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Public Broadcasting Board to Pick New President


Today and tomorrow, the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting meets to choose a new president. The board meetings will involve far more fundamental issues than a routine exercise in executive head-hunting. NPR's David Folkenflik has the story.


The CPB board is scheduled to interview final candidates today. Several people familiar with the process say one finalist is expected to be Patricia Harrison. CPB board chairman Kenneth Tomlinson has said he'd like Harrison to be its next president. Harrison's an assistant US secretary of State. She's also a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

Mr. JOHN LAWSON (President, Association of Public Television Stations): We need to depoliticize CPB and get the Washington politics out of it.

FOLKENFLIK: That's John Lawson. He's the president of the Association of Public Television Stations, an advocacy group for PBS member stations. NPR and PBS are private organizations, but CPB provides local stations with significant federal subsidies. Tomlinson is a Republican, appointed to the board first by President Bill Clinton and then by President Bush. He says news coverage on PBS has a liberal bent, and NPR is often unfair to Israel, but Lawson says officials at many stations fear Tomlinson is the one who's acting politically.

Mr. LAWSON: We will fight with all we've got to prevent the reality or the appearance of interference in the editorial independence of our producers.

FOLKENFLIK: Lawson points to revelations this spring that Tomlinson asked a Bush White House aide to develop new ombudsman posts to field complaints about news coverage on PBS and NPR. That aide, M.C. Andrews, is now a senior official at CPB. Tomlinson also paid a consultant to measure the views of guests on the PBS show "NOW." Former host Bill Moyers is a bitter critic of Mr. Bush.

Last week a key House of Representatives panel voted to reduce CPB's budget next year by 25 percent, or a hundred million dollars. Broadcasting officials say the change would badly damage many local stations. Tomlinson recently linked that cut to what he says is NPR and PBS' perceived slant.

Mr. KEN TOMLINSON (Chairman, CPB): But my goodness, if the leaders of public broadcasting don't understand they have a problem on Capitol Hill, I wonder where they've been? And the problem is not Ken Tomlinson. I've been trying to help them out.

FOLKENFLIK: Representative Ralph Regula, an Ohio Republican, helped set spending levels for CPB. He says charges of bias didn't come up.

Representative RALPH REGULA (Republican, Ohio): My colleagues have not really expressed any great concern to me.

FOLKENFLIK: Regula says CPB's budget was cut because of a broader need to hold down federal spending. The full House is expected to vote on CPB's budget later this week. Tomlinson says he thinks the Senate will restore the money.

Ernest Wilson is a Democratic CPB board member. He says Tomlinson's in too much of a rush to find a new president.

Mr. ERNEST WILSON (CBP Board Member): It is really not giving the maximum amount of time, I think, to come up with the kind of candidates that we need in this period of crisis.

FOLKENFLIK: Three Senate Democrats wrote to Tomlinson last Friday, questioning his actions and urging him to delay naming a new president. A statement from Tomlinson says he's confident an ongoing investigation by CPB's inspector general will prove he's behaved properly.

David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.