WashPost Obituary Recalls Ken Tomlinson 'Controversially Decried Liberal Bias' at PBS

“Controversial” allegations of liberal bias in public broadcasting – as if accusing PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers of a left-wing tilt lacks evidence – arrived in The Washington Post obituary section on Wednesday.

Post obituary writer Emily Langer began: “Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, a former editor of Reader's Digest who became chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, one of several presidentially nominated roles in which he strenuously and at times controversially decried liberal bias in the media, died May 1 at a hospital in Winchester, Va. He was 69.”

Fox News anchor Bret Baier reported the death on Friday night: Former Readers Digest and Voice of America chief, Kenneth Tomlinson died last night at a Virginia hospital. Tomlinson had been hospitalized for several days. He was appointed to run VOA by President Ronald Reagan in 1982. His son Lucas is a "Fox News" producer. He was 69. Our condolences go out to Lucas and his family."

Langer suggested liberal bias was merely an accusation without an ounce of merit. Try getting through this paragraph without laughing: “Mr. Tomlinson became convinced that public broadcasting disproportionately represented liberal perspectives on political issues, a view that many conservatives shared despite insistence by reporters of their journalistic independence.”

Tomlinson’s alleged offense in the Bush years was his secret attempt to monitor the actual content of PBS programming – a job the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 handed to the CPB. Tomlinson paid conservative analyst Fred Mann to monitor programs for bias, which led to liberal demands that he be sacked, demands which were eventually met.


CPB inspector general Kenneth Konz found Tomlinson “exceeded his oversight role” by exercising oversight of any kind. He “inserted politics” into PBS. Here’s how the Post described this alleged outrage:

One of Mr. Tomlinson's most controversial moves involved Bill Moyers, a prominent broadcast journalist, commentator and former aide in the Democratic administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Without informing the CPB board, Mr. Tomlinson engaged a consultant to monitor the political views represented on the show "Now With Bill Moyers."

He once told The Washington Post that, having come from small-town America, he was particularly offended by what he regarded as an unbalanced depiction on Moyers's show about the effects of free-trade policies on U.S. communities.

Moyers charged that Mr. Tomlinson had "waged a surreptitious and relentless campaign against 'Now'" and against him.

"I always knew [President Richard M.] Nixon would be back," Moyers said at the time. "I just didn't know that this time he would ask to be chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."

Mr. Tomlinson promoted a show featuring conservative commentators from the Wall Street Journal called "The Journal Editorial Report."

"Law requires a diversity of opinions," Mr. Tomlinson said in written congressional testimony in 2005. "There is an important audience for the liberal advocacy journalism that is Bill Moyers. The law, however, requires CPB to encourage balance when such programming is presented."

In November 2005, Mr. Tomlinson stepped down from the CPB board. The same month, officials released a review by the CPB inspector general, who faulted Mr. Tomlinson for recruiting a former chairman of the Republican National Committee to be CPB president and chief executive.

It also cited his close involvement in "The Journal Editorial Report." As a board member, Mr. Tomlinson was prohibited from participating in the development of programming.

When Mr. Tomlinson resigned, the board said in a statement that he had not "acted maliciously or with any intent to harm CPB or public broadcasting."

"This is not a controversy that I brought to public broadcasting," Mr. Tomlinson had once remarked. "There is an element within public broadcasting that brought this controversy on itself."

The RNC official was one Patricia Harrison, who quickly became a staunch defender of everything public broadcasters wanted to do – a real “RINO.”

The “Journal Editorial Report” was dumped by PBS at the same time as Tomlinson's departure and moved to Fox News. The other show Tomlinson pushed, “Tucker Carlson Unfiltered,” was also killed. The two Friday evening shows could have been seen as an attempt to balance one night of liberal bias – and even that was an outrage inside the liberal sandbox that is public broadcasting.

Read more from Brent Bozell on Tomlinson vs. the PBS elite.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis