Ken Tomlinson, Karl Rove and the BBG-CPB Scandals

It isn’t surprising that the White House still backs the second term nomination of Kenneth Tomlinson as head of the Broadcast Board of Governors. Tomlinson is a pal of high-level GOP officials, including Karl Rove. The new report [registration may be required] by State Department investigators detailing improprieties by Tomlinson underscores why we still need to know about any communications he had with the White House (as he ran CPB). Several months ago, my group—along with Common Cause and Free Press—filed a Freedom of Information request with the BBG [see below]. BBG denied our request. But the public deserves to know whether anyone in the White House urged Mr. Tomlinson to appoint Patricia Harrison, a high-level GOP official, to the CPB presidency? Was Tomlinson given encouragement to pressure PBS on its news and public affairs programming?

Here’s the initial letter sent to the BBG.

November 22, 2005

Martha Diaz Ortiz, FOIA/Privacy Act Officer
Broadcasting Board of Governors
330 Independence Avenue SW
Washington DC 20237

Re: Freedom of Information Act Request

Dear Ms. Diaz:

The undersigned organization representatives request unredacted copies of the following documents under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 5 USC 552:

Any and all reports, records (paper or electronic), including electronic mail, phone logs and appointment calendars of Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson with any reference to his role or work as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to include but not be limited to any and all communications on this topic with White House personnel, the Executive Office of the President, current and former CPB staff or contract personnel, and any other individual or organization that communicated with Tomlinson regarding his work associated with CPB in the past 36 months.

We are employees of nonprofit organizations who work to increase understanding of the workings of U.S.-funded public broadcasting organizations. As such, we ask that all fees for this request be waived. Disclosure of the information requested above is in the public interest because it will significantly contribute to public understanding of the operations of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. This information will specifically show the degree to which the BBG is accountable and responsive to the American public it is charged to serve.

We request that you inform us immediately of your receipt of this letter; we also request that you immediately notify us when the documents we have requested are available for retrieval, as they become available. If you must deny access, please notify us immediately of your determination as well as the reasons for making that determination.

Thank you for your consideration.


Chellie Pingree, Jeffrey Chester, Josh Silver
Common Cause, Center for Digital Democracy, Free Press

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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