July 20, 2005
Moderator: Brian Lamb
Interview with Kenneth Tomlinson, Chairman
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Ken Tomlinson, why did you ever get involved in public broadcasting?
KENNETH TOMLINSON, CHAIRMAN, CORPORATION FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING: Well, I’ve had very pleasant memories of public broadcasting through my life. The fact is, I was a bluegrass disc jockey on WAMU back in the 1970s for a summer.
And especially in the period after I was married I spent a lot of time watching public broadcasting, you know, the original "MacNeil/Lehrer Report" was just extraordinary journalism and an extraordinary shifting in journalism.
And my wife and I would set our clocks, about 10:00 on Sunday night to see "Fawlty Towers." And then I watched the impact of public television on my kids when they were growing up, in good times and bad. And when I heard that the Clinton Whitehouse was interested in nominating me as a Republican, I was kind of excited about serving.
LAMB: How did that happen?
TOMLINSON: Well, I had been involved in public service in addition to journalism all my life. I’ve been on five presidential commissions. This is the third. I’ve had three chairmanships. I enjoy public service. I grew up in a family dedicated to public service.
LAMB: And how did Bill Clinton -- I mean, did he have to, in your case, appoint a Republican?
TOMLINSON: This -- yes, had to appoint a Republican and it was a tradition that my name was put forward by Republicans.
LAMB: What year was that?
LAMB: So you’ve been on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s board since 1999?
LAMB: You’ve been chairman for how long?
TOMLINSON: Two years. There is a two-year term limit.
LAMB: Who made the decision that you would become chairman?
TOMLINSON: My colleagues on the board.
LAMB: And how many are on the board?
TOMLINSON: Nine people.
LAMB: As of the last year, how much money did the taxpayers give to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?
TOMLINSON: Oh, approximately $400 million.
LAMB: And how much of that is in your discretion to spend and where does it go?
TOMLINSON: Actually, very little. The bulk of that goes directly to the stations, television and radio, 75 percent, 25 percent. But CPB has the option of giving grants for programming. CPB is actually a grant-making organization that plays very little direct role in public broadcasting. That’s done by PBS and NPR.
Understanding public broadcasting, you have to be close to an old cartoon to understand the way public broadcasting works.
LAMB: So can you tell a station in Minneapolis what to do?
TOMLINSON: No. In fact, PBS can’t tell that station in Minneapolis what to do. Public broadcasting is a bottom-up operation. And, in fact, I set out in my chairmanship for CPB to recognize that more and be more supportive of local stations, and the independence of local stations.
LAMB: How much money does CPB, as an organization, spend a year on its own operation?
TOMLINSON: On its own operation, 5 percent of that $400 million budget.
LAMB: Twenty million dollars. How many people work there?
TOMLINSON: Oh, approximately 80, 90.
LAMB: Where is it located?
TOMLINSON: Located 9th Street downtown.
LAMB: Here in Washington?
LAMB: What is the Public Broadcasting Service, or PBS?
TOMLINSON: PBS was created as the -- as one of the primary program producers for these independent stations. Now you also have a number of very important individual program -- stations which do program production, not the least of which is WGBH in Boston, WNET in Washington (sic), WETA here -- WNET in New York and WETA here in Washington.
LAMB: How big is the Public Broadcasting Service?
TOMLINSON: The Public Broadcasting Service is a service, depending on how count it, of 200 independent station entities, some state networks, some individual networks.
LAMB: How many people work there, do you know?
TOMLINSON: I can’t count that high, no, I don’t know. I don’t recall that figure.
LAMB: And what kind of power do they have?
TOMLINSON: Each station has considerable power. Each station has the power to program what it receives from the central service. And very few programs are mandated. But those programs are -- program selections are made at the local level.
LAMB: National Public Radio, do they work for you?
TOMLINSON: They don’t work for us. We help give them a portion of the funding that they receive. We give them their cut of the federal dollar.
LAMB: How does that work and how many radio stations are there out there that belong to NPR?
TOMLINSON: Well, a very independent service. And they supply programming. There is an interesting element in that you also have an outgrowth of Minnesota Public Radio, Public Radio International, which, in effect, competes with NPR for program grants and also for purchases from local stations.
LAMB: Does anybody really understand how the system works?
TOMLINSON: As you can tell, I work mighty hard at trying to, but very few people do.
LAMB: Why is that?
TOMLINSON: I think -- we used to say at Reader’s Digest, I was with Reader’s Digest for many years, and we used to say that DeWitt Wallace created his editing system so that no one person could screw up his magazine. And I think in a sense, over the years, public broadcasting has developed smoke stacks (ph) of independent entities. There are pluses to this, there are minuses.
LAMB: Is the Public Broadcasting System about to go broke?
TOMLINSON: Public television, in my opinion, is in trouble. Public broadcasting, public television, in the opinion of a lot of seasoned observers is in trouble. Public radio is going through a successful period in no small part in each case because of competition.
You know, on that FM dial, it’s a wasteland outside your public television -- radio -- public radio by and large. Public television, when I used to come home on Sunday nights to watch public television, it was one of four or five stations in Washington. And today at my farmland in Virginia I can get by satellite 300 stations.
LAMB: Where did you come from originally? Where’s your hometown?
TOMLINSON: I grew in Grayson County, Virginia, just outside the town of Galax.
LAMB: Where did you go to -- did you go to school there locally?
TOMLINSON: Went to school there locally, of course. Galax High School.
TOMLINSON: Randolph-Macon over north of Richmond.
LAMB: What did you study?
