For NPR watchers the Donorgate scandal that toppled the network’s senior management was the tip of iceberg:
Many Americans were surprised when not just one but two senior NPR executives were caught chatting about Jews controlling the banks, callously playing the race card to denounce conservatives, and promising to keep contributions to NPR secret to protect the identity of donors posing as affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood. For me it just confirmed what I had been saying about NPR for 20 years.
For years the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR) have been using federally subsidized radio and television broadcast resources and facilities to wage a national political campaign to retain federal funding of its corporate operations. CPB officials stridently insist they are using funds from listeners and private donors to lobby Congress instead of public funds, but there is no plausible theory of fiscal accountability under which CPB credibly can deny that all of its operations – including its lobbying – are subsidized by American taxpayers.
Government accounting gimmicks and fictitious audit assumptions aside, this de facto commingling of federal and non-federal funds has been allowed under ill-advised laws adopted by Congress, giving CPB the ability to operate like both a governmental information program and a private media company. Government corporations may have a role for certain specialized functions, but at CPB a lack of transparency and accountability essential for any public agency is ill-advisedly permitted in the name of bureaucratic “autonomy” and so-called “independent public interest programming.”
In the case of CPB the Congress has created a two-headed monster that abuses its affiliation with the federal government and access to the federal treasury to prosecute its own “independent” political and ideological agenda. At the same time it competes for market share and sells its product to the public, through aggressive large donor solicitation, as well as incessantly fervent pledge drives critics dub “secular evangelism,” aimed at the pocketbooks of consumers attracted to CPB’s “free” programming.
These practices are just shrewd advertising and revenue strategies targeting a customer demographic to which CPB caters, all of this made possible by federal subsidization and the status of CPB as a government sponsored entity (GSE). It is in this context that the lobbying juggernaut by NPR constitutes blatant contravention of public policy principles underlying federal laws prohibiting lobbying of Congress and the federal government by taxpayer funded federal agencies or recipients of federal grants. The failure of Congress to prohibit CPB, PBS and NPR from lobbying and propaganda to promote its political agenda is even more egregious than the lobbying abuses of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
For Americans long aggrieved by CPB abuse of its federal agency status, the current headlines about ideological bias scandals at NPR are totally unsurprising. For conservative and libertarian listeners the anti-Semitic, race baiting hate speech of NPR executives, pandering to what they believed to be deep pocket Arab donors affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, is nothing new at all. The current scandal is a wake up call for those who previously did not understand why so many Americans are sputtering mad about federal sponsorship of CPB.
Indeed, the NPR Donorgate scandal comes on the heels of earlier revelations that CPB used its tax subsidized budget to hire a former Clinton White House chief-of-staff, and Obama-Biden transition co-chair, John Podesta, to lobby Congress and the White House for continued federal funding benefitting the entrenched liberal elites at CPB. These taxpayer subsidies make help possible lavish million dollar salaries for NPR executives, and acquisition of non-economical production capabilities that would not withstand scrutiny in a private enterprise.
However, the real reason CPB management so brazenly peddles its political influence to keep the public funding spigot open goes beyond the actual federal dollars involved. The political and commercial imperative for CPB is to retain the image of government sponsored entity status, so that CPB, PBS and NPR have the federal government good housekeeping seal of approval, making it a virtual national ministry of political information and civic discourse.
CPB rakes in corporate revenue from big donors with big agendas, and solicits contributions from listeners, private corporations and non-profit foundations by exploiting a subliminally enhanced message that exaggerates its “public interest” mission. Thus, the implied higher social purpose of federal agency status enables these broadcasters opportunistically to project the image that CPB has the nature of a national public service agency, like the National Park Service or AmeriCorps.
This is achieved through a deceptive marketing narrative based on a false promise to deliver politically neutral news, information and entertainment, through a “community based” network. This appeals to collectivist sentiments and seeks to create an association in our minds between CPB and, for example, our system of public libraries, the federal postal service, or even farming cooperatives. That public service image is critical to the fundraising strategy through which donations are solicited.
The social and political predicate of CPB’s public broadcasting hegemony is that it is a democratic institution, virtually owned by the public. This explains the unrelenting PBS and NPR mantra that their programs are “listener supported.” The combination of its federally enabled “public” mission and donations from its loyal audience is cited by NPR and PBS to justify CPB’s monopoly of the federally subsidized radio and television broadcasting franchise.
Lobbyists for CPB now seek to translate contrived populist notions about its public interest purposes into a political argument that CPB is yet another “third rail of American politics,” one more federal program that like Social Security the Congress dare not touch because it is so treasured by the American people. Thus, shamelessly, even at the same time they insist Sesame Street is profitable and CPB does not need federal subsidies to succeed, lobbyists for CPB ruthlessly accuse critics of CPB subsidies of seeking to “kill Big Bird.”
Even more flagrantly propagandistic was the statement of solidarity released by the federal broadcasting bureaucrats and professionals at NPR, only hours after their colleagues had been exposed for hate speech against Republicans and Jews, as well as offering to aid America’s enemies by accepting secret donations. Apparently in a state of psychological denial, the NPR broadcast team, including its celebrity reporters like perniciously perky Cokie Roberts, boldly asserted immunity from accountability for the current scandal:
“NPR will not be deterred from its news mission and will ultimately be judged by the millions and millions of listeners and readers who have come to rely on us every day.”
Even in the face of Donorgate, in which its executives promised to “shield” donations from Muslim donors with possible links to Islamic extremism from disclosure to the federal government, the perverse populist “public interest” charade persists. But this time, even though made in the name of NPR’s “independent news” mission, that is, independence from the federal government that subsidizes their paychecks, the grand gesture of solidarity by NPR invoking the loyalty of their audience fell pathetically flat.
