Monday, July 25, 2005

Tomlinson Ally, A Leading GOP Donor (Surprise, Surprise) Likely Next Head of Corporation for Public Broadcasting

A leading Republican donor who once suggested that public broadcasting journalists should be penalized for biased programs is the top candidate to succeed the controversial chairman at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Bush-appointee Cheryl F. Halpern has sat on the CPB board for three years and is slated to replace Ken Tomlinson, a close ally, as the agency's head. Besides being a top Republican financial supporter, Halpern sits on the executive board of the right-leaning think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and is a board member of the International Republican Institute.

Tomlinson's second one-year term expires in September and he cannot be reappointed.

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PBS officials declined to comment directly on Halpern's potential succession. But PBS President Pat Mitchell took an indirect shot at Republican-led efforts to address alleged bias by saying in a statement, "Our hope is that the next chairman of the CPB board, no matter who it is, will uphold the charter of the CPB, which is to support the independence of public broadcasting by distributing federal funds and protecting programming from the influences of any and all funding sources."

Tomlinson has been criticized for his over-the-top effort to prove liberal bias at PBS and NPR, at one point paying conservative consultant Fred Mann more than $14,000 to "monitor bias" at the now-defunct PBS show Now, which was hosted by a favorite target of the right, Bill Moyers.

The report Mann produced labeled guests "liberal" or "conservative," but had a funny labeling system, including naming Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as "liberal" for disagreeing with White House policy. The irony is that Now is not directly financed by the CPB.

Tomlinson also got into hot water for lying about whether he was in communication with the White House. E-mails leaked to the Los Angeles Times for a May 2 story showed that Tomlinson last year enlisted presidential adviser Karl Rove to help kill a legislative proposal that would change the composition of CPB's board of directors by requiring the president to fill about half the seats with people who had experience in local radio and television. The proposal was dropped after Rove and the White House criticized it.

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Halpern and her husband, Fred, have been major financial supporters of Republican candidates for years. At one point during the 2004 elections, Mother Jones magazine ranked the Halperns among the nation's top 100 "hard" money donors (contributions made directly to candidates, not party organizations) and said they contributed a total of $81,800 to, among others, President Bush and Republican Sens. Trent Lott (MS), Sam Brownback (KS) Conrad Burns (MT) and Christopher Bond (MO). The magazine said that 95 percent of their contributions during that election cycle went to Republicans.

At the Senate confirmation hearing on her nomination to the CPB board in 2003, Halpern expressed agreement with Lott after he questioned the objectivity of PBS journalist and commentator Bill Moyers.

"There has to be recognition that an objective, balanced code of journalistic ethics has got to prevail across the board, and there needs to be accountability," she said at the hearing. She agreed with Lott that penalties were justified when balance fails, although she acknowledged that CPB rules prohibit interfering with programming decisions. Neither she nor Lott elaborated on what sort of penalties they favored.

Halpern's political activity and confirmation-hearing comments could make her elevation to chairman as controversial as CPB's recent hiring of its new president, Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairman of the Republican National Committee. The appointment of Harrison last month touched off allegations of partisanship by public broadcasting executives, as well as calls by Democrats for Tomlinson's resignation and for an investigation by CPB's inspector general. The inspector general said this week that he has launched such a probe.

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