TOMLINSON: I majored in being a newspaper reporter. I got a stringing job with The Richmond News Leader my sophomore year. And just about the time I was notified I was going to lose my college scholarship, The Times-Dispatch offered me a job. They thought I was graduating.
I accepted the job and told the city editor -- I told the city editor I’ve got a couple of more years in school, can you give me some time off for exam time? And otherwise it’s work for morning newspaper, p.m. hours, I went to enough classes to limp out of school. But I had a great time as a young newspaper reporter.
LAMB: What year did you graduate from Randolph-Macon?
TOMLINSON: I was -- could’ve been class of ’66, but in truth class of ’67.
LAMB: And so after being a reporter for a while what did you do?
TOMLINSON: I went to work for Reader’s Digest in the Washington bureau of the magazine in 1968.
LAMB: And you ended up being editor.
TOMLINSON: Ended up being editor-in-chief.
LAMB: What year was that?
TOMLINSON: I became editor-in-chief in ’99.
LAMB: But before that you were running the Voice of America.
TOMLINSON: I ran the Voice of America from ’82 to ’84 as -- and it was an extraordinary experience. It was easily the best job I ever had because in many ways I had been yearning for that job for a long time.
I was a foreign correspondent in the ’70s, and I became obsessive about international broadcasting. Obviously when you’re out on assignments in isolated places, you depended on that shortwave to follow what was happening in the world.
And I came to wonder how come BBC is so good, in those years, and VOA was so mediocre? I spent a lot of time listening and that VOA job in many ways was a dream job.
LAMB: Is VOA easier listen to today than it was in those days? And is it as good as the BBC?
TOMLINSON: I think it -- from the standpoint of quality, I think it rivals the BBC. We’ve also had quite a growth in international broadcasting. A lot of things have changed in international broadcasting. We were very proud of some of our individual service entities.
For example, we now have 24-7 satellite television to the Middle East, to 26 countries from Morocco to Yemen. We now have one hour of television -- satellite television to Iran, for example. And that is repeated four times. We have done a lot of expanding under the Bush administration. I’m very proud of what we’ve done.
LAMB: Now as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, CPB, do they pay you?
TOMLINSON: I think I’m capped at $10,000 a year.
LAMB: Is it on a per diem basis?
TOMLINSON: It’s about $1.50 a minute (ph), 150 a day.
LAMB: Then how do you make your money, how do you survive?
TOMLINSON: I’m retired. And fortunately we did well through the years. Some people say I married well.
LAMB: But you’re also chairman of the board -- the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
LAMB: What is that?
TOMLINSON: After 9/11 I was appointed chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors by President Bush. The Broadcasting Board of Governors oversees international broadcasting.
And whereas the CPB is a very indirect board, the Broadcasting Board of governors has a great deal of legislative power over what we’re doing internationally. And through this very activist board, we have seen an extraordinary spurt of growth in international broadcasting.
In the 10 years following the end of the Cold War, we reduced budgets for international broadcasting a very real 40 percent. I’m very pleased that since 9/11 we’ve increased what were payments for international broadcasting by a significant -- more than 40 percent.
LAMB: Under that broadcasting board are how many outfits, Voice of America?
TOMLINSON: Voice of America, Middle East Broadcasting, our service to Cuba, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, a number of separate entities. Voice of America is still a government institution. The others are entities, grantees, operate more like private companies under government supervision.
LAMB: How much responsibility or power do you have in that job as chairman?
TOMLINSON: Well, it’s -- in many ways it’s the power to do good. I’m very proud of my work at encouraging this administration, encouraging Congress to properly fund international broadcasting.
If I could point to one thing that I’ve done, it has been working to get the funds needed to do good international broadcasting. It’s very, very important to be communicating to the people of the Middle East, not just the elites, but to the people.
LAMB: How much money is spent on all of those entities you just talked about?
TOMLINSON: Oh, we have well over 600 million this year and we have a 10 percent increase in the works for ’06.
LAMB: Did you hire and fire the head of like VOA and Radio Sawa and places like that?
TOMLINSON: The board essentially has this authority in cooperation with others in this town.
LAMB: Who are some of the people on the board we’d recognize?
TOMLINSON: Well, Norman Pattiz is a well-known broadcaster in Los Angeles. He’s the Democrat on the board. B.Q. Cullum is a well-known broadcaster, talk show host. Ted Kaufman is a former chief of staff to Senator Biden.
LAMB: And so they’re political jobs. People are -- I mean, they…
TOMLINSON: They’re political.
LAMB: Who appoints them?
TOMLINSON: The president.
LAMB: And do they have to be so many Democrats, so many Republicans?
TOMLINSON: Yes, yes. Five and five and secretary of state or someone representing the secretary of state.
LAMB: So everything you’re involved in has politics in it?
TOMLINSON: Yes, directly or indirectly.
LAMB: You have been criticized a lot in the last couple of months in the so-called mainstream media and by people like Bill Moyers and others. What does that feel like and what’s the beef all about?
TOMLINSON: Well, the beef stems from my efforts at CPB to encourage that the requirement of the law that we have political balance on controversial programming be observed. It’s something I didn’t set out to gain headlines on. In fact, for 18 months I worked very quietly in the system. But for whatever reason, some people were -- felt intimidated at my efforts to encourage a balance. And the newspapers stories began.
LAMB: At the hearing that we covered recently, you were challenged to debate Bill Moyers. And you said yes.
TOMLINSON: I would be happy to debate Bill Moyers. It’s not going to be good for public broadcasting because the more Tomlinson and Moyers talk about what has happened in public broadcasting, the more people are going to say, wait just a second, something is not right in public broadcasting.
