Squabbling in public

Pols, groups urge delay of CPB prexy vote

WASHINGTON — A backlash against Corp. for Public Broadcasting chairman Kenneth Tomlinson’s alleged attempt to push the org in a conservative direction gained momentum with congressional and public requests that the CPB board defer its upcoming vote on a new president. Some interest groups are also threatening to protest the vote should it be held.

Three senators and 21 representatives sent letters last week urging postponement of the vote — skedded for today — out of concern that Tomlinson is giving preferential treatment to conservative insiders. A baker’s dozen of interest groups and at least one pubcaster sent similar letters.

Top two contenders are said to be Patricia Harrison, currently an assistant secretary of state and a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee, and Kenneth Ferree, CPB’s acting president and, until recently, chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s Media Bureau. Harrison has no broadcasting experience.

In a collective letter to Tomlinson, House Democrats led by Diane E. Watson (Calif.) wrote, “Thus far, your search process reeks of secrecy, cronyism, and partisanship that take the ‘public’ out of public broadcasting.” Senate Democrats Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Frank Lautenberg (N.J.) expressed “serious concerns” about Tomlinson’s leadership.

Leaders of Common Cause, Center for Digital Democracy, Free Press and National Hispanic Media Coalition, among others, wrote, “As of last week, we understand that the search firm hired by CPB was still interviewing candidates. Given the pending vote, we are perplexed that the board would attempt to make such a decision when potential candidates are still being vetted. We also understand that the formal search process occurred only because a minority on the board objected to plans to name either Harrison or Ferree to the post.”

Common Cause, Free Press and Center for Digital Democracy have promised to stage a protest in front of CPB headquarters should the board go through with the vote.

In a separate letter to the board, Steven Bass, prexy of Nashville, Tenn., pubcasting station WNPT, wrote that CPB should “delay the hiring of a permanent president and chief executive officer for the foreseeable future.” Bass said recent charges of attempts to politicize pubcasting programming should be addressed first.

CPB did not return a call seeking comment.

Tomlinson has repeatedly denied trying to foist a conservative agenda on public broadcasting, saying he is only trying to bring “balance” to pubcasting’s “liberal slant.”

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