Tomlinson fails his report card

The former head of the CPB is found in violation of federal laws.

Published November 16, 2005 8:12PM (EST)

Even though President Bush and Vice President Cheney seem to constantly elude questions of accountability, the same can't be said for Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the former chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Tomlinson, if you'll remember, was the one who ordered Bill Moyers' show to be monitored for political balance.

Tomlinson's had a bad month, but news reports today gave him the worst battering yet. A 67-page report made public yesterday detailed the results of a six-month inquiry into Tomlinson's actions as chairman of the CPB. The report charges Tomlinson with breaking federal laws and "repeatedly violat[ing] the organization's rules and code of ethics" in his attempts to "promote conservatives in the system."

The report shows, for example, that when Tomlinson attempted to tap Patricia Harrison, a former Republican Party co-chairwoman, for president of the corporation, he was acting in violation of the Federal Broadcasting Act -- which prohibits "political tests" for employment. Tomlinson also apparently broke federal law when "he promoted the development of 'The Journal Editorial Report,'" urging "PBS to air the program even as he offered editorial page editor Paul Gigot advice about the program's format." Tomlinson is also charged with circumventing contract procedures and threatening to withhold funding from PBS -- something that only Congress can officially do.

We wish we could say that this was an unfortunate, isolated incident -- an anomaly amid an otherwise unblemished and propaganda-free record for the Bush administration. But it was only a few months ago that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) rebuked the Bush administration for violating laws prohibiting "covert propaganda" by secretly paying broadcaster Armstrong Williams to shill for Bush's educational policies. And back in January of this year the GAO found that the administration violated even more laws by "producing and distributing television news segments about the effects of drug use among young people." The failure to identify the government's role in the "news segments" constituted -- let's all say it together now -- PROPAGANDA!

Click here, here and here to read some of Salon's past coverage of Tomlinson and his crusade against public television.

By J.J. Helland

J.J. Helland is Salon's editorial fellow in New York.

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