Friday, November 18, 2005

What We Don't Know about Karl

Yesterday, public interest groups sent a letter to Corporation for Public Broadcasting calling for full public disclosure of all evidence of communications between top CPB board members and the White House.

Under the lens
In the letter Free Press, the Center for Digital Democracy and Common Cause demand the immediate release of all evidence uncovered during a recently completed Inspector General's investigation -- including e-mail correspondence between ex-CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson and White House adviser Karl Rove.

The CPB's Inspector General Kenneth Konz struck this correspondence and other potentially damaging evidence from the version of the report that CPB released to the public on November 15.

The CPB board and the Inspector General must not be permitted to maintain a "secret dossier" on potential illegal and unethical activities. Jeff Chester of CDD said, "They should immediately disclose all the information related to efforts to force programming changes onto PBS and NPR. The public needs to know whether high-ranking White House officials dictated or influenced public broadcasting content."

The Inspector General's report describes "e-mails between the former Chairman and staff in the Executive Office of the President that, while cryptic in nature … [give] the appearance that the former Chairman was strongly motivated by political considerations in filling the President/CEO position." The CPB board ultimately selected Patricia Harrison, a seasoned GOP operative and former co-chair of the Republican Party, as president.

The Other Ken
Statements given to reporters by Inspector General Konz indicate that Tomlinson boasted in emails to Rove and other White House officials about his efforts to turn public broadcasting to the right. According to Bloomberg News, Tomlinson wrote to Rove that he was "finding programs to balance the Moyers report" and working "to shake up" the organization and hire Republican staff. The White House refused to cooperate with Konz's investigation.

The CPB needs to come clean about the full extent of the Bush administration's efforts to interfere with PBS and NPR. Until now they have secreted away the most damning evidence in the report behind a flimsy wall of "confidentially agreements."

The CPB board can't simply sweep this under the rug and tell us to trust them. The American people must be allowed to judge the evidence themselves.

The Inspector General's report released on Nov. 15 cites delivery of a "separate investigative report, along with specific evidence indicating possible wrongdoing, to the Board for their disposition." PBS President Patricia Harrison has refused to release the e-mails and other documents contained in this separate report, citing the confidentiality agreements as rationale.

Konz provides further detail in an interview with the Communications Daily:
Konz said that he "couldn't accede to media requests to release his 'investigative report' because his review found improprieties cited in the report didn't amount to criminal offenses, but 'rather conduct issues.' The IG's overall conclusions were in his public report, he said. He gave the board the investigative report to 'provide a full understanding of the nature and extent to action taken by various officials.' Because many of the documents contain 'proprietary information and relate to confidential business and personal matters,' he said, 'I see no reason for us to release the investigative report.'"
As a private corporation, the CPB doesn't come under the Freedom of Information Act, according to Konz.

A congressional investigation, such as the one requested by Senator Byron Dorgan (Dem-ND) -- who this week asked the Senate Commerce Committee to hold hearings on Tomlinson's actions -- could shake the emails loose from CPB and Konz's grasp.

This goes beyond the public's basic right-to-know. What's at stake is the public's confidence in public broadcasting -- an institution that, up to now, a majority of Americans regard as their most trusted source of news and information.


Anonymous said...

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Benjamin Melançon said...

Should we abandon public television and radio? I don't think so, but it's also abundantly clear that we have to support independent media. Did NPR cover the latest (small) victory against secret snooping? I happen to be involved with The Narco News Bulletin, reporting on the drug war and democracy from Latin America, but right now I'm asking everyone to support The NewStandard because without 400 more regular supporters (to reach 1,000) this great project won't be around next year.