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Broadcast Board Member Quits Ahead of Report

November 04, 2005|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, whose controversial leadership of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's board of directors sparked an internal investigation into his tenure, resigned from the board Thursday in advance of the imminent release of the report, which is expected to contain criticism of his actions.

Tomlinson's abrupt departure -- characterized in a statement as a mutual decision by him and the rest of the board -- came after they met in a closed session for three days in an undisclosed location in the Washington area to review the findings of the corporation's inspector general, Kenneth A. Konz.

Tomlinson had a little more than a year left before the end of his six-year term as a member of the board.

For the last six months, Konz has been investigating allegations by Democratic lawmakers that Tomlinson broke federal law and violated corporation policies in his efforts to balance what he has called a liberal tilt in public broadcasting.

Konz does not plan to make his report public until mid-November. In a statement released Thursday evening, the eight-member board did not detail his findings, but suggested that the inspector general had concluded that at least some of Tomlinson's actions were inappropriate.

"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 statement read.

"The board expresses its disappointment in the performance of former key staff whose responsibility it was to advise the board and its members," the statement noted. "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."

Corporation spokesman Michael Levy declined to elaborate on the statement. Tomlinson did not respond to a phone message or e-mail for comment.

A Republican who served as director of the Voice of America in the 1980s, Tomlinson was a reporter and eventually editor of Reader's Digest. He was first appointed to the CPB board by President Clinton in 2000 and was elected its chairman in 2003. He also is the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an influential panel that oversees the government's international broadcasting services.

Tomlinson's resignation from the CPB board is a dramatic bookend to what many public broadcasters have called the most tumultuous period in the 38-year history of the corporation, a private nonprofit that distributes federal funding to local stations.

In the last six months, Tomlinson -- whose two-year term as chairman expired in late September -- provoked a heated debate with his aggressive efforts to incorporate more conservatives into public broadcasting, both on the air and behind the scenes. He said he was merely following federal law requiring the corporation to ensure objectivity and balance in public broadcasting, and argued that his actions would expand the appeal of the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio.

But Democrats and liberal watchdog groups accused him of politicizing the corporation, which is charged with shielding public broadcasting from partisan meddling.

On Thursday, many of them -- including Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) and Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), who initially requested the investigation in May -- applauded Tomlinson's exit.

"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," added Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.).

But Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, in Washington, said he did not believe the political tussle over public broadcasting had ended, noting that Republicans still dominated the corporation's leadership. Newly elected Chairwoman Cheryl F. Halpern and Vice Chairwoman Gay Hart Gaines have both donated substantial money to GOP candidates and causes, and President Patricia Harrison is a former GOP chairwoman.

"To me, the whole episode points to a need for long-term reform of the governance of that organization," said John Lawson, president of the Assn. of Public Television Stations, whose board recently renewed its efforts to expand the CPB board and include more station representatives.

In an interview this week, Konz said that after corporation officials responded to his findings, he would release his report to Congress and the public, around Nov. 15.

"I hope we can put a conclusion on it and let everybody know what's going on here," Konz said. "And I hope as a result of the report, we get some meaningful corrective action here." He declined to elaborate until the report was complete.

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