Former CPB Chairman Ken Tomlinson Resigns

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting Board of Directors said Thursday that embattled former board chairman Ken Tomlinson has resigned.
The board has been reviewing a CPB Inspector General's report--called for by a pair of congressmen--on Tomlinson's relationship with the board stemming from Tomlinson's attempts to add more conservative programming.
The board said in a statement: "[F]ormer chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson has resigned from the CPB board. The board does not believe that Mr. Tomlinson acted maliciously or with any intent to harm CPB or public broadcasting, and the board recognizes that Mr. Tomlinson strongly disputes the findings in the soon-to-be-released Inspector General’s report. 
"The board expresses its disappointment in the performance of former key staff whose responsibility it was to advise the board and its members.
"Nonetheless, both the board and Mr. Tomlinson believe it is in the best interests of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that he no longer remain on the board. 
"The board commends Mr. Tomlinson for his legitimate efforts to achieve balance and objectivity in public broadcasting."

Tomlinson came under heavy fire for adding conservative shows to balance what he saw as liberal bias, and for hiring an outside consultant to gauge the bias in shows, particularly Now with Bill Moyers.

The CPB board has been under fire itself from groups complaining that it has not released the report and has been meeting in closed session about it. One of those groups was happy with the Tomlinson exit, but saw the problem as systemic.

"It was time that Mr. Tomlinson stepped down," said Center for Digital Democracy Executive Director Jeff Chester. But, he added. "CPB needs a thorough house cleaning," he said, "We await the IG report's release." Ditto for Free Press executive director Josh Silver: “It’s time to clean house at CPB. We need to get the politics out and put the public back in public broadcasting.”Chester also wasn'tdone with Tomlinson: "Mr. Tomlinson still remains head of the powerful Broadcasting Board of Governors.  It is likely he resigned to help remain in that position."
CPB Inspector General Kenneth Konz gave key Hill staffers a three-hour briefing late last month on his investigation into “deficiencies in policies and procedures” at CPB.

Following a request last May by Reps. David Obey (D-Wis.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), Konz was investigating whether Tomlinson violated the Public Broadcasting Act by commissioning an outside content analysis of the politics in Now With Bill Moyers—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.

The response from Tomlinson's critics in Congress was swift:

"The public interest is hurt when there are no checks and balances,"said Obey "This Administration believes that since they control all branches of government, they can abuse the public trust and get away with it and Mr. Tomlinson is part of this pattern. Mr. Tomlinson's resignation should be used to bring people together, not divide them as he and the administration have done.  Public Broadcasting is too important to be anybody's partisan or ideological play thing."

“I’ve not seen the results of the Inspector General’s investigation, but expect to see it shortly and I look forward to doing so,” said Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), whose request for the Tomlinson bias consultant report helped trigger the IG investigation. “Mr. Tomlinson’s departure from the CPB Board, however, comes as welcome news. There’s no doubt in my mind that Mr. Tomlinson’s legacy at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a negative one, and that he has done far more harm to the CPB than good.”

Frequent critic Ed Markey (D-Mass.), asid: "This is a welcome opportunity for the Bush Administration to appoint a replacement for Mr. Tomlinson who will be a defender of outstanding public affairs, educational, cultural as well as high quality children's programming."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.