Groups file FOIA requests for CPB documents

Watchdogs seek White House correspondence and other evidence uncovered in investigation of ex-CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson
Contact Info: 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Mary Boyle, Common Cause, (202) 736-5770 Jeff Chester, CDD, (202) 494-7100 Craig Aaron, Free Press, (202) 265-1490, x 25

WASHINGTON -- Common Cause, the Center for Digital Democracy and Free Press today filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The groups seek copies of any correspondence between the White House and CPB officials and other evidence uncovered in recent Inspector General investigations.

A report released last week by the CPB Inspector General found that former Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson violated the law by interfering in programming at PBS and secretly hiring a Republican operative to monitor "Now with Bill Moyers." The report also found that "political tests" were a "major criteria" in the hiring of former Republican Party Chairwoman Patricia de Stacy Harrison as president and CEO of CPB.

"There's no reason the Inspector General's full inquiry should not be made public," said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree. "It's obvious CPB is a troubled agency and failure to disclose the results of the investigation in its entirety just increases mistrust and thwarts efforts to reform this public institution."

The Inspector General's report revealed the existence of a "separate investigative report, along with specific evidence indicating possible wrongdoing, to the Board for their disposition." This report apparently includes correspondence between Tomlinson and White House adviser Karl Rove discussing CPB programming and hiring decisions. CPB officials previously have refused to release the e-mails and other documents contained in this separate report, citing "confidentiality agreements."

"The CPB board forgets that the word public is part of their name -- and mandate," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "Their fiduciary responsibility is to that public. They should not be condoning cover-ups."

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, despite claiming to be exempt from FOIA, has previously gone on record as saying it will voluntarily process FOIA requests it receives.

The groups seek:

  • The separate "investigative report" and "specific evidence indicating possible wrongdoing" given to the members of the CPB Board of Directors by the Inspector General.
  • Any and all reports or records given to Members of Congress related to the Inspector General's investigation.
  • Any and all communications between the White House, former CPB President Kathleen Cox, Harrison and members of the board during the past 36 months.
  • Minutes for both the public and closed-door CPB board meetings for the past 36 months.
  • All information and materials related to the recruitment of Harrison; the hiring of ombudsmen William Schultz and Kenneth Bode; the monitoring of political content on PBS and NPR by Fred W. Mann; and all the development, funding and promotion of "Tucker Carlson Unfiltered" and "The Journal Editorial Report."

    The groups also will file a FOIA request related to separate inquiry into Tomlinson's actions as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors -- which oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, TV Marti and other government "public diplomacy" efforts. An Inspector General at the State Department is currently investigating Tomlinson for possible misuse of funds and hiring of unqualified employees at the Broadcasting Board of Governors. According to the New York Times, the Rove-Tomlinson e-mails first surfaced as part of the State Department probe.

    Tomlinson resigned from the CPB Board before the Inspector General's report was made public, but he continues to serve as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. However, his nomination to a second term on the board is currently stalled in the Senate.

    "There should be no place for Kenneth Tomlinson or his cronies anywhere in the federal government," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press. "The only way to put an end to this sordid chapter in the history of public broadcasting is to release all of the evidence from these investigations to the public. If the individual agencies won't cooperate, then Congress needs to get involved."

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