Halpern Elected CPB Chair

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting voted Monday to elect Cheryl Halpern to succeed Ken Tomlinson as chairman of the board.

Elected vice chair was Gay Hart Gaines, replacing Democrat Frank Cruz.

The moves are not likely to quell criticism from within public broadcasting and without that the Bush administration is trying to make the service more conservative; both Halpern and Gaines are veteran Republican party activists and fundraisers.

According to a source, board member Beth Courtney, president of Louisiana Public Broadcasting, was offered up as a surprise candidate by Democrat Ernest J. Wilson, but lost out to Halpern, who had been the frontrunner. She was then offered up as a candidate for vice chair, but lost that, too. Both ballots were secret.

Wilson said that with CPB in turmoil, it would be a better and more bipartisan move to elect someone whose judgement is widely recognized (Courtney had been hailed for post-Katrina efforts). Wilson was apparently picking up on Tomlinson's remark in the meeting that he was all for bipartisanship.
The vote Monday came at a public meeting that also hosted critics of Tomlinson's effort, for which he does not apologize, to add conservative programming to balance what he sees as noncom broadcasting's leftward tilt. A number of speakers at the meeting called for more accountability and transparency in board decisions.

Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy was one of those calling for a change in direction. He certainly didn't see it with Halpern, a Republican fundraiser who has also promised to crack down on liberal bias.

"Ms. Halpern is likely to continue the board's campaign to force public broadcasting to produce programming more acceptable to conservatives," Chester said of Halpern's election. "[It] does a disservice to those who care about the quality of PBS, NPR and other public media outlets." Of the election of Gaines, he said: "It is a sweep for Tomlinson and the Republican majority."

Gaines is president of the Palm Beach Republican Club and a member of the Heritage Foundation.

"It's time for CPB board reform," Chester told the board after the vote. "No activist from either political party should be nominated to the board. Nor should anyone be permitted to serve simultaneously on another government-funded entity."

Tomlinson sits on the boards of both CPB and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (he is BBG Chairman). The BBG oversees VOA and other international government broadcast services. Halpern is a former BBG board member.

Tomlinson has vowed to remain on both boards, though if he had to choose, he would likely opt for BBG.

Particularly irritating to activists, Democrats, many noncom programmers, and others, was Tomlinson's decision, which he did not run by the board, to hire an outside consultant to gauge the liberal bias in Bill Moyer's Now program.

It also didn't help that Tomlinson's choice for CPB President was former Republican National Committee co-chair Patricia Harrison, or that the COO of CPB is Ken Ferree, who helped the then FCC Chairman craft the deregulatory ownership rules opposed by Chester and many others.
The NOW bias survey, as well as Tomlinson's solicitation of a White House staffer to help draw up guidelines for a couple of new ombudsman posts, prompted a CPB Inspector General investigation, whose results are due out in October and are said to include "deficiences" within the CPB board.

Halpern joined the board in 2002 and was renominated the next year to a term ending in 2008. She is also on the board of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.

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.