There should have been balance through the years. You know, balance is something -- C-SPAN proves that balance is something that is achievable if you put it as a priority. And I don’t demand a tape measure be applied to every show or every night, but you can feel the balance of C-SPAN.
And in recent years you felt unbalanced in sections of programming in public broadcasting.
LAMB: Did anybody follow up and suggest that that actual debate be held?
TOMLINSON: Oh, if Mr. Moyers wants to do it, then we’ll have lunch and we’ll plan something. As I said, I don’t think it’s good for public broadcasting but I’m certainly willing to do it.
LAMB: Will it be in a public forum?
LAMB: Coverable by this network and others?
TOMLINSON: I assume so.
LAMB: And do you think it will be soon?
TOMLINSON: I think it will probably be in the fall, in September.
LAMB: We cover -- and one of the reasons we asked you to come to this program is that we covered an hour speech that Bill Moyers gave in St. Louis back in May.
TOMLINSON: I saw it the first night.
LAMB: You did?
TOMLINSON: I just happened on it.
LAMB: And then we covered -- and Pat Mitchell joined us for a call in show here right around the hearings that you had. And this is the first time we’ve had a chance to talk with you.
So what we thought we’d do a little bit of this evening is to show some clips from the Bill Moyers speech, some of them are very brief, but it will just give you chance -- we’ll have a mini debate here, give you a chance to react to some of the things he said.
Let’s just run the first clip and we’ll get your reaction to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL MOYERS, FORMER HOST, "NOW WITH BILL MOYERS": As everyone knows, Mr. Tomlinson has put up a considerable sum of money, allegedly over $5 million, your money, for the new weekly broadcast featuring Paul Gigot and the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal.
Now Gigot is a smart journalist, a sharp editor, and a fine fellow. I had him on "Now" several times, and I even proposed to PBS that he become a regular contributor on our show. The conversation of democracy, remember, all stripes.
But I confess to some puzzlement that The Wall Street Journal, which in the past editorialized to cut PBS off the public tap is now being subsidized by American taxpayers when its parent company, Dow Jones, had revenues in the first quarter of this year of $400 million.
I thought public television was supposed to be an alternative to commercial media, not a funder of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: First, does public television spend $5 million a year on one one-half hour program once a week?
TOMLINSON: We did to launch that program. It’s now being sponsored.
LAMB: Why was -- I mean, just let me ask you the money question. Why did it cost $5 million to do that program?
TOMLINSON: Well, in the first place, you have to recognize for close to two years, the Moyers program stood almost alone as liberal advocacy journalism on Friday night. Public television, in my opinion, suffered mightily not having a center-right equivalent of the Moyers show.
And we undertook, just as it costs a lot of money to produce the old "Bill Moyers Now," that was an hour-long show, we undertook to fund a conservative counterbalance to that show to fulfill the war -- to fulfill the law.
After all, the law requires us to have political balance. All this debate is over political balance.
LAMB: Paul Farhi, by the way, wrote in The Washington Post recently a story about -- actually it was a few days ago, on a Sunday, about public television. He has written a lot about it. But he quotes Paul Gigot, who is the editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal.
I want to read that to you, we’ll put it on the screen. Paul Gigot said in that piece -- Paul Farhi writes Gigot, The Journal editorial reporter host, charges that public television stacks the deck against conservatives in other ways.
He says that PBS affiliate stations have been reluctant to add his program to their schedules. PBS distributes the show, but stations are free to set their own lineups, or broadcast it in predawn time periods.
Quote: "There has been a conscious decision by stations to run ’Now,’ Moyers’ former show, but now to run us," he says. The motivation for that: "Well, you make up your own mind."
TOMLINSON: Well, after the initial Moyer TIME (ph) story appeared about me in The New York Times editorial writer called me and said, our concern is that you’re going to make public broadcasting very right wing. And I said, even I wanted to, and I wouldn’t, I would never allow anything to go imbalanced, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t do that because of individual stations.
And she said, well, The Wall Street Journal was soon going to dominate Friday night. And I said, my goodness, "Now," without Bill Moyers, "Now" is carried in primetime on something like 80 percent of public television stations. The Wall Street Journal program is carried primetime by less than 20 percent of public television stations. And as Gigot points out, it’s run at 4:30 in the morning in a number of important spots.
LAMB: He also said in the same article…
TOMLINSON: But I would never try to push the system publicly to change that because this is a delicate system and I’ve never tried to engage in interfering with the way local televisions run the show.
LAMB: By the way, how did that funding work in the first place? Where did that $5 million go?
TOMLINSON: That was an independent decision. Actually, Pat Mitchell, PBS placed the initial call to invite Paul Gigot to do a program. And that program was funded by our independent funding process within the CPB.
LAMB: Did you ever have a conversation with Pat Mitchell that said -- and I know she doesn’t work for you, it’s an independent group, that said, you know, you had better balance this out or this whole process is going to be in trouble?
TOMLINSON: I had a number of conversations with Pat Mitchell over weeks and months, private conversations. I didn’t take them public, saying that the situation you have with the lack of balance with the Moyers show is going to hurt public television.
In fact, in many ways, I got into this balance debate as thinking I was doing something to help public television, because public television can’t be perceived as just a center-left operation. Public television needs the support, especially in these days, of a broad cross-section of Americans.
LAMB: Let’s listen to a little more Bill Moyers. We’ve got several clips we want to show you and get your reaction to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOYERS: Friends in Washington called to say that they had heard of muttered threats, that the PBS reauthorization would be held up unless Moyers is dealt with. The chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson, was said to be quite agitated.
