- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

As an 18-year-old freshman at Randolph Macon College near Richmond 43 years ago, Ken Tomlinson was my neighbor on the first floor of our freshman dorm, another plebe beanie-wearer who changed my life. I was from a horse-racing family from England, transplanted to Middleburg, Va., where my father trained racehorses for the rich and privileged.

During high school, I had become very interested in American history and government, particularly as a summer employee of Mutual Network radio reporter-commentator Fulton Lewis Jr., who coached me about free enterprise, communism, the Soviet threat, the differences between conservatives and liberals on personal freedom, responsibility, and building prosperous families and society.

At Randolph-Macon, Ken Tomlinson became my freshman mentor. He was from Galax, a coal-mining town in Southwestern Virginia, and brought me full-bore into the movement to draft Barry Goldwater for the U.S. presidency.

Ken was a straight-A student who I never saw crack a book. He partied hard, led creation of a Conservative Club at Randolph Macon, introduced us to Young Americans for Freedom and what was then called the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists — now the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Together we rejoiced in William F. Buckley’s National Review, Russell Kirk’s weeklong stint as scholar-in-residence, and created a scene when Dan Rather was featured speaker for a convention of U.N. affiliates on campus.

We also nearly got arrested as demonstrators in favor of Katanga rebel leader Moise Tshombe outside the National Gallery of Art in Washington, when President John F. Kennedy and wife Jacqueline unveiled the visiting Mona Lisa painting sent by the French government.

We were libertarians with morality — some were not and advocated permissive drug and sex laws. But we agreed with Goldwater, the senator from Arizona, that individual freedom was the core of our republic, centralized big federal government was bad, and Soviet-controlled global communism and totalitarianism in all forms must be defeated.

After college, Ken and I went our different ways — both back and forth between journalism and politics. He was a writer for the Richmond News Leader under titan editor James Jackson Kilpatrick, then joined Reader’s Digest and moved up to become editor-in-chief of America’s most widely read publication in Pleasantville, N.Y. Ronald Reagan chose him as director of Voice of America, and he made significant changes to strengthen the worldwide radio voice of freedom, then went back to run Reader’s Digest.

He helped build perhaps the country’s best equine library in Middleburg, then returned to serve President George W. Bush as chairman of the board for international broadcasting and as head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, where he took on imbalance in taxpayer-funded PBS programming.

Ken’s resignation after intense controversy over his efforts to bring balance to PBS public affairs programming is a terrible shame, because his cause was right.

He wanted PBS to be like Britain’s BBC — fair, honest, and respected throughout the world. So many of us are sick of imbalance in the U.S. media. Sure, publishers and network owners and advertisers have the right to skew things as they want, but the American people still deserve a full, fair, and balanced report of all news and issues where there is public disagreement — particularly on PBS and National Public Radio where costs are borne by taxpayers.

Regardless of private or public financing, we need and deserve balanced public dialogue in newspapers, magazines on the airwaves, and on college campuses. All sides should be represented fully and fairly. That’s what Ken Tomlinson fought for.

Ken Tomlinson will always be my hero. He was a leader for personal freedom, individualism, against centralized control, and promoting economic liberty and success for all. He exemplified for me the kind of society Ronald Reagan promoted, where all people, regardless of their backgrounds, would be encouraged to let their creativity and energy flourish, and benefit themselves and their families from their good works.


Mr. Archibald was a national news reporter for The Washington Times for 23 years and is now writing a book about the stories behind the stories over those years. He is a contributing scholar for the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College, PA.

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