Tomlinson Violated Statute, Ethics, Says Report


The Corporation for Public Broadcasting Inspector General, Kenneth Konz, has concluded that CPB Chairman Ken Tomlinson "violated statutory provisions" and the board's code of ethics by dealing directly with programmers during negotiations over the creation of a public affairs program, The Journal Editorial Report, and by using "political tests" to recruit President and CEO Patricia Harrison.

Konz said the investigation "identified e-mails between the former chairman and staff in the Executive Office of the President that, while cryptic in nature, their timing and subject matter gives the appearance that the former Chairman was strongly motivated by political considerations in filling the President/CEO position."

"Any suggestion by Mr. Konz that I violated my fiduciary duties, the Director's Code of Ethics or relevant statutory provisions is malicious and irresponsible," Tomlinson fired back Tuesday.  "All of my actions were open, lawful, and were taken after consulting and receiving advice from CPB's General Counsel, its President, or the CPB Board of Directors.  Even the most cursory and objective examination of the evidence would have demonstrated this.
"I am proud of all that I did to bring the Journal Editorial Report to public television," he said.  "Public broadcasting should not be the domain of any particular ideology or party. 
"The voices of America should be heard on public television – across the political spectrum.  Unfortunately, the Inspector General's pre-conceived and unjustified findings will only help to maintain the status quo and other reformers will be discouraged from seeking change.  Regrettably, as a result, balance and objectivity will not come soon to elements of public broadcasting."

The Public Broadcasting Act prevents CPB from influencing programming decisions and attempts to insulate it from politics. According to the Act,. "no political test or qualification shall be used in selecting, appointing, promoting, or taking other personnel actions with respect to officers, agents, and employees of the Corporation."

But the Act does permit hiring outside consultants and requires CPB to try and achieve balance in noncom programming of a controversial nature.

As such, the IG report concluded that hiring an outside consultant to gauge objectivity and balance in noncommercial programming was not out of bounds, but that Tomlinson should have informed the board and should not have signed the contract for the review without board approval.

It also found problems with how the contracts were issued and overseen.

The IG said creating an ombudsman position and hiring a lobbyist to help change the composition of the board were "consistent" with Tomlinson's responsibilities under the Public Broadcasting Act.
While the report attributed the violations to Tomlinson's "personal actions to accomplish varoius initiatives," it also found "serious weaknesses in corporate governance." They included a lack of specifics in the bylaws regarding roles and responsibilities of board members and the chairman; the attitude of top management toward internal controls; and the lack of transparency in decsionmaking within the board.

The report recommends a host of changes to increase accountability and enforce it.

In a Nov. 8 response to the IG, CPB agreed to adopt new internal controls, but said that since Tomlinson had resigned, "the need for the board to respond in detail to particular allegations concering his actions as Chairman has been largely mooted."

The IG report was prompted by requests from various legislators. Last May, Reps. David Obey (D-Wis.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) asked Konz to look into whether Tomlinson violated the Public Broadcasting Act by commissioning an outside content analysis of the politics in Now and other PBS shows, and by enlisting a White House staffer to help write rules for two new ombudsmen, one a former Reader's Digest colleague of Tomlinson's.

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) had also asked Inspector General Kenneth Konz back in June 29 to look into CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson's role in "installing" his choice of former Republican National Committee Co-chair Harrison.
Tomlinson set off a firestorm of criticism when he suggested that PBS needed some conservative shows to balance liberal ones.
In a speech to the Media Institute in September, he defended his approach, saying he had "no regrets" about trying to balance public broadcasting by adding conservative viewpoints.

That included hiring the outside consultant to gauge the bias in noncommercial programming, most notably Bill Moyers' show, Now, a move that angered many inside and outside public broadcasting and helped prompt the CPB inspector general's investigation.

"I demanded political balance in public broadcasting and there are people in this town who would like to see me pay for that sin," he said, sounding more sorry for the controversy that has ensued than defiant.

For his part, Tomlinson said in the speech that he did not want to be remembered as someone who had damaged public broadcasting. Yet he added: "If I threatened the cozy atmosphere of public broadcasting over the failure to balance the liberal advocacy journalism of Bill Moyers, so be it," he said. Tomlinson said he was only following the law, which says that CPB is "charged by statute with the responsibility of maintaining objectivity and balance in current affairs programming."

Tomlinson said that he thought that the noncom service had been "damaged a lot by that two-year Moyers period because it came to symbolize a total deficit in public broadcasting." He added that public broadcasting should instead call to Republicans: "Come inside the tent."

Dorgan called, instead, for Senate hearings to insure that CPB undertakes the fixes suggested by the IG. "We need to bring the disinfectant of public scrutiny to begin to heal the damage Mr. Tomlinson has done to this corporation.” He also wanted to know the identity of the White House Office of the President staffer with whom Tomlinson exchanged "cryptic" e-mails.
"The report shows that Mr. Tomlinson was willing to ride roughshod over the law to impose his political mindset on PBS programming," said Obey in a statement Tuesday.  "The Corporation for Public Broadcasting needs significant reform and vigorous oversight to preserve the political neutrality that Mr. Tomlinson pretended he wanted but did so much to prevent."

"A runaway chairman apparently took advantage of a lackadaisical board of directors and a curious absence of basic management, and was allowed to inject politics into the work of the Corporation," said Dingell in a statement.  "I believe that someone who, according to the report, disregarded ethics and the law should not be trusted with government authority."
Since Tomlinson resigned from the board Nov. 3, that would appear to be a reference to Tomlinson's role as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the U.S. govenrment's international broadcasts, including Voice of Americe, Radio Free Europe, and its Middle East braodcasting operations.
Those Middle East operations are currently being investigated by the State Department IG over complaints about contracting procedures there, but Tomlinson told a congressional oversight committee this week that the BBG board called for the investigation itself and that was standard procedure for an operation that was launched quickly from scratch.

The CPB IG took issue with the sole source contracting with lobbyists to help CPB fight proposed changes to the board. Sole sourcing was one of the issues raised about the BBG services. According to the report, CPB management said that, too, was because it was "an emergency that required they act immediately."
Citing the finding of  "political tests" used to pick Harrison, Free Press, the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), and Common Cause quickly called for her resignation. "“The Inspector General’s report documents the unnecessary and inappropriate politicization of public broadcasting,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of CDD.

Chester went even further, calling on the entire board to resign. "They have demonstrated an inability to effectively govern CPB. The entire board should resign," he told B&C.