I didn’t know it at the time, but within two months after taking over -- three months after taking over, he wrote a letter to PBS complaining about the unbalanced "Now."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TOMLINSON: True. Got a phone call in November of ’03 from an old friend who runs a foundation. He said, did you watch Bill Moyers tonight? And I said, no. He said, this is -- you really have got to do something about this. This is hurting public television. In fact, when they come to me, I gave $300,000 for digital conversion of my local station recently. I’m not going to do that again unless you give us some measure of balance.
And he went on to kindly say, you know, Tomlinson, we would like to see you in these big picture jobs, but you’re supposed to try to do something in those jobs. So very quietly I wrote a personal letter, which I’ve -- which others are free to see, to Pat Mitchell saying, it is in your best interest that you get another program to balance.
And never once did I say, let’s remove Bill Moyers. And never once did I say, let’s take off any programming. Never once did I seek to take money from such liberal initiatives as the Minority Consortium, which gives a good deal of money to create minority programming. I never once said, do these things.
I always said, if a rising tide lifts all boats, let’s put on moderate to conservative programming to serve as a balance like the law requires.
LAMB: How much money, for instance, funds the Bill Moyers program?
TOMLINSON: I don’t know. He funds that program through his foundation. I’ve never really stopped to study it. But it’s considerable.
LAMB: He funds it through his foundation?
TOMLINSON: He funds it through foundations he has relationships with or he raises money for this show just like The Wall Street Journal now has raised money to do their show.
LAMB: Is there any accountability on who gets the money in the end? How much these individuals that are involved in these programs make?
TOMLINSON: Well, they -- no. Not -- the standard accountability of government oversight.
LAMB: Does the government ever ask those questions on where the money goes?
TOMLINSON: If it hasn’t I certainly will ask them next week.
LAMB: Here’s Bill Moyers again from May.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOYERS: Nixon vetoed the authorization for CPB with a message written in part by his sidekick and soulmate Pat Buchanan, who castigated Vanocur, MacNeil, "Washington Week in Review," "Black Journal," and Bill Moyers as, quote, "unbalanced against the administration."
It is familiar. I always knew Nixon would be back.
MOYERS: Again and again. I just didn’t know that this time he would ask to be chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TOMLINSON: Well, what you see there is a measure of why people thought that the Moyers programming was journalistically not balanced. Later -- and I don’t know whether you have the clip, later he asserts that I was a part of -- that as director of Voice of America, I was somehow related to some blacklisting thing, which I certainly never, never was.
Moyers is very effective with rhetoric. He is -- actually, he is an outstanding broadcaster, and I would never do anything to tarnish the career of Bill Moyers, but when it comes to balance, objectivity, it’s not a part of his make-up.
LAMB: I started to quote this earlier, but this is from the article that Paul Farhi in The Washington Post wrote last Sunday, July 17th. And the quote is: "’I haven’t done a study of this, but over the years, my perception is that ’Frontline’ has taken this viewpoint,’ says Gigot,’" we don’t have that part of the quote.
Quote: "’The conventional wisdom of reporters on ’Washington Week in Review’ is center-left,’" he’s really talking about taking a center-left position. "’And Tavis Smiley is a center-left figure also.’"
Is that what we’re really talking about here, is that people like you and others think there is a total center-left feeling in what’s on public television?
TOMLINSON: My concern was not those programs actually. "Frontline" does some outstanding journalism. Tavis Smiley makes sure he has people in from across the political spectrum. You will get a measure of balance on Tavis Smiley.
And -- but my concern was centered around the Moyers show because that was something beyond dispute. That was something that was clearly out of whack. Now, again, I never would have taken it off the air. I certainly never would try to take "Now," his successor, off the air. It’s an important part of the component.
And by the way, there are a lot of liberal supporters of public broadcasting, I don’t want to do anything to drive those people away.
LAMB: What -- if you’re not wanting to take it off the air, then what are they so upset about?
TOMLINSON: That is a very good question. Initially I think this -- all of this was about fundraising. One of the best ways to raise money in this country is to mail liberal lists and say, conservatives are trying to take over public broadcasting, we’ll do something about it.
But later I saw it really went beyond fundraising. If you look at the original New York Times article, virtually every charge in there about me has either been discredited or proven false.
There is absolutely no White House involvement in what I did. But I came to the conclusion after re-examining that original New York Times program that the supporters of public broadcasting, it may well be they’re so passionate in their support for public broadcasting that they don’t believe that the truth -- they don’t believe that standards of journalism should come into play because they’re dealing with something so precious, they have to use any weapon to make sure no one touches it.
LAMB: One of the things you notice if you get on the Web sites and look at the boards of directors of either our local station here in Washington, WETA, or if you look at the board of directors at PBS or of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, they’re full of people with political connections.
For instance, the person that runs WETA in Washington, the public television station, is Senator Jay Rockefeller’s wife, Sharon Percy Rockefeller.
TOMLINSON: Let me hedge, Sharon Rockefeller is one of the truly great figures in public broadcasting. And she has done a very good job of public service and I admire her.
LAMB: My question to you is why hasn’t she been criticized for being a political person in a job like that?
TOMLINSON: Well, she’s very balanced in her own way. Sure, she supports her husband. Her father was in politics before her husband.
LAMB: Senator Chuck Percy from Illinois.
TOMLINSON: Right. But Sharon Rockefeller is a very balanced person. And Sharon Rockefeller understands, for example, that a real priority of public broadcasting today should be education-based children’s programming.
The two of us fell into agreement the first time we had a conversation about this. You know, it’s cheaper to run cartoons than it is to do education based public broadcasting. You know, we need to help our children across America from every economic circumstance to learn how to read.
And we need to teach them history and civics. And, yes, Tom Friedman, we need to get them interested in -- get young people interested in math and science. Education-based public television is a great way to do that.
