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CPB Prepares To Replace Tomlinson

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is holding an open meeting Sept. 26. One of the agenda items will be to elect a new chairman to replace Ken Tomlinson, whose tenure ends that day.

Already scheduled to get five minutes apiece during the public comment portion of the meeting are Chellie Pingree of Common Cause and Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Both groups are part of a wider coalition pushing for more CPB transparency and accountability. They sent a letter to CPB President Patricia Harrison last week calling for more accountability, and renewed that call Monday in an ad in the noncom mag, Current.

For his part, Chester plans to ask that CPB no longer directly commission programming.

In the "America at the Crossroads" initiative, CPB is spending up to $20 million "to develop and broadcast films on the challenges and opportunities America faces in the wake of the September 11th attacks."

Tomlinson has been criticized for adding conservative shows to the public broadcasting mix and pushing the administration agenda, but the CPB-funded projects for consideration include negative as well as positive takes on the war.

For example, By All Means Necessary, from a pair of Washington filmmakers, "Will critically examine how the implementation of the so-called Bush Doctrine has alienated traditional American allies, tarnished America’s image abroad and possibly made the world more dangerous."

Chester also thinks that the CPB chairman should not be able to sit on the Broadcasting Board of Governors -- which oversees international broadcasting -- and CPB at the same time and that Tomlinson should resign from one.

Tomlinson has been a lightning rod of criticism following the departures of former CPB President Kathleen Cox, the decision of Pat Mitchell to exit as PBS president next year, and Tomlinson's avowed aim of countering PBS' perceived liberal bias with conservative shows.

The groups are looking for a chairman with more public broadcasting experience, and more political independence, says Free Press Communications Director Craig Aaron.

Two names that have been suggested as possible picks are board members Gay Hart Gaines and Cheryl Halpern (with some giving Halpern the edge), though Aaron says they are cut from the same Republican cloth as Tomlinson.

Gaines is a party vet and Heritage Foundation member, while Halpern mirrors Tomlinson's dual service at CPB and the Board For International Broadcasting, the government's propaganda/international news service arm abroad.

Whether it is one of those, or another choice, could depend in part on what a pending CPB inspector general inquiry concludes about Tomlinson's relationship with the board. A preliminary report has been promised by Sept. 26, according to a source with knowledge of an IG briefing with key legislative staffers last week.