Watchdogs Call on CPB Chief to Quit

Nov 21, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Watchdog group representatives last week urged Corporation for Public Broadcasting President and CEO Patricia Harrison to resign after a report by CPB’s inspector general alleged that “political tests” may have played a major role in her promotion to CPB’s top executive slot earlier this year, in violation of statutory prohibitions against such practices.

The long-awaited report also alleged that former CPB Chairman Ken Tomlinson, who was credited with promoting Ms. Harrison’s candidacy, may have violated the law and CPB’s code of ethics in promoting “The Journal Editorial Report,” a PBS program that Mr. Tomlinson apparently believed was needed to provide political balance for the noncommercial network’s public affairs programming.

“Our review of these programs disclosed evidence suggesting the former chairman violated his fiduciary responsibilities and statutory prohibitions against board member involvement in programming decisions,” said the report, which has been forwarded to Congress.

In a statement last week, Mr. Tomlinson, who resigned from CPB’s board earlier this month after privately reviewing the inspector general report’s findings, said suggestions that he had violated his fiduciary obligations or the law were “malicious and irresponsible.”

“All of my actions were open, lawful, and were taken after consulting and receiving advice from CPB’s general counsel, its president, or the CPB board of directors,” Mr. Tomlinson said.

But in the wake of the report’s release, a coalition of watchdog groups that included Free Press, Common Cause and the Center for Digital Democracy said it wants Ms. Harrison-who previously served as a co-chair of the Republican National Committee and was an executive at the State Department before joining CPB in June-to follow Mr. Tomlinson’s example by exiting.

“We’re calling on Harrison to resign because it’s clear she got her job through cronyism, not a fair search process,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

In a briefing with reporters, Ms. Harrison said she has no intention of stepping down-and that despite whatever motivations Mr. Tomlinson may have had for promoting her candidacy, she was recommended for CPB’s top slot by an executive search firm after being selected as a top candidate for the job in the wake of a similar search in 2003.

“I don’t want to get into the area of the former chairman, because I don’t know what was in his mind,” said Ms. Harrison, who received a unanimous vote of confidence last week from CPB’s board. “But I went through a professional process.”

Ms. Harrison also said that she would have no political agenda as CPB’s chief executive.

“My agenda is to strengthen the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and therefore public broadcasting writ large,” Ms. Harrison said.

Tomlinson’s Defense

In his statement, Mr. Tomlinson said that his objective as CPB’s chairman had been to help bring balance and objectivity to public broadcasting.

“Unfortunately, the inspector general’s preconceived and unjustified findings will only help to maintain the status quo, and other reformers will be discouraged from seeking change,” Mr. Tomlinson said. “Regrettably, as a result, balance and objectivity will not come soon to elements of public broadcasting.”

Mr. Chester said he found it disturbing that the report noted that the inspector general’s office was not permitted to interview White House personnel to determine what influence Bush administration officials may have had on CPB’s operations under Mr. Tomlinson’s leadership.

In addition, the report said the inspector general’s office provided “a separate investigative report, along with specific evidence indicating possible wrongdoing, to the board for their disposition.”

Said Mr. Chester: “We’re demanding that [the separate investigative report] be made public.”