The chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting pledged yesterday to continue his campaign to bring ideological balance to government-funded programming, saying he will not bow to pressure from opponents who dispute his charges of liberal bias.
Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, in a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, also defended his use of tax dollars to study the political leanings of the guests on some PBS and NPR programs, stressing that his call for balance is in public broadcasting’s best interest.
“This is something the public broadcasting community is going to have to come to grips with,” said Mr. Tomlinson, a Republican.
“In the future, [in order to get] the kind of Republican support they need to have a future, they are going to have to demonstrate that public broadcasting is for people across the spectrum.”
His second one-year term as chairman of the board of directors will end in September, when he is expected to be succeeded by Cheryl F. Halpern, a longtime Republican donor. He declined to speculate on his successor but said he hopes his efforts will continue.
Mr. Tomlinson, formerly a Reader’s Digest editor, also is chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Voice of America international broadcasting service.
The failure on Capitol Hill this summer to slash funding for public broadcasting shows it remains popular, Mr. Tomlinson said.
“For whatever reason, the American people seem to support it. … I’m not for government getting into areas that are served by others. I do think public broadcasting is a fact of life in this country. You’re not going to defund it,” he said.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is the congressionally chartered organization that channels federal funding to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR) and other public broadcasters.
In May, the CPB’s independent inspector general began investigating whether Mr. Tomlinson acted improperly when he spent $15,000 to hire two Republican lobbyists, payments that were not disclosed to the agency’s board of directors.
Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill requested the investigation, which also will include an inquiry into the CPB’s decision in July to hire Patricia S. Harrison, formerly a co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, as the CPB’s president and chief executive.
A spokeswoman for the CPB inspector general’s office said yesterday it expects to issue its report between the middle and the end of August.
Mr. Tomlinson also is under the inspector general’s scrutiny for spending $14,700 to study the political leanings of guests on a handful of public broadcasting programs, including PBS’ “Now,” a weekly newsmagazine hosted until recently by Bill Moyers.
Supporters of public broadcasting have criticized the study, which was conducted by Frederick W. Mann, formerly an official at the National Journalism Center, which was founded by the American Conservative Union.
Mr. Mann’s report was too simplistic, the supporters say, and it ran counter to earlier studies the CPB commissioned from professional researchers that concluded public broadcasting programming was fair.
“For all the fun the left has poked at [Mr. Mann’s] study, I still contend that the American taxpayers got their money’s worth because we got an understanding of what the Moyers show is all about,” Mr. Tomlinson said, adding later that the Democrats’ calls for investigations are an attempt to “criminalize” his work.
Mr. Tomlinson, who was appointed to the CPB’s board of directors by President Clinton and elevated to chairman during President Bush’s first term, said he worked quietly for 18 months to study and correct what he calls a liberal bias in PBS and NPR public affairs programming.
A front-page story in the May 2 edition of the New York Times brought his efforts into the limelight, he said, adding that he had hoped to conduct his campaign in private.
There appears to be an orchestrated campaign to derail his work at the CPB, Mr. Tomlinson said.
“The original New York Times story, why did they have Pat Harrison up there in the second or third paragraph? It wasn’t even known that there was a search going on. This was constructed to try to block her,” he said.
Mr. Tomlinson also criticized NPR, citing remarks by Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, who has said the radio broadcaster’s reporting on the Middle East is biased against Israel.
Mrs. Halpern has made similar criticisms.
“NPR’s got real problems,” Mr. Tomlinson said.
“I think NPR’s leadership really should be more concerned about balance in their coverage because public television in many ways may be in real financial trouble and may be fading, but National Public Radio is important to Americans. In many, many communities, it is the only thing on the FM dial that isn’t a complete wasteland.”
NPR spokeswoman Andi Sporkin said: “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Tomlinson’s chosen to use his waning days as CPB chairman to continue his personal publicity campaign built on groundless accusations about the industry he claims to support.”
“We’d assumed his ‘must-do list’ before he leaves office would instead include finally talking directly to the public radio and television community, answering the charges of the inspector general and responding to the two million e-mails sent to him from Americans of all political persuasions who support public broadcasting,” she said.
Representatives from PBS declined comment.
Mr. Tomlinson called his work in international broadcasting his proudest achievement, adding that he is disappointed his critics do not seem to appreciate the work he has done to use the airwaves to spread democracy around the world.