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Report Says Ex-Chief of Public TV Violated Federal Law
NY Times
Published: November 15, 2005

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 - Investigators at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting concluded today that its former chairman repeatedly broke federal law and its own regulations in a campaign to combat what he saw as liberal bias.

A report today concluded that Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, shown here testifying on funding for public broadcasting in July, repeatedly broke federal law in a campaign to combat what he saw as liberal bias.

A scathing report by the corporation's inspector general described a dysfunctional organization that violated the Public Broadcasting Act, which created the corporation and was written to insulate programming decisions from politics.

The corporation received $400 million this year from Congress to finance an array of programs on public television and radio, although its future financing has come under heavy criticism, particularly from conservative lawmakers. Its board is selected by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The corporation's former chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, who was ousted from the board two weeks ago when it was presented in a closed session with the details of the report, has said he sought to enforce a provision of the Public Broadcasting Act meant to ensure objectivity and balance in programming.

But the report said that in the process, Mr. Tomlinson repeatedly crossed statutory boundaries that set up the corporation as a "heat shield" to protect public radio and television from political interference.

The report said he violated federal law by being heavily involved in getting more than $4 million for a program featuring the conservative editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal. It said he imposed a "political test" to recruit a new president. And it said his decision to hire Republican consultants to defeat legislation violated contracting rules.

Mr. Tomlinson, in a statement distributed with the report, rejected its conclusions. He said that any suggestion that he violated his duties or the law "is malicious and irresponsible" and that the inspector general had opted "for politics over good judgment."

"Unfortunately, the Inspector General's preconceived and unjustified findings will only help to maintain the status quo and other reformers will be discouraged from seeking change," said Mr. Tomlinson, who has repeatedly defended his decisions as part of an effort to restore balance to programming. "Regrettably, as a result, balance and objectivity will not come soon to elements of public broadcasting."

While some of the details under investigation were disclosed in a news article last May, the inspector general's report is the first official conclusion that Mr. Tomlinson violated both the law and the corporation's own rules. The report is also the first detailed and official inside look at the dynamics of the corporation as some of its career staff have struggled with conservative Republicans appointees seeking to change its direction.

The author of the report, Kenneth A. Konz, was hired by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the 1990's to be its inspector general after retiring from the federal government, where he had served as a deputy inspector general at the Environmental Protection Agency.

No sanctions or further action against Mr. Tomlinson will follow from the report's findings, Mr. Konz said. But some broadcasting officials fear it may be used to attack the corporation's budget, which is already in jeopardy as lawmakers look for money to help pay for rebuilding the Gulf Coast and starting an avian flu inoculation program.

The report said that Mr. Tomlinson violated federal law by promoting "The Journal Editorial Report" and said he had "admonished C.P.B. senior executive staff not to interfere with his deal to bring a balancing program" to public broadcasting. The board is prohibited from getting involved in programming decisions, but the investigators found that Mr. Tomlinson had pushed hard for the program, even as some staff officials at the corporation raised concerns over its cost.

An e-mail from around the same time shows that he threatened to withhold some money to public broadcasting "in a New York minute" if public broadcasting did not balance its lineup.

The investigators found evidence that "political tests" were a major criteria used by Mr. Tomlinson in recruiting the corporation's new president, Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and former senior State Department official.

According to the report, she was given the job after being promoted for it by an unidentified official at the White House. Investigators found e-mail messages between Mr. Tomlinson and the White House that, while "cryptic" in nature, "gives the appearance that the former chairman was strongly motivated by political considerations in filling the president/C.E.O. position." The corporation's presidency, its senior staff job, has historically been reserved for a nonpartisan expert in public broadcasting.

The report said Mr. Tomlinson defended his decision to hire a candidate with strong political ties because of the need to build relationships with Congress for future funding requests.

Ms. Harrison disputed suggestions that she was motivated by politics.

"Only actions will dispel critics who believe I have a political agenda, which I do not have," Ms. Harrison said in an interview today. "I want to define my tenure in as open a way as I can." She said that excellence, creativity and quality are as important in programming as objectivity and balance.

The report said politics might have been involved in other personnel decisions. In one case, a candidate to become the senior vice president for corporate and public affairs was asked by a board member about her political contributions in the last election. Another official was given a particular job title at the corporation at the request of the White House, the report said

The report said Mr. Tomlinson's decision to hire two Republican consultants to help the corporation in its lobbying efforts against public broadcasting legislation last year was "not handled in accordance with C.P.B.'s contracting procedures." The inspector general criticized another contract with a researcher to monitor the "Now" program, when its host was Bill Moyers, because it was signed by Mr. Tomlinson without informing the board and without board authorization.

The report said that a White House official, Mary C. Andrews, worked on a plan by the corporation to create a new office of ombudsmen to promote balance in programming. Ms. Andrews had been hired by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting at the time but was still on the White House payroll.

It said her efforts "appeared to be advisory in nature and she did not provide the ombudsmen with guidelines on how to operate or interfere with their functioning."

But it also found that the decision to sign contracts with two ombudsmen "does not appear to comply with established C.P.B. procurement processes."

Following a board meeting this morning at which the corporation adopted a series of resolutions to impose tighter financial controls, Mr. Tomlinson's successor as chairman, Cheryl Halpern, met with senior lawmakers in hopes of blunting any political fallout.

But the report poses its own problems for Ms. Halpern, a Republican fund-raiser, and the rest of the board, which for many months supported Mr. Tomlinson's broader efforts at objectivity.

"Our review found an organizational environment that allowed the former chairman and other C.P.B. executives to operate without appropriate checks and balances," the report said. It ascribed the problems, in part to the "culture of C.P.B."

Ms. Halpern headed the board's audit committee under Mr. Tomlinson, and she raised concerns among executives at National Public Radio for criticizing its coverage of the Middle East. She was also Mr. Tomlinson's choice to succeed her, in part, he has said, because of her continued commitment to end any programming bias.

The report questioned a severance package for the corporation's former president, Kathleen A. Cox, who was forced to resign abruptly last April after a series of disagreements with Mr. Tomlinson. According to the report, the package was more than three times her annual compensation, and Mr. Tomlinson structured its payouts over a period of years so that the lump sum would not be disclosed on publicly available tax records.

In a statement attached to the report, Ms. Cox named other board members aside from Mr. Tomlinson who she said were involved in some of the decisions criticized by the inspector general. Ms. Cox said she was forced to resign after Mr. Tomlinson told her that she was "not political enough" for the job

The report came in response to requests by two senior Democratic lawmakers, Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin and John Dingell of Michigan. Their request followed an article in The New York Times last May that described the contract to monitor the "Now" Show, the plan to hire Ms. Harrison, the role played by Mr. Tomlinson in promoting "The Journal Editorial Report," and Ms. Andrews role in the creation of the office of ombudsman.

Mr. Tomlinson remains the head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which supervises all American government-broadcasting programs overseas. The inspector general of the State Department is examining accusations there of misuse of federal money and the use of phantom or unqualified employees by Mr. Tomlinson.

In a recent letter, Senator Chris Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, asked President Bush to consider ordering Mr. Tomlinson to step down from the board of governors until that investigation was completed.

Will Bush's Justice Dept. prosecute? Note a chance. An impeachable offense.