LAMB: Besides a very political person being the head of the local public station, on the board of directors, it’s a large board, I think some 30 people belong there, you have several Republicans. You have the wife of Senator Ted Stevens, I think her name is Catherine Ann Stevens. You have the -- at least she was the wife of Lamar Alexander, "Honey" Alexander.
TOMLINSON: Oh, sure. She used to be on the CPB board.
LAMB: And you also have Diane Bodman, who is the wife, I believe, of the secretary of energy, Sam Bodman. And I just wonder though, again, why is there a need for all of these political people.
Are they using these folks at all to connect with the Congress, connect with the administration to get more revenue for public television?
TOMLINSON: Maybe so, but also there is a tradition in this country of public service. And I think people are anxious to serve in public broadcasting positions like that.
LAMB: Does it pay off, have you noticed, on Capitol Hill, when these people are there?
TOMLINSON: Of course it does.
LAMB: What about on the PBS board, for instance? You have the vice chairman is the former chairman of the Appropriations Committee I believe that dealt with the public broadcasting monies on Capitol Hill, John Porter…
TOMLINSON: On the House side.
LAMB: … who is a lawyer in town. He represents the Chicago station. Again, do they use him up on Capitol Hill as a lobbyist for public television?
TOMLINSON: I’m not sure -- he’s actually an outstanding person. I worked with him when -- and an outstanding public servant. I worked with him when I was head of Voice of America.
But, you know, ideally, we should have -- these people should bring about a degree of political balance by their very presence.
LAMB: Do they?
TOMLINSON: I think we should all do more, quietly. As I say, I didn’t bring on this national debate. I tried to work quietly. But I do think that for the sake of public broadcasting that we need to make sure our programming is politically balanced.
And by the way, it’s nothing new to public broadcasting. I will still contend that the original "MacNeil/Lehrer Report" and "The Jim Lehrer NewsHour" today brought to broadcasting in this country, not unlike C-SPAN, a tradition of "we report, let the people decide."
LAMB: Were you disappointed when Congress reinstated the $100 million that they were going to cut on the -- Republicans were going to cut on the House side for CPB?
TOMLINSON: I kind of agree with Senator Stevens on that. I was not disappointed when that money was restored because we have some very real needs, especially in the area of children’s programming.
But public broadcasting should understand that it’s very important for public broadcasting to establish with the American people that if they’re not going to go in one political direction because at some point in the future that would jeopardize that funding.
LAMB: Continuing our quiet debate here with Bill Moyers, here’s some more from his May speech in St. Louis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOYERS: I simply never imagined that any CPB chairman, Democrat or Republican, would cross the line from resisting White House pressure, to carrying it out for the White House.
But that’s what Kenneth Tomlinson has been doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TOMLINSON: That’s very sloppy reporting on the part of Bill Moyers. No one at the White House has ever asked me to influence public broadcasting programming. No one. And this is very strange for me to see that as I seek just to require balance on the most controversial programming, this is the kind of attack we get. I don’t think it’s fair and in the long run I think this hurts public broadcasting.
LAMB: You mean, you’ve never had a conversation with anybody at this White House or any other White House about balance or any kind of programming that should be on public television?
TOMLINSON: Never about any programming that should be on public television. Any discussions I’ve had about balance have been incidental conversations, nothing directed at programming as it exists.
LAMB: Bill Moyers might say, if he were sitting here, but you don’t have to, because you’re so strongly committed to George Bush.
TOMLINSON: Well, I’m strongly committed to George Bush, I’m also strongly committed to balance in public broadcasting. Throughout my journalistic career I’ve sought to follow the story, and I’ve sought to maintain political balance.
When I was at Voice of America in the early ’80s, during the Reagan administration, a lot of people feared that here was a fellow coming in who was going to take Voice of America to the right.
Balance was about what I did there and everything I did. And it’s one of the reasons why I was so successful because the people in the ranks of the Voice of America came to understand that Ken Tomlinson was about balance.
And when there was an issue, when President Reagan was giving a very important address, which I supported passionately, about the importance of supporting the Contras in Central America, I told my colleagues that you’ve got to give Chris Dodd his equal time.
It’s something that didn’t make me very popular at the White House, but I’ve always been dedicated to balance.
LAMB: One of the biggest critics on the right writing about public television and broadcasting is a fellow named Tim Graham from National Review Online, it’s where I’ve gotten the following here.
He says: "PBS’s little self-promotional ads," that’s he’s talking about, he says, "after you watch a half hour of ridiculously imbalanced liberal programming like ’Now with David Brancaccio," who took over from Bill Moyers, "you get a smooth TV ad that asserts, quote: ’Who do you trust to tell all sides of the story? Who do you trust to let all voices be heard? Who do you trust to teach your children? Who do you trust to help make sense of it all? Americans trust PBS more than any other television network,’ unquote, that’s their" -- and then Tim Graham writes, "that’s their purchased Roper poll talking, your federal dollars go to polling and advertising for more federal dollars."
He was upset about the fact that during the recent controversy, these public television stations around the country and radio stations took out ads asking for more money from the federal government. Fair criticism?
TOMLINSON: I agreed with their position, but I think public broadcasting should be -- and I’d have to review on a case-by-case basis what those ads said, but I think public television should be very careful about restraining themselves from being a part of the funding process.
But having said that, his point about "Now" is valid if local stations are not running The Wall Street Journal piece -- program with it. You see, if you have 30 minutes of "Now" and you have 30 minutes of The Wall Street Journal, that’s balance. Let the people decide. But if you’re running only "Now" and you come on with that ad, then people are going to question as this writer has.
