The results of a 6-month internal investigation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) were made public Thursday, exposing political interference by Kenneth Tomlinson, former CPB chairman. The investigation also uncovered emails between Tomlinson and White House staff that raises questions about the hiring of the new CPB President. We speak with Tim Karr of Free Press. [includes rush transcript]
The investigation, conducted by the Corporation’s Inspector General, Kenneth Konz, exposes extensive wrongdoing and political interference by CPB’s former chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson.
Tomlinson, a staunch conservative, was head of CPB until stepping down in September. He resigned from the Corporation’s Board on November 3rd, after Konz’s findings were presented to the board in a three day closed meeting held at an undisclosed location in Washington D.C.
The Inspector General’s report found that Tomlinson repeatedly violated the CPB’s contracting rules and code of ethics in order to promote conservatives in the organization. It documented numerous occasions in which Tomlinson ignored CPB procedures in trying to hire his own handpicked candidates to monitor programs that he accused of liberal bias. Earlier this year, it was revealed that Tomlinson hired a Republican operative to monitor the political leanings of shows hosted by Bill Moyers, Tavis Smiley and Diane Rehm. The report also found that Tomlinson had inappropriate involvement in the development of the "Journal Editorial Report," a conservative public affairs magazine program that began airing on PBS last year.
The investigation also uncovered numerous emails between Tomlinson and White House staff about the hiring of Patricia Harrison, a former Republican Party Chairwoman, as the new CPB President. The report states, "while cryptic in nature, their timing and subject matter gives the appearance that the former chairman was strongly motivated by political considerations in filing the President/CEO position."
Tomlinson released a statement yesterday, calling the report’s charges "malicious and inappropriate." Despite all this, Tomlinson remains the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors- a federal agency that oversees the U.S government’s international broadcasting services, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and the Arabic-language satellite TV station Al — Hurra.
Last July, the State Department opened an inquiry into Tomlinson’s work at the Broadcasting Board of Governors. It is looking into accusations that Tomlinson misused funds and hired unqualified employees. In the course of that inquiry, the State Department investigators uncovered email traffic between Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Tomlinson and turned it over to the CPB investigators–though it was not included in yesterday’s report.
- Timothy Karr, Campaign Director of Free Press, a media reform organization. He runs a weblog at mediacitizen.blogspot.com.
AMY GOODMAN: Here to talk about all of these developments is Tim Karr, campaign director for Free Press. We contacted CPB repeatedly, but they declined our offer to be on the program. Welcome to Democracy Now!
TIMOTHY KARR: Thanks for having me, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t you just go through the findings of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Office of Inspector General report that just has come out.
TIMOTHY KARR: Well, it’s a 67-page report that details a lot of Kenneth Tomlinson’s wrongdoings within the organization, and it gives a fairly extensive case, an indictment of Kenneth Tomlinson, but what it doesn’t do is reveal complicity by other CPB board members, as well as CPB staff members. It’s — Tomlinson is not alone at the CPB there. The new chair, the person who replaced him, Cheryl Halpern, the vice chair, Gay Hart Gaines, are Republican Party operatives who were chosen for these positions, not based on their experience in Public Broadcasting but on loyalty to the White House.
So, while the report does reveal a lot, it doesn’t let us know a lot of things, as well, and another thing that it doesn’t reveal again is the complicity of the White House. Those emails that you discussed between — allegedly between Karl Rove and Tomlinson and between other unidentified White House officials are not a part of this report. We know that there is another report that was submitted to the CPB, that the CPB has in their hands, that has not been made public.
AMY GOODMAN: A report by who?
TIMOTHY KARR: A report by Inspector General Konz.
AMY GOODMAN: Two different ones?
TIMOTHY KARR: There is a separate report that has evidence, including these emails and the extent to which the White House — I mean, the emails themselves could let us know the extent to which the White House had a hand in influencing Public Broadcasting programming. These are still under lock and key.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, tell us what’s wrong with this? Okay, you have Bush’s chief advisor, Karl Rove, in back-and-forth emails with the chair of the CPB, Kenneth Tomlinson.
TIMOTHY KARR: Well, I mean, this is just indicative of a larger scheme. We have a White House that seems to be waging war against the freedom of the press. There are — we have — throughout 2005, we have had incidents of bribing journalists like Armstrong Williams. They have gone after dissenting views in the media, labeling them as, quote, "liberal advocacy journalism," unquote. And what you see here is a pattern of deception to dismantle the Fourth Estate, and in doing so, disengage the American population from the political process. Kenneth Tomlinson’s work within the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is just a part of a larger scheme, and we need to know more. We need to know what these emails contained, and the extent of White House involvement in Public Broadcasting.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what the inspector general found about the code of ethics, about who was hired, about the monitoring of the political content of programs?
TIMOTHY KARR: He went well beyond the realm of the CPB mandate, which is to act as a heat shield between Public Broadcasting and politicians to, one, you know, promote the inclusion of the Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Report, to seek funding for that, to promote the hiring of Patricia Harrison, the former R.N.C. chairman, and push an agenda beyond the realms of his mandate. And so, the report gives a fairly detailed account of that. It does also include a lot of traffic between Tomlinson and his fellow board members, and — which would imply that it goes beyond Kenneth Tomlinson alone. Other board members need to be made accountable.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, wasn’t there a claim that when he hired this political consultant in — was it Indianapolis —- to do the political monitoring of the programs -—
TIMOTHY KARR: That’s right. Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — that the others didn’t know about this?
