Journal ignored specific charges raised by CPB inspector general to defend Tomlinson

››› ››› SAM GILL

In response to an investigation into the alleged activities of former Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) chief Kenneth Tomlinson, a November 16 Wall Street Journal editorial (subscription required) criticized the investigation's initial findings, asserting: "If Mr. Tomlinson made a mistake, it was in believing that 'public broadcasting' is supposed to represent all of the public." But in reaching this conclusion, the Journal omitted mention of the specific alleged violations of federal law and CPB regulations during Tomlinson's tenure, including those relating to his attempts to secure a programming spot for the Journal editorial board program, The Journal Editorial Report, on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

Tomlinson, an avowed conservative, stepped down as chairman when his term ended in September and ultimately left the CPB board of directors on November 3, after CPB inspector general Kenneth Konz presented the board with the preliminary findings of his investigation. Konz concluded that Tomlinson may have violated numerous CPB and federal regulations in the interest of promoting conservative programming on PBS and National Public Radio (NPR).

The Journal first upbraided Konz for his allegation that Tomlinson contacted Journal editorial page editor Paul A. Gigot in order to createThe Journal Editorial Report, which features Gigot and other Journal columnists in a panel discussion:

Mr. Konz, the Inspector General Clouseau of these proceedings, has seen these emails, and in his report he seems aghast that "the former Chairman had been dealing directly with the former PBS commentator [Mr. Gigot] during this same time period." Mr. Konz hasn't released the emails, but we have them and are making them available on OpinionJournal.com so readers can judge for themselves if this amounted to a nefarious cabal at work.

However, accusations of nefariousness are not the issue. What is at issue is whether Tomlinson's actions violated CPB regulations. The inspector general alleged that by engaging in direct contact with Gigot and by attempting to directly influence programming, Tomlinson did contravene CPB regulations and may have acted in excess of CPB's statutory mandate, a conclusion the Journal editorial does not mention. According to the report, Tomlinson "violated statutory provisions and the Director's Code of Ethics by dealing directly with one of the creators of a new public affairs program during negotiations with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the CPB over creating the show." Moreover, Tomlinson's attempt to directly influence programming "breached his fiduciary responsibilities."

The Journal also defended Tomlinson as "a rare political appointee who took seriously CPB's mandate to pursue balanced programming," arguing, "As even Mr. Konz concedes in his report, under federal law CPB is required to review 'national broadcasting programming for quality, diversity, creativity, excellence, innovation, objectivity and balance.' " In fact, the report explains at great length that Tomlinson's methods for pursuing "balanced programming" circumvented internal CPB codes. For example, Tomlinson hired a consultant to evaluate PBS' Now with Bill Moyers. While this decision complied with federal statues, the report concludes that Tomlinson acted without CPB Board authorization, a violation of CPB bylaws.

In addition, the Journal deceptively argued that "[w]hat really tripped him [Tomlinson] up was the CPB board's decision early this year not to renew the contract of CPB President Kathleen Cox." But Konz identified something very different in the context of Cox's departure that "tripped him up" -- the report concluded that Tomlinson may have employed a "political test[]" in hiring Cox's replacement, former Republican National Committee co-chairwoman Patricia de Stacy Harrison. The Public Broadcasting Act, which regulates CPB, prohibits the use of such tests in hiring decisions.

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