LAMB: You used to have the Tucker Carlson show on public television. Is -- did the stations carry that one?
TOMLINSON: I don’t -- I would have to check to give you an answer, but not significantly greater than the Wall Street Journal.
LAMB: And Richard Carlson, Tucker Carlson’s father, used to be the head of -- president of the CPB. Did that have any -- and now he serves on the WETA board, I believe, the local station. Does that have anything to do with why Tucker Carlson got on the public television?
TOMLINSON: Well, Tucker Carlson is not -- that was a Pat Mitchell decision. But Tucker Carlson has gone on to bigger and better things with MSNBC.
LAMB: Let’s watch some more of Bill Moyers in May.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOYERS: On FOX News this week, he denied he is carrying out a White House mandate or that he has ever had any conversation with any Bush administration official about PBS.
But The New York Times reports that he enlisted Karl Rove to help kill a proposal that would have put on the CPB board people with experience in local radio and television.
It was also reported that on the recommendation of administration officials, he hired a White House flack, I know the genre, name Mary Catherine Andrews as a senior staff member at CPB.
While she was still reporting to Karl Rove at the White House, she set up CPB’s new ombudsman office and had a hand in hiring the two people who will fill it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Is that true?
TOMLINSON: That is replete with errors, absolutely replete with errors.
LAMB: Like what?
TOMLINSON: Well, like, for example, I called Karl Rove only after lobbyists for public broadcasting boasted or implied that Karl Rove’s office was supporting the board-packing measure.
Karl got involved in this in no way, shape, or form directly after that. He just told me, of course, we’re not.
Business about someone reporting to Karl Rove, helping write our ombudsmen stuff, absolutely preposterous. Mary Catherine Andrews knew she was leaving the White House. She’s very capable. I worked with her in international broadcasting for a year-and-a-half. She’s an important part of launching the Arabic service to the Middle East.
And she was hired by CPB to come over to CPB to work. People move all the time in this town. But she was not ordered. I was not pressured to hire her. No one even suggested I hire her.
She’s very capable and she’s working there now.
LAMB: When Bill Clinton was president, I think there was a woman by the name of Diane Blair who was in your job. And Diane Blair was a close personal friend of his. Was there any controversy when she was there about, you know, having political people so close to the public television community?
TOMLINSON: Absolutely not. Diane Blair, who is a wonderful person -- she’s dead now, Diane Blair stayed at the White House when she came to town for CPB meetings. I didn’t think anything of that because, my goodness, I want someone at the White House to be influencing support for public broadcasting.
The people who criticized our hiring Pat Harrison because her Republican background, some of the very people who were criticizing that in the papers were former Democratic Party congressional candidates, longtime Democratic Party activists.
Do I criticize the fact that Democratic activists are involved in public broadcasting? No, because I want Democrats supporting public broadcasting. They should feel the same about Republicans.
LAMB: There has been a lot of copy written, but you -- the -- to get the extremes on it, you almost have to go to the Web or you go to articles in other than the mainstream papers. Herb Berkowitz and Hugh Newton, a couple of conservatives, wrote in The Washington Times a couple of days ago: "When money is involved, there is no such thing as an arm’s length relationship. If you’re a little bit pregnant, you’re pregnant. And by any reasonable standard, NPR and PBS are pregnant and the DNA originates in Washington."
They go on at the end of this column to say: "The NPR/PBS appropriation shouldn’t be cut by $100 million as proposed, it should be eliminated all together. The press is supposed to be free in America, not tax-supported." That’s the purist libertarian conservative view, do you agree with that?
TOMLINSON: I don’t. But I respect their point of view and I think they have an argument. But, as I said, I think there’s a case for public support for public broadcasting. I do think that it’s up to public broadcasting not to have a tin ear, not to fail to understand that it is important to let a broad cross-section of American people that public broadcasting, public radio, reflects your values in a journalistic way.
LAMB: The Berkowitz-Newton column also say: "If Washington appropriated money each year for the leftist Pacifica Radio Foundation, which supports radio stations in Berkeley, Los Angeles, Houston, New York, and Washington, or the right-leaning Wall Street Journal," it goes on to say, "people would go up in arms."
I read somewhere in all this stuff that you gave a million dollars to the Pacifica Radio Foundation. Is that true?
TOMLINSON: Pacifica has been supported in the past by CPB. I would have to check to see what the current status is.
LAMB: What would happen if you support a right wing radio network like that?
TOMLINSON: There would an absolute revolution in public broadcasting ranks.
LAMB: But why do you support a left wing organization?
TOMLINSON: In the past we did so because we traditionally did so and no one wanted to pull it back. Once again, we had been very genteel in our approach to the system. I’ve not sought to wipe out funds that are channeled to independent producers. I’ve not sought to reduce funds for any elements of traditional public broadcasting.
I haven’t because I’m an incrementalist and I think it’s important for us to establish a balance on public television, balance on public radio, clear and accurate reporting on public radio.
LAMB: One of the other things I’ve found on the Web was a -- it goes way back to 1978, there was a bill that was sponsored by people like Ed Markey from Massachusetts, a Democrat, Barbara Mikulski when she was in the House of Representatives, Representative Marty Russo, Al Gore, Henry Waxman and others.
And the require was that no one at public -- at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was supposed to make more than a level one executive salary, which is the cabinet officers.
And I noticed also for a while it applied to NPR and to PBS in some way. But lately there’s a big difference in the salaries at CPB. And we had the salaries of three different entities…
TOMLINSON: That’s right. We are capped at CPB.
LAMB: If you look on the screen you’ll see that the CPB president, when Bob Coonrod was making 227,000, that was total compensation in 2003, including deferred and…
TOMLINSON: It was deferred.
