Public intimidation

Orgs seek CPB chair's ouster, allege meddling

WASHINGTON — Three public interest groups Monday said Corporation for Public Broadcasting chairman Kenneth Tomlinson should be fired, accusing him of being a “political hack” who is masterminding an attempt to turn pubcasting into a mouthpiece for Bush administration policy.Separately, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) derided methods used by a consultant Tomlinson hired to monitor pubcasting for liberal bias.

Prompted by the CPB board’s impending vote on a new president — which pubcasting people say may have occurred during a closed session Monday afternoon — leaders of Common Cause, Free Press and the Center for Digital Democracy held a press conference to denounce the expected election of Tomlinson’s friend Patricia Harrison, a former Republican National Committee co-chair and now an assistant secretary of State who has no broadcasting experience.

“We don’t think CPB ever conducted a serious search,” said Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause. Pingree and other critics have claimed that Tomlinson favored Harrison from the start for partisan reasons and that the interviewing of other candidates was a meaningless formality. “This is a drive-by hiring,” Pingree added.

Alleging the controversial selection of a new president is “part of a pattern of political meddling” by Tomlinson and other conservatives on the CPB board, Free Press campaign director Timothy Karr said, “Political hacks are seizing every opportunity to turn public broadcasting into the voice of the White House, and Tomlinson is the mastermind.”

Jeffrey Chester, exec director of Center for Digital Democracy, added that Tomlinson’s alleged favoring of a Republican partisan “is just the latest in a series of pressure tactics to influence programming. (Tomlinson) should be fired.”

Speaking on the Senate floor, Dorgan said he had reviewed “raw data” a consultant had provided to Tomlinson after reviewing programs for liberal bias. Dorgan said the consultant labeled shows either “pro-Bush” or “anti-Bush.” The senator then criticized the consultant for basing his determinations of political bias on whether a program happens to agree or not with administration policy.

Dorgan even laughed as he noted that Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a well-known conservative, was labeled a “liberal. Why? Because he said something that was not in sync with the White House!”

After the press conference, Pingree, Karr and Chester hand-delivered to CPB a petition bearing 150,000 signatures demanding that the CPB board “stop playing politics with public broadcasting.”

“We call on Mr. Tomlinson to stop his partisan meddling and respect public broadcasting’s mission in a democracy,” Pingree said. “As citizens, taxpayers and public broadcasting listeners, we’re all deeply concerned about the current direction of the CPB.”

CPB spokesman Eben Peck said the org had no comment on the petition. The board was skedded to meet in closed session Monday afternoon and again this morning. Later this afternoon, the board will hold an open, public session, during which members are expected to reveal whether they’ve voted on a new president or decided to hold off.

Tomlinson has denied trying to politicize pubcasting, saying he is only trying to bring “balance” to its “liberal slant.”