Politics & Policy

Targeting Tomlinson

How the Democrats are trying to purge Bush's conservative pick from the liberal world of public broadcasting.

Tomlinson, whom President Bush nominated during his first term to head both the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), has been the target of Democrat-led attacks from day one, but he hasn’t gotten much help from his ideological allies on the right. Many conservatives view public broadcasting as a waste of taxpayer money that reaches beyond the scope of a properly limited federal government. By contrast, Tomlinson believes that public broadcasting — especially international broadcasting networks like the Voice of America, which the BBG oversees — plays an important role in fighting terrorism, among other things. And though he enjoys the support of the White House, this lack of natural ideological allies has left him relatively isolated in his fight against Democrats whose chief complaint is that he is politicizing the agencies for which he is responsible.

Tomlinson resigned last year from the CPB, which exists to funnel federal funding to PBS and NPR. Democrats on the board accused Tomlinson of trying to inject conservative bias into public broadcasting, although Tomlinson countered that he was only trying to balance out two networks that are widely perceived as liberal. The New York Times and the Washington Post have portrayed Tomlinson’s resignation as a successful effort to oust him after the CPB inspector general rendered a critical account of his efforts to document liberal bias on PBS shows like Now with Bill Moyers. Tomlinson tells it differently to National Review Online. “I left CPB because International Broadcasting is my life — has been for over 25 years,” he says. Tomlinson, who served as director of the Voice of America under Reagan, added: “In the end, I didn’t want to fight at CPB because my fight is to preserve my traditional leadership role in international broadcasting.”

That fight — to preserve his role as chairman of the BBG — has gotten increasingly ugly. After Tomlinson resigned from the CPB, Tomlinson’s enemies within the BBG decided to use the same tactics. They complained to their allies in the House of Representatives, California Democrats Tom Lantos and Howard Berman, about irregularities in Tomlinson’s conduct. Lantos and Berman demanded an investigation, and in late August the State Department inspector general delivered the result they wanted: a report that allegedly validated all the charges against Tomlinson. The report was delivered to the Congressmen who requested it, who leaked it to the media and issued press releases calling for Tomlinson’s head. The Department of Justice also received a copy of the report and promptly notified Tomlinson’s lawyers that it would not be pursuing the matter further. As of this writing, neither Tomlinson nor his attorneys have received a copy of the report.

The Accusations

The New York Times exemplified the way the mainstream media handled the leak by presenting the charges against Tomlinson in the most inflammatory way possible and burying exculpatory details at the end of its report. The Times succinctly summed up the allegations:

State Department investigators have found that the head of the agency overseeing most government broadcasts to foreign countries has used his office to run a ‘’horse racing operation’’ and that he improperly put a friend on the payroll, according to a summary of a report made public on Tuesday by a Democratic lawmaker.

The report said that the official, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, had repeatedly used government employees to perform personal errands and that he billed the government for more days of work than the rules permit.

None of these four charges stands up to critical scrutiny. The most damning charge — that Tomlinson used his office to run a “horse racing operation” — is also the most laughable. Tomlinson, a horse enthusiast, owns several race horses at the farm where he lives outside of Middleburg, Va. According to a sworn affidavit Tomlinson submitted in his defense last May, the inspector general’s office informed him that it had found approximately 1,124 horse-related e-mails in Tomlinson’s inbox within a 43-month span — an average of one e-mail per day. Tomlinson contended that most of these were from e-mail lists for which he signed up but to which he subsequently paid little attention. A similar study of Tomlinson’s horse-related phone time averaged out to 2 ½ minutes per day.

It’s safe to say that if every federal government employee who spent this amount of each work day on his personal hobby were fired tomorrow for misuse of government resources, conservatives could take the rest of the decade off — the size of the federal government would be reduced beyond our fondest wishes.

The next allegation — that Tomlinson improperly put a “friend” on the payroll — is also without merit. The summary of the investigator general’s report alleges that Tomlinson “requested the hiring of [redacted], a friend… as a contractor.” Tomlinson tells NRO that the contractor in question is Les Daniel.

“I happen to like Les Daniel, but all of our relationship is based on our work together at Voice of America,” Tomlinson says. Tomlinson first met Daniel in the 1980s when he was director of VOA and Daniel worked in the traffic division. According to Tomlinson, Daniel impressed him by recommending new equipment that saved the traffic division time and money. Daniel worked at VOA for 35 years before retiring in the late 1990s.