LAMB: Kevin Klose, 377,000 at NPR. And the most recent figures for PBS President Pat Mitchell was $540,000. What happened to the cap?
TOMLINSON: The cap existed only for CPB and was lifted for these other entities. The lobbyists for the Association of Public Television Stations makes over $400,000.
LAMB: Why? I mean, there’s a public in all of that. And why is there so much money involved in public television?
TOMLINSON: That’s a good question. And when they get over looking at my little $10,000 grants to hire consultants, maybe we should focus on some of these salaries.
LAMB: There is some here from Bill Moyers, May in St. Louis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOYERS: I would like to give Mr. Tomlinson the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t. According to a book written about the Reader’s Digest when he was with -- when was its editor-in-chief, he surrounded himself with other right-wingers, a pattern he’s now following for the staff at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TOMLINSON: Reader’s Digest traditionally was a center-right magazine. I have -- I’m proud of the staff that we had at Reader’s Digest. And by the way, when I was at Reader’s Digest, we produced an article on Oliver North that many people thought cost him his Senate race.
LAMB: But are you surrounding yourself with right-wingers at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?
TOMLINSON: No. Not surrounding. I maybe brought in one or two people.
LAMB: Are there liberals there also?
TOMLINSON: I think there are.
LAMB: What about at PBS, are there conservatives at PBS that you’ve met?
TOMLINSON: I haven’t run into very many conservatives in all of public broadcasting.
TOMLINSON: I think that traditionally more liberal people tend to gravitate to public broadcasting. And this is why it’s so important for public broadcasting to do some outreach, some affirmative action, as it were, both in terms of minorities as well as conservatives, because it’s very important for them represent more of a balance of what America is.
LAMB: Here’s more from Bill Moyers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOYERS: We didn’t know this a year ago. We just learned it from The New York Times two weeks ago that last year Mr. Tomlinson had spent $10,000 to hire a contractor who would watch my show and report on political bias.
That’s right, he spent $10,000 of your money to hire a guy to watch "Now" to find out who my guests were and what my stories were, $10,000.
Gee, Ken, for $2.50 a week you could pick up a copy of TV Guide on the newsstand. A subscription is even cheaper and I would have sent you a coupon that can save up to 62 percent.
Or for that matter, Ken, all you had to do was watch the show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TOMLINSON: You see, that’s the thing, I did watch the show. But in my discussions with Pat Mitchell, there was the assertion that this program was balanced. So I did what Warner Wolf used to advocate, let’s go to the videotape.
I hired a consultant to watch six months of Moyers and do a statistical study. He was very -- he was always throwing around the names of Republicans that he had on "Now." The fact of the matter, we found virtually no Republicans who were ever on "Now" to represent a Republican or conservative point of view.
He had -- sure, he had Bob Barr on, but it was to attack the Patriot Act. He had a handful of Republicans on but all to take positions that were anti-administration. It’s liberal advocacy journalism. It’s not like C-SPAN. It’s not the way balance should work.
LAMB: But shouldn’t he be allowed to do that, though, if you’ve got The Wall Street Journal on there right now. I mean, they…
TOMLINSON: Oh, absolutely. But the problem was for nearly two years he was there virtually alone for a full hour. And no one at PBS headquarters was concerned about that.
LAMB: Let’s keep going with Bill Moyers. Here’s another clip.
TOMLINSON: You’re killing me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOYERS: But having sent that cash, what did he find? Only Mr. Tomlinson knows. He apparently decided not to share the results with his staff or with the board or even to link it -- leak it to Robert Novak.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TOMLINSON: When the leadership of the board of PBS decided that, like a newspaper op-ed page, Friday night should represent both -- different points of view. And I quietly shut down my study.
I didn’t issue the results of the study because it would have initiated controversy about public broadcasting. I was happy -- once members of Congress wanted to see a copy of the study, I was happy to pass it on.
But if you look at that study and if you examine what happened during the two years of Bill Moyers program, again, virtually no Republicans or conservatives were ever on to represent their traditional positions. It was liberal advocacy journalism and this study confirmed that.
As far as I’m concerned, it was good use of taxpayer’s money.
LAMB: Is this the way conservatives think of public television? This is from The Weekly Standard. It’s the Murdoch publication run by Bill…
LAMB: Bill Kristol. And this comes out of a June 18th -- they were defending you in the beginning of the magazine. And I’ll just read this paragraph: "Yes, a lot of the cliches about public broadcasters are true. They really do drive Volvos and they really do like Birkenstocks and woolen turtlenecks. And every single one of them has a weakness for Ben Shahn prints. And yes, their devotion to a more peaceful world is beyond questioning. But don’t be fooled, these guys play dirty and they play for keeps."
Is that the way you really think about public television?
TOMLINSON: There is a minority of people involved in public television who have been, I think, absolutely shameless in their abuse of the truth in terms of what they’ve said about me and what I’m trying to do.
On the other hand, there are some terrific people involved in public broadcasting. And I say you can’t understand public broadcasting until you to places like North Carolina or South Dakota and see how those public television stations reflect local values across the political spectrum, left and right.
LAMB: Do you think you’re winning or losing this thing (ph)…
LAMB: … at the moment.
TOMLINSON: I think that we’re doing the right thing, Brian. And by doing the right thing in the end we will be seen as having served a constructive purpose.
LAMB: Pat Mitchell was on our call-in show, and she -- right before she went -- let’s see, I’m trying to remember exactly -- the date on it is, it was in June. I can’t remember if it was -- I think it was before she testified.
