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Kenneth Y. Tomlinson last week stepped down from his seat on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s board of directors. Though Tomlinson’s move was a victory for many who felt the embattled former chairman’s war on perceived liberal bias was too far-reaching and inappropriate (and biased itself), given the new makeup of the board, it will be some time yet before Ernie and Bert can stop living the lie and start sharing a bed.

Tomlinson has been under internal investigation at CPB for, among other things, creating an ombudsman office— without board approval—and stuffing it with White House lackeys, and for hiring outsiders to monitor PBS and NPR news programs to ferret out liberal bias (one monitor’s notes label Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as “liberal”). Tomlinson, a former Reader’s Digest editor, was appointed to the board by George W. Bush. Ignoring the concern of some that his day job as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the government’s propaganda wing which oversees Radio Free Europe and Radio Marti, might interfere with his objectivity, Tomlinson set about whittling away at public broadcasting with typical ruling-party bravado. He created two ombudsman posts to mediate complaints from the public, maintaining that the posts were needed to keep NPR and PBS centered and non-partisan. He promised that there would be a conservative and a liberal hired to the $50K/year part-time job.

The conservative ombudsmen, William Schulz, who Tomlinson had previously hired as Washington editor at Reader’s Digest, was an avowed rightwinger. But the “liberal,” Ken Bode, was a former NBC political correspondent and adjunct fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute who endorsed Republican Mitch Daniels for Indiana governor in 2004. To be fair, Bode reported after five months on the job, “My own conclusion is no different than my perception of PBS and NPR when I accepted the position of ombudsman... that considerations of fair and balanced is not a big problem here as elsewhere.” He added: “This is not Fox News.” After Bode’s not-so-liberal leanings became clear, Tomlinson denied that he had promised conservative and liberal ombudsmen, claiming both were hired “because they are professionals.”

Whatever the turmoil in Washington, little of it spread to the individual PBS and NPR outposts. Donald K. Boswell, president and CEO of WNED-TV in Buffalo, told The BEAST that he had concerns about Tomlinson, and hopes that his departure will turn the spotlight away from partisan bickering and onto the need for quality programming. “I want to believe [Tomlinson] had the best intentions,” said Boswell, “and hope that this has brought attention to the Republicans that public broadcasting seeks to deliver what’s best for the community we serve.”

Boswell seemed disappointed in Tomlinson’s perceived obsession with liberal bias outweighing his attention to public broadcasting’s mission. “I worry about someone of that caliber not knowing what we in public broadcasting go through in trying to be balanced,” Boswell said. “Looking at the history of public broadcasting, it seems that the right has had concerns about the mission of public broadcasting, but we strive to be as neutral and balanced as can be.” Boswell said he had received no pressure from Tomlinson or the board at CPB to abide by any programming directives. He said that he had met with CPB president Patricia Harrison and was genuinely hopeful about the CPB’s future. Public broadcasting has come under fire for alleged liberal bias almost from its inception in the late 1960s. Indeed, NPR and PBS are well known for touting such leftist ideologies as equality, tolerance, sharing and environmental responsibility. Tomlinson once famously remarked that America’s values had shifted to the right, and public broadcasting should follow the trend. Tomlinson later claimed to have made the remark “in jest,” and then, later still, denied ever having made the remark.

It would be absurd to insist that a board member or chairman be without political leanings; however, it is expected that the head of an organization that on its website proclaims that it is “a private corporation funded by the American people” be able to look beyond his own ideology and adhere to the mission of the organization he oversees. This is the gist of the investigation into Tomlinson’s practices while at the helm of CPB, which has allegedly revealed insidiously partisan objectives. In creating the ombudsman office, Tomlinson tapped Mary Catherine Andrews to design and supervise the office. Andrews is the former White House director of global communications, and despite Tomlinson’s insistence that her positions at the White House and the CPB did not overlap, the investigation has found that Andrews was allegedly working on CPB business more than three months prior to leaving her White House job.

Tomlinson was further damned by his connections to the Toxic Revenger, White House strongman Karl Rove. Evidence has surfaced of heavy email traffic between Tomlinson and Rove; whether they were plotting world domination or recapping Britcoms is a moot point—in today’s Washington, one touch of Rove kills careers dead. It is germane to point out that the CPB was created as a shield against those who would try to politicize the outlet for nonpartisan public voice. Recent legislation would have mandated that the CPB board seats be filled with people with broadcast experience and credentials, but that legislation died in Congress, choked to death by Rove and Co.

While Tomlinson’s exit is being cheered with cries of “the king is dead,” the hires he has left behind have the right snickering to themselves, “long live the queen.” Patricia Harrison, new CPB president and CEO, is the former cochairman of the Republican National Committee and Assistant Secretary of State; Harrison oversaw the production of now-notorious video news releases—fake news pieces favorable to the White House. Cheryl Halpern, the new Chairwoman of CPB, is a major donor to the Republican Party and has served with Tomlinson on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and fails to list any broadcasting experience on a resume that includes investor, private investigator and homemaker. Vice Chairwoman Gay Hart Gaines is an interior designer who bought her position with over half a million dollars in campaign contributions to the Republican cause.

Judging from their credentials, it seems clear that the “balance” sought by these new members of CPB is akin to that which can be found at Fox News, where any mention of facts which reflect poorly on the president are considered liberal advocacy, regardless of their truth or relevance. And it’s the conservatives who are scared?









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