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Tomlinson Resigns from CPB Board


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Kenneth Tomlinson, who, as head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, became a controversial and much in the news figure, has resigned from the CPB board. The former chairman's departure from the board comes amidst an investigation said to be in the final stages at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It involves allegations that Kenneth Tomlinson applied undue political pressure to public radio and television. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been covering the story, and he joins us now.

And, David, the report hasn't been released.


That's correct.

MONTAGNE: And--go ahead. So what's happened and why?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's been a very interesting week. The board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has met behind closed doors this week for most of three days, and what emerged from it was the resignation of its former chairman. He's been a fairly dominant figure there. He's cultivated people on the board, particularly on the Republican side, and for it to sort of disgorge him like this is pretty interesting. A heavily lawyered statement was released yesterday evening. The board said it, quote, "does not believe Mr. Tomlinson acted maliciously or with any intent to harm CPB," and it commended him for what it calls its, quote, "his legitimate efforts to achieve balance and objectivity in public broadcasting." So this was a way in which the board decided that given that there were these very real allegations against him, it couldn't have him sitting on the board while it was deliberating.

MONTAGNE: Tell us more about what this report is investigating.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, you know, is this private corporation that funnels public money, about $400 million a year, to various parts of public broadcasting, including PBS and NPR. It's supposed to serve as a heat shield for public broadcasting from political influence. It's also supposed to ensure, according to its statute, objectivity and balance in news and public affairs programming.

Mr. Tomlinson weighed in heavily on this side of it, and he took a number of very strong steps to try to ensure that, in his mind. He, for example, felt that Republicans were and conservatives were underrepresented on the airwaves, so he pushed very heavily for PBS to broadcast what is now a weekly show featuring the conservative editorial writers of The Wall Street Journal. He hired a monitor without consulting his board to check up on four programs on PBS and NPR and to rate the ideology of those people interviewed on those shows. He hired and pushed for the creation of two ombudsman posts to sort of cultivate complaints from viewers and listeners about programs on NPR and PBS. He said this was very much part of his desire to ensure that there was this objectivity and balance. NPR and PBS were very resistant to this. They said, `Look, you know, you're not supposed to tell us how our news gets done. We need to be doing that for ourselves.'

In addition, he hired a number of people with very close ties with Republican and White House circles. The current CEO is the former chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. Other senior White House aides were pushed on CPB executives to hire; New York Times and NPR have obtained e-mails showing that he did that, as well as sort of push White House policy on CPB. All of these taken together led to accusations from congressional Democrats that he was exerting undue political influence and led to the current inspector general's report of the CPB.

MONTAGNE: So that's what he did. Remind us about Kenneth Tomlinson himself.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Mr. Tomlinson is a journalist of long-standing. He had been a senior correspondent editor at Reader's Digest for many, many years. He also has been very active in Republican circles, a close associate of Steve Forbes, the former political or presidential candidate on the Republican side, as well as the Forbes executive, and he's also, interestingly, the chairman of the board that oversees separately--that oversees the Voice of America and a number of America's international broadcasting efforts in the Middle East, for example, that have at once tried to reach out to Arabs and Muslims, but also have been criticized a little bit for promoting the American line.

MONTAGNE: So very briefly, David, what's next?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's not exactly clear. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting now says the IG's report should be released to Congress and the public midmonth. It's not clear whether a lot more action will be taken or whether this is the effort of the CPB board just to move past it as quickly as possible.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. 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.