But let’s watch a little bit of what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAT MITCHELL, PRES. & CEO, PUBLIC BROADCASTING SERVICE: Let me refer the latter part of your question and then come back to the former.
I take Ken Tomlinson at his word because why do else? Well, he said he was speaking out because he wanted to broaden the support base of public broadcasting. And I welcome anyone who wants to do that. So I welcome any efforts on that behalf
I would suggest, however, that the American public does not agree with him about his allegations of bias. As a matter of fact, his own surveys of the American public, CPB’s own surveys indicate that 80 percent of Americans of both political affiliations, in fact, all political affiliations, we do have, you know, a -- we have more than just red and blue states in this country, we have people of all political perspectives. And every one of them, there was less than 10 percent of them perceived bias.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TOMLINSON: Mark Twain was always very skeptical of people throwing around figures. In this case I appreciate what Pat Mitchell said about my intent. But it’s also clear that if people in public broadcasting think a couple of shows taken -- mean that the American public is giving proper support for public broadcasting, they haven’t looked at the contributions recently.
Public television should not be in economic trouble and it is.
LAMB: How big a trouble is it in?
TOMLINSON: I think that the problems are not so much critical at this moment, but certainly looking at the next decade, if we do not find new means of funding public television, I think it will be in trouble as we know it today.
As I say, public radio, because of the opposition it faces on the FM dial, is not at this point in anything like that trouble.
LAMB: And Joan Kroc from -- the McDonald’s heir, gave what, 250 million or how much?
TOMLINSON: That helped.
LAMB: Is anything like that in the works for PBS?
TOMLINSON: I think they wish something had been in the works for that a long time ago. We at CPB have trying to -- or have been working public television about working major donors, by trying to do more concentrated fundraising among major, big donors.
LAMB: Got to go back to Bill Moyers again, continue this debate.
TOMLINSON: You’re killing me, Brian.
LAMB: Here’s Bill Moyers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOYERS: He’s entitled to his opinion. He’s entitled to his politics. He’s entitled to contribute exclusively as he does to conservative candidates for public office. That’s all fine, our political systems encourages it and tolerates it.
But he is not entitled to stand in judgment of other people’s bias.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TOMLINSON: I am entitled to examine a program like "Now" and say, only the liberal point of view is represented. The law requires that we be balanced. I will not try to inflict it on this show. I wouldn’t touch that show, or now its successor, but the law requires balance in public broadcasting.
How come C-SPAN can do it and public broadcasting isn’t…
LAMB: Why aren’t you entitled, though, as he says, to being critical of bias on public television?
TOMLINSON: That’s where we differ. I am entitled to raise this as a public issue. As I said, I raised it quietly within the system. I didn’t want to be on the cover of National Review, which I could have been two years ago.
I spent the entire 18 -- first 18 months of my chairmanship working within the system on behalf of balance. And then for some reason some people in public broadcasting felt such a threat by my, really, relatively feeble efforts, that they thought I should be stopped.
And I’m not going to stop.
LAMB: But some could make the case that you’ve lost this thing financially, that the Congress is going to restore every dime that they wanted and...
TOMLINSON: I was for restoring it, that money.
LAMB: And you got them this publicity along the way.
TOMLINSON: Well, the point is public television needs to be thinking about its future. And we need to have significant federal support of public broadcasting. And we can’t give members of Congress a reason not to support public broadcasting.
And that means we should seek common sense political bias (sic). It’s -- don’t want to adversely affect the journalism. We don’t want to have any pre-publication or pre-broadcast censorship. Let’s just have common sense balance.
LAMB: I’m looking at a Jerold M. Starr piece, executive director of Citizens for Independent Broadcasting -- Public Broadcasting, December 2004. He’s at the University of Chicago Cultural Policy Center.
The headline is "PBS Turns More to the Right." "This question is especially salient given the reason PBS choices to host new public affairs programs: Tucker Carlson, Paul Gigot, Michael Medved still under active consideration."
He goes on to list all of the different conservatives on public television: John McLaughlin; there used to be Bill Buckley; and there’s only one Bill Moyers.
TOMLINSON: If you put all of those programs on, and they are not on by any means, then you will have something approaching general balance.
The Bill Buckley show, Bill Buckley systematically had people on that show who disagreed with him, who argued with him. And my point on Moyers, despite the fact that I recognize he’s an outstanding broadcaster and that program is beloved by a large chunk of the American people, I wouldn’t deprive them of that programming, he didn’t have real political debate the way you had it with Bill Buckley.
LAMB: We started this by talking about a debate that was proposed between you and Bill Moyers. And you said you would do it. But you said that they wouldn’t -- public television wouldn’t benefit from it.
LAMB: We just had a -- you know, kind of a passive debate here, but why wouldn’t they benefit? What would be the real problem with it?
TOMLINSON: Well, now that it’s raised, I’m, of course, going to go ahead with it and I will look forward to doing so. But public broadcasting does not need for the American people to understand that the Bill Moyers program over the course of two years was not balanced because the leadership of PBS has a tin ear about American politics.
Again, it’s not hard. And in fact, I applaud what PBS has done to move toward balance. And maybe I’m just more sensitive about this because of my background in journalism. Maybe I’m more sensitive about the balance issue and the way it works.
I understand that it’s not balance when you bring a Republican on to attack George Bush.
LAMB: When do you step down as chairman?
TOMLINSON: I step down this September as chairman.
LAMB: And when do you leave the board?
TOMLINSON: My term goes through next year.
LAMB: Meaning all of 2006?
LAMB: Ken Tomlinson…
TOMLINSON: … succeed.
LAMB: We’re out of time. Thank you very much.
TOMLINSON: It was an honor to be here with you, thank you so much.