Weekly Standard's Sonny Bunch ignored OIG report finding wrongdoing by Tomlinson

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

In his April 17 column, Weekly Standard assistant editor Sonny Bunch suggested that Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the former chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), was "forced out" because his "efforts to create a ... less reflexively liberal system" were "rewarded by attacks in the New York Times and elsewhere." In fact, as Media Matters for America documented, Tomlinson stepped down as chairman when his term ended in September 2005 and subsequently left the CPB board of directors on November 3, 2005 -- a move CPB characterized as a mutual decision -- after CPB inspector general (IG) Kenneth Konz presented the board with the preliminary findings of his office's investigation into alleged legal and ethical violations by Tomlinson.

Twelve days after Tomlinson resigned, the IG issued his final report, alleging that Tomlinson violated federal law by dealing directly with Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul A. Gigot while the Public Broadcasting Service was negotiating with the Journal over the creation of what became The Journal Editorial Report. As Media Matters has noted, the report alleged, among other things, that the IG found "evidence" that Tomlinson "violated statutory provisions and the Director's Code of Ethics by dealing directly with one of the creators [Gigot] of a new public affairs program [The Journal Editorial Report] during negotiations with PBS and the CPB over creating the show." (The Journal Editorial Report has since moved to Fox News.) The report also added that Tomlinson's "involvement in selecting and funding of 'The Journal Editorial Report' " "raise[d] questions" about whether Tomlinson "breached his fiduciary responsibilities, was directly involved programming decisions, influenced the program format increasing the cost of the program, and exceeded his role as a Board member in directing the actions of CPB staff. "

The report also alleged that Tomlinson hired a consultant without CPB board authorization, a violation of CPB bylaws, initially to evaluate, for "objectivity and balance," PBS' NOW with Bill Moyers. The consultant's review was later expanded to include three additional programs -- one broadcast by PBS and two by National Public Radio. The IG also reported finding "evidence that suggests" Tomlinson employed, in violation of the Public Broadcasting Act, a "political test[]" in hiring former Republican National Committee co-chairwoman Patricia de Stacy Harrison as CPB president and chief executive officer.

By contrast with Bunch's column, other reports have noted the role of Konz's findings in Tomlinson's firing:

  • In an April 11 article, The Washington Times reported that Tomlinson "was forced to resign the following year after an internal CPB [report] accused him [of] using a 'political test' to staff his top level administration and influence the content of some programming."
  • In an April 10 article, The Arizona Republic reported that "CPB President Kenneth Tomlinson sought to eliminate what he saw as a liberal bias at PBS. He was forced to resign after an inspector general's report found that he violated federal rules and ethics standards in the process."
  • On April 9, the Los Angeles Times noted that Tomlinson "resigned in November 2005 after the corporation's inspector general found that his efforts -- which included consulting with White House aides and monitoring the political leanings of guests on public affairs shows -- broke federal law and violated CPB rules.

From Bunch's April 17 Weekly Standard column:

IN THE WAKE of 9/11, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting attempted to examine the challenges facing America in the age of terrorism. CPB poured $20 million into the project, and threw the application process open to anyone who wished to participate. One of the implicit goals was to find more conservative voices willing to participate in a project associated with public broadcasting. "We would try to get diverse points of view, new filmmakers involved," Michael Levy, a CPB spokesman said in an interview. Jim Denton, a consultant on the series elaborated: "We wanted to be very proactive, to, you know, reach out and try to get 'new voices,' which of course is code for trying to have a little more diversity of opinion than is traditionally expressed on public television." When asked him if he meant "specifically, more conservative voices?" Denton replied "Sure, yeah. But not at the expense of fairness and balance. We wanted to have a fair representation of the serious views in America on the sort of post-9/11 issues."

During this time, CPB made serious efforts at conservative outreach. Kenneth Tomlinson became chairman of the Corporation in 2003, and immediately set out to balance the liberal tilt present in most of public broadcasting. Tomlinson went after liberal icon Bill Moyer [sic], describing his show to PBS executives as one that didn't "contain anything approaching the balance the law requires for public broadcasting," while simultaneously proposing the creation of a show for Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. Around this time he came up with the idea for the "Crossroads" program. In 2005, Tomlinson's efforts to create a more nuanced, less reflexively liberal system were rewarded by attacks in the New York Times and elsewhere which claimed that his actions were tantamount to editorial interference. He was forced out of CPB.

The bureaucratic system governing America's public broadcast system is somewhat arcane. As Gaffney describes it, "CPB can give money, but they can't tell people to put things on the air; PBS can put things on the air, but they can't tell people what to put on the films; WETA, in this case, can help with editorial roles to a degree that CPB and PBS can't, but I think apart from their own air, they can't determine what's aired elsewhere." Part of the complication comes from the fact that PBS does not operate like a traditional broadcast system. Whereas CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX set national lineups that local affiliates must carry during primetime viewing hours, PBS is far more flexible. Each station decides exactly what content it will air and when--and the majority of programmers remain rigidly liberal.

The Weekly Standard
Sonny Bunch
Public Broadcasting
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