TIMOTHY KARR: That’s right. Frederick Mann, who is a political consultant from Indiana, was hired to monitor Bill Moyers’s program, NOW, in addition to some others, for liberal content. This was done beyond the accountability of the rest of the board. The report itself, which has been made available at Free Press and other websites, is fairly ludicrous. It becomes clear that this consultant was not truly an expert media analyst, but someone who was chosen based on his political credentials.
AMY GOODMAN: Which were?
TIMOTHY KARR: Which were pretty limited, to be frank. He was part of an organization based in Washington that trains journalists to represent conservative viewpoints in the media.
AMY GOODMAN: Does this go to criminal wrongdoing?
TIMOTHY KARR: Well, it is a violation of federal statute. The report found that Tomlinson indeed violated the Public Broadcasting Act, but there is no avenue, and they don’t recommend any avenue, for punishment. So, it is a violation of law, but it is not something that, as far as we know, will go to further investigation. We would like to see the Congress get further involved. We would like to see the content of these emails, and even a G.A.O. investigation might be a good move to reveal further evidence, and this is just the beginning of a process of revealing the extent to which politics has influenced Public Broadcasting.
AMY GOODMAN: Tomlinson is no longer chair of CPB, and then as a result of this report he stepped down even as a board member of CPB.
TIMOTHY KARR: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: But he is still chair of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Explain what this is.
TIMOTHY KARR: The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an organization under the State Department that oversees programming on Voice of America, al-Harat, Radio Free Europe and other official news organs. And he is involved with the board there. There’s an investigation going on there, as well, regarding the alleged misuse of funds by Tomlinson. So, this is really —- the Broadcasting Board of Governors is really a propaganda wing of the State Department. So, you have -—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, for example, Voice of America can’t be broadcast in this country. It’s against the law, right, because it is propaganda that is supposed to go overseas, but not here.
TIMOTHY KARR: That’s right. And al-Harat, which is the Arabic language satellite network, is also under this program, and that was designed to present the American view to Arabic-speaking viewers.
AMY GOODMAN: And didn’t the head of al-Harat just quit?
TIMOTHY KARR: He — yes. There was a congressional hearing last week, in which he was grilled. There was a lot of concern about the misuse of $49 million, which is taxpayer money that budgeted al-Harat, and that this has gone to — it hasn’t been accounted for fully. So, again, this is, you know — you have Tomlinson linked to this larger effort to spread American propaganda, not only through official organs like al-Harat, but to try to infiltrate Public Broadcasting and have it express a viewpoint more compliant with the White House.
AMY GOODMAN: When you have the chair the same man for both agencies, isn’t that already set up to cross the line? And why is that? Why would you have Tomlinson the head of both the governing — the title of the — the Broadcast Board of Governors and the CPB?
TIMOTHY KARR: I don’t know why. It suggests vast conflicts of interest. You also have — but it doesn’t end with Tomlinson. Patricia Harrison, who is the new president of the CPB also was — she was formerly Undersecretary at the State Department for Public Affairs and Public Policy. This is the organization that crafts America’s message to the world. So, you have Public Broadcasting — an attempt to fold Public Broadcasting under the State Department, under these organs, which were set up to represent an official view and not the sort of contrarian adversarial journalism that we come to expect.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the ombudsman in the White House that was brought in?
TIMOTHY KARR: Yes. This was brought in through consulting with a White House communications officer that they — the report itself found that — raised some questions about that but didn’t think that that was the heart of the problem, but it does indicate a pattern of reliance upon the White House to set the agenda within the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s the original mandate of the CPB?
TIMOTHY KARR: The original mandate is to act as a, quote, unquote, "heat shield" to insulate Public Broadcasting from the hot winds of Washington, D.C., but the problem is that you have board members who are all political appointees. So, at the moment, there are — it’s a nine-member board. There are only seven sitting members right now. But there’s a majority of Republicans there who are setting the agenda. And these are people with not vast experience in Public Broadcasting. They are fundraisers for the G.O.P. It is a holding tank for people who have done well for the party, for people who aren’t quite so qualified to be ambassadors. They often get appointed to the CPB board. So Free Press is very involved with new legislation — to promoting new legislation to create sweeping reforms across the corporation so this structure no longer exists.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what would happen? How would people be chosen to be on the board?
TIMOTHY KARR: One proposal that we support is to have 13 board members, eight of whom are White House presidential appointees, but you can only allow the President to appoint four from each party, so there’s no clear majority. You also need broader public representation from the stations, from the public interest community, so that you have a board that looks — it’s looking after the public interest, and not the interests of the White House.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised by anything in this report?
TIMOTHY KARR: No, we had pretty much expected this. There had been reporting within The New York Times and with other publications, the extent of Tomlinson’s meddling. And so, we knew this. We knew what the report would say for the most part. What we want — we still need to know the extent to which the White House is involved.
AMY GOODMAN: And the other report that hasn’t been made public?
TIMOTHY KARR: That is something that is sitting somewhere at CPB. We need to pressure Congress. We need to pressure Inspector General Konz to reveal all of the information. We need to look at this traffic between the White House and the CPB, and we need to truly inoculate Public Broadcasting from this sort of political influence.
AMY GOODMAN: Tim Karr, thanks for being with us.
TIMOTHY KARR: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Free Press is the organization he represents. Tim Karr runs a blog at MediaCitizen.blogspot.com.