because of her commitment to end so-called programming bias.
Tomlinson attacked the inspector general’s report, saying it would “only
help to maintain the status quo and other reformers will be discouraged from
seeking change.” He is staying on as head of the Broadcasting Board of
Governors, which supervises government broadcasting overseas.
In reaction to the exposure of White House efforts to shift public broadcasting
to the right, some Republican members of Congress are seeking to retaliate by
cutting CPB funding.
Payouts to former PBS executives
The inspector general’s inquiry also raised the issue of financial improprieties
involving the CPB board. Independent auditors prepared a confidential report
that questioned a $500,000 consulting agreement with a former CPB president.
The contract was approved as a means of getting around salary limits.
The report criticized Tomlinson’s decision to hire two “ombudsmen”
to monitor program balance. The inspector general raised the possibility that
there was White House influence in hiring the ombudsmen, given that a White
House official, Mary Andrews, had worked with the CPB board to develop the plan.
It also criticized a severance deal with Kathleen Cox, Tomlinson’s predecessor
in the post of CPB chairman. The auditors said Tomlinson structured the $400,000
package in such a way as to avoid disclosure on the CPB’s publicly available
Cox resigned from the board in May after clashes with Tomlinson, who, she said,
told her she was not “political enough” for the job.
Meanwhile, the inspector general at the US State Department is looking into
allegations that Tomlinson misused CPB money, including putting ghost employees
on the payroll.
The investigation of the CPB came at the request of two Democratic House members
after a report in the New York Times last May raised questions about Tomlinson’s
The report underscores the utter cynicism of the White House, which, for its
own purposes, criticizes foreign governments for attempting to suppress or control
The Bush administration’s skullduggery in relation to public broadcasting
is the most overt expression of the pervasive influence of the government on
the US media, which already excludes any serious social or political commentary
and enforces a spectrum of viewpoints that, even in comparison to Europe, is
absurdly constricted. Socialist views are virtually banned from the airwaves.
To the extent that US public broadcasting provides any informative political,
historical or cultural programming that might provide the public with a basis
for forming critical and independent opinions, the right wing feels it to be
a threat that must be stamped out.
As usual, the Democratic Party has barely reacted to the latest revelations,
making no serious effort to warn the public over the implications for democratic
rights of the White House assault on public broadcasting. Meanwhile, Republican
members of Congress, in a blatantly partisan counterstrike, have requested that
Konz investigate allegations that local PBS and NPR stations improperly used
federal funds to lobby against proposed funding cuts. The cuts were defeated
in the face of strong public opposition.