WASHINGTON - July 11 - Free Press, the national, nonpartisan media reform group, today renewed its call for Kenneth Tomlinson to resign as chair of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.
The call follows Tomlinson's testimony earlier today before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee in which he was subjected to withering rebuke from a bipartisan inquiry. Tomlinson defended his interference in programming decisions, explaining he felt compelled to correct the "obvious" liberal bias of PBS, but failing to produce credible evidence that such bias existed.
Effectively working as the instigator of political influence, rather than a shield from it, Tomlinson's CPB hired Frederick Mann without consulting the CPB Board. Mann, an Indiana-based Republican operative and longtime employee of the far-right National Journalism Center, was paid $14,000 in taxpayer funds to produce a partisan critique of what Tomlinson describes as "liberal advocacy journalism."
Tomlinson explained under questioning that he firmly believed public broadcasting was biased, but he needed Mann's "statistical" evidence to demonstrate the truth to skeptical colleagues. Since Tomlinson released the study at the insistence of Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), the work of Mr. Mann has been exposed as a farce featuring numerous spelling errors and outlandish analysis that labeled Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as a liberal.
"It is the height of absurdity that Tomlinson proposes to paper over his political meddling with the so-called 'statistics' of Frederick Mann, a man with no credentials aside from ideological predisposition. It doesn't pass the laugh test," said Josh Silver, Executive Director of Free Press. "Tomlinson hasn't the facts to defend his partisan crusade. To the contrary, his own surveys showed 80% of the public believes public broadcasting is 'fair and balanced.'"
In June Free Press delivered a petition signed by nearly 100,000 Americans who called on Tomlinson to resign. Today, Free Press has called upon the public to renew this demand and ensure that decisions about the future of public broadcasting be determined by the public themselves.
"It is outrageous that Tomlinson should determine that his views have more validity than those of 80% of the public," said Free Press Campaign Director Timothy Karr. "Programming decisions should be left to the local stations and the publics they serve. This is not about Right or Left. It's about keeping partisan meddling out of public broadcasting."
In addition to hiring Mann to produce a dubious report on bias, Tomlinson has:
- Worked behind the scenes to stack the CPB's board and executive offices with GOP operatives who share his ideological views. Most recently, Tomlinson tapped Patricia Harrison, the former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, to be CPB's next president and CEO.
- Suppressed a public poll showing that 80 percent of Americans judge PBS to be "fair and balanced" compared to network and cable television. While he claimed before Congress today that he made the report public via the CPB Web site, the data was buried on page 13 of the report.
- Secretly drafted a White House official to formulate "guiding principles" for the appointment of two ombudsmen to monitor and critique all public broadcasting content.
- Hijacked CPB's nonpartisan mandate to force two "conservative advocacy" programs into the PBS lineup.Before Congress today, Tomlinson claimed he had no part in the approval of one, Paul Gigot's "Wall Street Journal Report," when previous media reports portray a chairman who was actively engaged in that decision. Tomlinson dismissed these widely documented reports as untrue.
In his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Tomlinson stated that he has taken these actions to restore "objectivity and balance to public broadcasting" and "encourage political balance for the sake of encouraging a wide base of support for what we do." He was joined by recently appointed CPB CEO Harrison who supported CPB efforts to determine "objectivity and balance."
"By which standards will these two political operatives determine objectivity?" asked Silver. "Politically appointed apparatchik at the CPB should stand aside and let the public be the guide."
Free Press has joined with Common Cause, Consumers Union, Consumers Federation of America and Media Access Project to announce plans for a series of local town meetings across the country, where the public will talk directly to broadcasters and policymakers about the future of public broadcasting. For more information, see www.freepress.net/publicbroadcasting.