to judgment to take advantage of NPR's recent spate of bad publicity – the
latest incident involving nasty cracks about conservatives by NPR's chief fundraiser,
Ron Schiller, recorded in a hidden-camera sting. Schiller was appropriately asked
to leave NPR, as was his boss.
But the secret video proves nothing about NPR as an organization, nor does
Schiller's behavior qualify as grounds to defund an operation that serves some
27 million listeners a week.
The real issues regarding NPR are straightforward. Republicans don't like
spending taxpayer money on what many perceive as a liberal-leaning network, when
the "private sector" is doing such a smashing job of promoting conservative
views on commercial radio. Democrats believe the money is well spent, considering
the pounding they are taking from Fox News and conservative broadcasters like
Rush Limbaugh. As Democrats see it, NPR need not be liberal; the absence of overt
conservatism is sufficient.
Thursday’s floor show in the House was risible. Republican Marsha Blackburn
of Tennessee said with a straight face that defunding NPR would encourage more
hiring by forcing rural stations to create new local programming. She went so
far as to list 17 different jobs needed to produce a single radio show – staffing
levels that didn’t exist even in radio’s heyday decades ago.
Democrat Anthony Weiner of New York spent an embarrassing two minutes delivering
a standup comedy routine about how Republicans hoped to solve the economic crisis
by destroying the NPR series “Car Talk” – as if that was the
point, which it clearly wasn’t.
Republican Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia inched closer to the truth, as he
sees it, by charging NPR with “advocating one ideology” and “veering
far from what people want to (hear).” That’s not true about NPR
or the public – with 69 percent of Americans favoring federal funding of
Across the aisle, Steve Israel, head of the Democrats’ Congressional
Campaign Committee, wrote, “If the Republicans had their way, we’d
only be left with the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin to dominate
the airwaves.” That’s horribly misguided, because it suggests that
NPR’s mission is to defuse the message of conservative broadcasters, or
to present the “other side” of political controversies, which it
The real question, perhaps better left for a time when a semblance of bipartisanship
returns to Capitol Hill, is whether the public is best served by federal involvement
in broadcasting. When the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created by
Congress in 1967, the media landscape was dramatically different. Back then,
a better case could be made for providing quality government-supported radio
and TV, especially in rural areas. In the digital age, that’s not really
It’s worth noting that C-SPAN, an arm of the cable-TV industry that
receives no taxpayer funds, provides the most fair and well-produced coverage
of government imaginable. The explosive growth of the Internet, along with cable
and satellite systems, make the need for public TV and radio less clear cut.
Media operate best without government meddling and, in this day and age, without
Although the latest attempt to defund NPR will not succeed, the House debate
alone will apply unreasonable pressure to the workings of the network that, at
most, gets only 10 percent of its revenue from taxpayers. Is it worth it? Even
disgraced NPR fund raiser Ron Schiller conceded, “it is very clear that
we would be better off in the long run without federal funding.’’
(c) Peter Funt. This column was orginially distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.