According to Tomlinson’s affidavit, early on in his tenure at the BBG he asked VOA’s chief of staff to examine the feasibility of bringing Daniel back as a consultant — an idea, he says, VOA officials greeted with enthusiasm. VOA’s traffic director drew up a contract, and Daniel returned to work and developed a number of projects — among them the VOA’s first award for teamwork, which Tomlinson tells NRO went to the Kurdish service for its “extraordinary work covering the emergence of democracy in Iraq.” For suggesting that VOA bring back an experienced broadcasting professional whom Tomlinson respected, he stands accused of using his office for the private gain of friends.

The summary of the inspector general’s report doesn’t specify what “personal errands” Tomlinson is alleged to have directed his BBG staff to run, but this probably refers to allegations that he had his BBG staff perform some secretarial tasks related to his other job as the chairman of the CPB. It is hard to take this charge seriously. As Tomlinson writes in his affidavit, “it was simply uneconomical, inefficient, and too much an interruption of my important BBG work to drive to the CPB offices so I could use assistants there to send out correspondence or to perform other secretarial responsibilities… These small matters required a minimum amount of their time.”

Finally, the inspector general’s determination that Tomlinson violated a law requiring special government employees (SGEs) to work less than 130 hours per year is flatly contradicted by the fact that Tomlinson gave up his SGE status to work as more of a full-time chairman. Tomlinson believed, and the Office of Management and Budget agreed, that the September 11 attacks had elevated the importance of international broadcasting as a diplomatic tool and that the chairman of the BBG should work full-time. Tomlinson discussed the issue with the BBG’s general counsel, who informed him in a memo NRO obtained that he would lose his SGE status as a result. At no time did she tell Tomlinson that he would be breaking any law. She did inform Tomlinson that he would have to accept limits on the amount of outside income he could legally accept, but Tomlinson says he’s abided by these limits and no one has alleged that he hasn’t.

Which Is It?

At this point, Tomlinson’s accusers have come full-circle. One minute Tomlinson is wasting too much time on horses, and the next he is working too much. The allegations are absurd because they aren’t motivated by a desire to root out real wrongdoing, but rather the need to settle political scores. The week after the unsuccessful attempt to oust Tomlinson from the BBG, Human Events reported:

On June 24, 2005, Robert Novak reported that Sen. Joe Biden (D.-Del.) was blocking the confirmation of a non-controversial nominee, Dina Habib Powell, to be assistant secretary of State with key responsibilities for the Middle East. Reason for Biden’s fury: The White House had refused to re-appoint California billionaire Norm Pattiz to a Democratic seat on the BBG. Pattiz had violated an unwritten but long-standing Senate rule that a minority appointee cannot attack a President who appointed him. (Pattiz was a signatory to a 2004 campaign ad in the New York Times denouncing President Bush and urging his defeat.)

Pattiz was a huge Democratic donor ($360,000 in 2000 alone) who was rewarded with an overnight stay at the Clinton White House and an appointment to the BBG. In 1992, Novak reported, Pattiz’s Westwood radio conglomerate was fined $75,000 for offering to illegally reimburse employees who contributed to the short-lived 1988 presidential campaign of … Joe Biden. Of the two House Democrats who demanded the IG investigation of Tomlinson, one, Tom Lantos (D.-Calif.) is a former Biden staffer and the other, Berman, is a political intimate of Pattiz.

When you add to these motivations the Democrats’ desire to embarrass a high-profile Republican during an election year and liberal grumblings that Tomlinson had appointed too many conservatives to key international broadcasting jobs, the contradictory charges against Tomlinson appear more understandable. They threw everything they could think of at the guy, in the hopes that something would stick.

Kenneth Tomlinson is the president’s choice to oversee the international-broadcasting component of our diplomatic apparatus, and he has successfully reoriented that component in response to the massive challenges we face in the Middle East. Conservatives might not be wild about the idea of federally funded broadcasting, but they shouldn’t stay silent while Democrats tear down Tomlinson’s reputation just because he’s a conservative.

— Stephen Spruiell is NRO’s media blogger.

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