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Broadcasting Board Delays Vote on CEO

June 21, 2005|Jube Shiver Jr. | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Bowing to calls to delay the selection of a new president amid concern that the leading candidate was too partisan, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting agreed Monday to wait until Wednesday to choose a new chief executive.

Public broadcasting stations and a group of Democrats on Capitol Hill had pressed Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, CPB's Republican chairman, in recent days to reconsider his backing of former Republican National Committee Co-Chair Patricia de Stacy Harrison to lead the beleaguered agency.

The CPB, a private nonprofit that distributes federal funds to public TV and radio stations, was established to shield public broadcasters from political pressure.

Tomlinson, who oversees the nine-member board, has been criticized by liberal interest groups and several Democratic members of Congress. They've challenged his assertions that Public Broadcasting Service programming has a liberal bias and questioned his decision to hire two GOP lobbyists.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) on Monday called for Tomlinson's resignation. "As a result of your recent attempts to inject partisan politics into the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, I am writing to urge you to step down as chairman," he wrote in a two-page letter.

Also Monday, representatives from the Washington watchdog group Common Cause and two other groups went to CPB headquarters to hand interim CPB President W. Kenneth Ferree a stack of petitions containing 150,000 signatures asking that the agency "stop efforts to influence programming decisions" in public broadcasting.

Two board members, Beth Courtney and Ernest J. Wilson III, both Democrats, told the Los Angeles Times last week that they were concerned about news reports involving Tomlinson's actions in recent months and would seek to get Monday's vote on Harrison postponed.

After the meeting, Wilson said the board agreed to talk further about the candidates, but he declined further comment.

Tomlinson, who has pushed the public broadcasters to offer more conservative programming, was reportedly promoting Harrison as his top choice.

Spencer Stuart, an executive search firm, has contacted candidates for the post, including Ferree and S. Jenell Trigg, a former broadcasting executive who practices law in Washington.

Ferree declined to comment.

Another Washington lawyer who was contacted by the search firm said CPB officials did not appear to be seriously considering candidates other than Harrison for the $170,000-a-year job.

"I was willing to take a pay cut for the job. But I saw that it will take a unique individual to go into this particular lion's den and deal with all the politics," said one candidate, who spoke on condition of anonymity so his employer wouldn't find out he was job hunting.

One Tomlinson critic said that the board's decision to delay a vote was a sign that the three Democrats on the board were becoming more assertive.

"It is possible that, finally, the Democrats have woken up from their slumber and are fighting back" against the Republicans, Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy said.

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