A pink slip for Ken Tomlinson?

Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer call on Bush to fire the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Published June 21, 2005 5:42PM (EDT)

Each morning at our house, there used to come a time when the Teletubbies waved bye-bye. Is it Ken Tomlinson's turn to do the same?

This afternoon at the Capitol, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer are unveiling a letter they've written to George W. Bush demanding the dismissal of the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In their letter, which is apparently signed by 15 senators, Feinstein and Schumer accuse Tomlinson of "actively undermining, under-funding and ultimately undoing" the mission of public broadcasting.

Earlier this month, a House subcommittee approved sharp cuts in funding for public broadcasting and, according to the Washington Post, acted to eliminate within two years all federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Tomlinson's office said it was "concerned" about the proposed cuts, but advocates for public broadcasting didn't buy it. They saw the cuts as part of a broader Republican attack against what they consider a liberal bias at PBS and NPR -- an attack Tomlinson has spearheaded from his position as the head of the CPB.

If having Tomlinson continue to serve as head of the CPB sounds to you a bit like having John Bolton serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations -- well, Feinstein and Schumer won't disagree. "Public television is a valuable resource for all Americans and it should not be undermined by appointed leadership that has a political agenda," they say in their letter to Bush. "We urge you to immediately replace Mr. Tomlinson with an executive who takes his or her responsibility to the public television system seriously, not one who so seriously undermines the credibility and mission of public television."

As Feinstein and Schumer speak out on Capitol Hill, the dump-Tomlinson movement is picking up some help from the inside. Tomlinson has insisted that the CPB operates without interference from the White House, but emails given to NPR's David Folkenflik by a CPB insider seem to tell a different story. In one email, Tomlinson explains his position on a measure involving the membership of the CPB board, saying "The White House has issued guidance. WH officially opposed to" the measure. In another email, Tomlinson urged CPB officials to hire John Ashcroft's speechwriter, a job candidate who came to the CPB with "the strong support of the White House."

Tomlinson is pushing a new candidate for another job, now. The CPB board needs a new president, and Tomlinson is backing Patricia Harrison, who just happens to be -- and we're sure it's a coincidence -- a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee. Tinky-Winky is apparently unavailable.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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