Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, a conservative journalist who used his leadership role in federal communications agencies to counter what he regarded as liberal bias, died on May 1 at a hospital in Winchester, Va. He was 69.
The cause was a melanoma, his son Lucas said.
Mr. Tomlinson, a former top editor of Reader’s Digest, was director of Voice of America in the early 1980s and, from 2002 to 2007, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the federal government’s international broadcasting.
His most prominent role was as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for two years during the administration of President George W. Bush.
The corporation is a private nonprofit body created to shield public broadcasting from political pressure and provide general direction. It has no direct authority to order PBS or NPR to broadcast something, but its grants for programming and other purposes are influential.
Mr. Tomlinson was appointed to the corporation board in 2000 by President Bill Clinton to fill a Republican seat. The board is divided between Democrats and Republicans, and not more than five of its nine members can be from one party. The board elected him chairman in 2003.
Mr. Tomlinson immediately campaigned to eliminate what he perceived as the corporation’s leftward tilt.
“It is absolutely critical for people on the right to feel the same ownership stake in public television as people on the left have,” he said in an interview with The New Yorker in 2004.
His biggest target was the PBS program “Now With Bill Moyers,” which he believed had veered into blatant liberal partisanship. In particular, he criticized Mr. Moyers’s political commentaries, like one he delivered after the Republicans captured both houses of Congress in the 2002 midterm elections. In that segment, Mr. Moyers said Republicans would “eviscerate the environment” and “force pregnant women to give up control over their own lives.”
Mr. Moyers, interviewed by The New York Times in May 2005, six months before Mr. Tomlinson’s resignation, contended that Mr. Tomlinson had “waged a surreptitious and relentless campaign against ‘Now.’ ” In part that was a reference to a $10,000 study Mr. Tomlinson had ordered to investigate whether the program was politically balanced.
To add what he considered needed objectivity to PBS, Mr. Tomlinson introduced conservative programming, including “The Journal Editorial Report,” a weekly talk show featuring columnists from The Wall Street Journal. Another was hosted by the conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, titled “Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered.”
In 2005, at the end of his mandatory two-year term as chairman, Mr. Tomlinson successfully pushed for the appointment of Patricia S. Harrison, a former chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, as the corporation’s president. This drew criticism that he was acting on behalf of his friend Karl Rove, President Bush’s political adviser, which he denied.
Mr. Tomlinson left the board after the corporation’s inspector general questioned his authority to order the study of Mr. Moyers’s show and to hire two lobbyists without the board’s knowledge. Mr. Tomlinson disputed all accusations of wrongdoing.
He nonetheless resigned. The board, in a statement, said that he had not “acted maliciously or with any intent to harm C.P.B. or public broadcasting.”
His travails were not over. In 2006, the State Department investigated his chairmanship of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. It found that Mr. Tomlinson had put a friend on the payroll and had run a “horse-racing operation” with government resources, specifically that he had bought and sold thoroughbreds from his office.
He countered that the employee had been fully qualified and that he had at most exchanged one email a day with his horse farm in Virginia. Weathering the storm, he did not leave the broadcasting board until 2007.
Kenneth Young Tomlinson was born on Aug. 3, 1944, in Mount Airy, N.C. His father, a farmer and factory worker, was killed in an industrial accident when Kenneth was 5. At 16 he had at summer internship at The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
After graduating from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., with a degree in history, he returned to the newspaper. He joined Reader’s Digest as a correspondent in 1968 and reported from Vietnam, Somalia and Europe, where he became an editor.
In 1982 Mr. Tomlinson took a two-year leave to become director of Voice of America, where he replaced aging equipment and introduced editorials, often extolling policies of the Reagan administration.
“Someone complained that ‘your editorials sound just like Ronald Reagan,’ ” Mr. Tomlinson told The New York Times in 1984, “and I said, ‘You’re darn right and I’m proud of it.’ The editorials should reflect the viewpoint of the party in power.”
Later, as chairman of the broadcasting board that oversees Voice of America, he helped start an Arabic-language television channel to broadcast to the Middle East.
Leaving Voice of America, Mr. Tomlinson returned to Reader’s Digest in 1984 and rose to editor in chief. In 1994, he ran an article about Lt. Col. Oliver North’s race for a Senate seat in Virginia that questioned the qualifications of a man many conservatives admired. It was titled “Can Oliver North Tell the Truth?”
Financially well off at 52, Mr. Tomlinson retired to his horse farm in Middleburg, Va., in 1996. Four years later, he was appointed to the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Besides his son Lucas, Mr. Tomlinson is survived by his wife of 39 years, the former Rebecca Moore; another son, William; and a sister.
In his second retirement, Mr. Tomlinson wrote articles for conservative publications, including The Washington Times. In a negative review of former Gov. Sarah Palin’s 2009 book, “Going Rogue,” for the paper, he suggested that she read Reagan’s radio speeches for inspiration.