Bush nominates another unqualified social conservative to repace Tomlinson at CPB

[The Ledger]

Last November, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson resigned from his job as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The resignation came after the corporation's inspector general found that Tomlinson had been on an internal campaign to put more conservative viewpoints into CPBfunded programming of the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio.

The inspector general found Tomlinson's actions -- including Tomlinson's use of political tests in recruiting a president and chief executive officer -- broke federal law and also violated CPB's policies. (The president hired by Tomlinson was a former Republican National Committee co-chair.)

Tomlinson resigned as chairman, but he remained on the broadcasting board of governors, which provides oversight for the Voice of America.

There, the inspector general for the State Department reported last month, Tomlinson hired a friend to do consulting work for the board -- while Tomlinson ran a horse racing business from his office. The year-long investigation was the result of a whistleblowing employee who complained of misuse of funds.

The report was turned over to the U.S. Attorney General's Office, but the office did not conduct a criminal investigation, although the Justice Department is conducting a civil inquiry on the contract Tomlinson gave his friend.

Through his attorney, Tomlinson said he had done nothing wrong. The horse racing amounted to "an average of one email and 21/2 minutes a day at the office." And while he told reporters that he spent more time on his CPB responsibilities at his farm and home than he spent on his horses at the office, he added, "In retrospect, I should have been more careful in this regard."

Tomlinson has been a double embarrassment to the administration. Having been twice burned, President George W. Bush has once again gone back to the hot stove: As Tomlinson's replacement, Bush has nominated Warren Bell, whose main claim to fame has been that he is an executive producer of situation comedies for television. Among his accomplishments are "Coach," "Ellen," "The PJs," and "According to Jim."

"Creating pop culture has been the focus of my adult life," said Bell.

What has drawn the most attention to Bell are the comments he's made in a column he writes for National Review Online.

"I support a woman's right to choose what movie we should see, but not that other one," he wrote in one. "I am on the Right in every way."

In a column about condom ads on commercial television, Tomlinson wrote that he didn't have to worry about his kids. He has TiVo: "A little vigilance is all it takes -- well, that and a couple hundred bucks for TiVo . . . Sorry, poor people, your kids are going to be asking you awkward questions about condoms."

Now that he's a nominee, Bell said those remarks were made in an attempt to be funny. He told the Los Angeles Times that the "intent for my service with CPB is to ensure a strong, healthy, vibrant public broadcasting system for everyone to be proud of. My politics can't enter into it."

Bell's nomination has raised concerns from the Association of Public Television Stations. "We are definitely concerned about Warren Bell's nomination," association president John Lawson told the Times. "After the damage caused by Ken Tomlinson's activities, the last thing we need on the CPB board is another ideologue of any stripe."

Andi Sporkin, spokeswoman for National Public Radio, told a reporter, "So far as we can tell, Mr. Bell only brings a history of questionable comments about women, minorities and the media, and no discernable relevant achievement, involvement or commitment to public broadcasting."

On Tuesday, Common Cause, a Washington-based watchdog group, issued a statement on the three nominees proposed by Bush for CPB vacancies. "Two of the three appointees exhibit the distinguished careers and seriousness of purpose you would want in a CPB board member," said the organization in a news release. "David Pryor served as Governor of Arkansas and as a U.S. Senator. Chris Boskin, a successful publishing executive, serves on the board of KQED-FM/TV (an acclaimed public broadcasting station in San Francisco), and is active in many philanthropic causes."

Then there was Bell, who said he usually watches sports shows instead of PBS.

"Public broadcasting is just beginning to recover from the missteps of Ken Tomlinson," said Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause. "The CPB cannot afford to replace Tomlinson with Warren Bell. He is the wrong man in the wrong job at the wrong time."

Senate confirmation hearings will begin soon. Approving two out of three would be a good thing.

article originally published at http://www.theledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060914/NEWS/609140425/1036.

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