These self-aggrandizing marketing tactics represent an arrogant hubris by liberals at NPR who apparently are true believers in their own moral superiority. Thus, the CPB marketing and lobbying team now has become petulant in its damage control effort, lamely seeking to put behind themselves rather than address the abuses that have now become outright corruption at NPR.
Still, the biggest fiction of all is that NPR must be saved because it is a repository of knowledge and font of information and ideas, all in the public good. As if the sleaze factor in NPR’s corporate culture had not become conspicuous at all, the disdainful presumption of the upper echelon at NPR is that the American people are gullible enough to believe the mission of CPB – like museums and public schools – is simply to promote a better-educated, more-informed citizenry, a more literate and enlightened nation.
The central premise of this mythology is that the CPB media empire uses its power for social good, made possible by federal funding that ensures “independent journalism” standards for CPB news and information programming, and NPR in particular. But the clever arguments that CPB’s federal funding not spent for lobbying or political purposes, and that NPR/PBS programs are independent, impartial, neutral, and free of partisan political influence, are not only wrong, but miss the real point.
The historical and incontrovertible truth is that journalism in America can never be truly independent as long as the government funds it in whole or in part. Government owned or funded press simply never can be free press. As long as CPB is federally sponsored and subsidized, it will be used at taxpayer expense to advance an editorial and ideological agenda that taxpayers should not be asked to pay for with tax dollars. Those who defend CPB as “impartial quality programming” that would “not otherwise be available” need to recognize two things.
First, the reason it would not otherwise be available if it were not federally subsidized it that CPB does not have to compete on an equal footing with private companies in the marketplace. If it had the accountability it should then CPB would have to change its programming to serve a truly diverse spectrum of the national audience that pays for it, and then its current supporters would become uncomfortable with and unwilling to make donations to support program that did not pander to liberal bias.
Of course, independents and conservatives listen to NPR and watch PBS, but they should be allowed to support CPB by donations if they choose to, without being compelled to pay taxes to subsidize the agency. Just as we have the ability to change the channel to avoid program content or advertising that pays for commercial media, we should be able to give or withhold our support for CPB without being taxed for that right.
Second, most of those who currently support federal subsidies for CPB need to realize that the reason its programming appeals to them is that its current editorial policies reflect the influence of the Democrats in Congress who were in control during for the first two decades in which CPB acquired its institutional culture. However, if the Republicans are in power long enough, the same partisan political influence that made NPR appealing to its current mostly liberal audience inevitably will begin to change the institutional culture at CPB to reflect a more conservative philosophy.
That is called democracy, and it is what happens when so-called “journalism” and news program production is owned and operated by a government system in which the people have real political power as voters, not just as listeners or donors. If the Republicans are in power long enough they will work to make NPR and other CPB programs reflect their ideology and the political order they espouse, just as the Democrats have for decades.
Then we will see how many of those currently pleading to spare Big Bird will want their tax dollars going to ensure that the special public mission of NPR can be sustained in the great cities and rural outposts of America. For the day may well come when NPR is broadcasting news programming across America dominated by conservative messages, just like a taxpayer funded version of FOX News, and then those defending NPR now because they agree with its liberalism will understand how hollow and annoying their arguments sound to NPR’s critics.
Those who supported economic boycott to end apartheid in South Africa did not yield to corporate arguments that profits from that market were not a large percentage of overall income. The same logic explains conservatives do not want to see even small federal taxpayer grants being funneled to support CPB. NPR is not a blatantly left leaning as MSNBC, but even its more sanitized liberalism has been exposed, and its executives have been outed for extremist views prejudicial to the independent and impartial pursuit of truth.
The reality is that if we are going to have government sponsored news programs, we are going to have undue political influence over those news programs. Just like the Democrats have done when they are in the majority, Republicans in Congress and the White House would be stupid not to do everything they can to win the battle of political influence at CPB. If that hard truth does not go down well with you, join us in supporting an end to federal subsidies and a policy leading to the earliest possible full privatization for CPB, PBS and NPR.
The illusion of a people’s free press, sponsored by the government:
I have friends who are simply appalled that I oppose public funding for CPB, including PBS and NPR. They even took umbrage, and found no comfort at all in the naïve suggestions I used to make for reasonable compromise. For example, there was a time when I argued that if the news programming were privatized, I might be willing to support taxpayer funding for programs relating to the arts, history and other educational productions. The problem with my own argument was that the CBS, PBS and NPR staff consistently inject their warped ideology into art, historical, cultural, scientific and even children’s programming.
Far more importantly, with respect to news programming, the private sector press is the only real institutionalized professional and independent journalism in America. Whether in anyone’s opinion a government funded news program is better or worse than a private news program doesn’t matter. It is simply wrong for the government to fund or operate any news program production under the false pretense that it is or can be independent, and therefore actually journalism at all, as we know it in America.
My friends make all the best arguments for CPB, PBS and NPR, and they defend the use of taxpayer dollars, not for only news programs but also the full range of CPB services, with passion. It has become a mantra with them that this is an American tradition and a national institution that unites us as a nation and gives urban and rural communities a common body of information and knowledge to inform the civic discourse.
These are my peers, the generation that experienced mass paranoia about government control of information and ideas during Vietnam and Watergate. We all read Orwell’s “1984” in high school like it contained biblical truth. We had a passion then about decentralization of free press through the organs of the counter culture to prevent federal government conspiracies from succeeding! Somehow they can’t see the contradiction in treating CPB like a sacred cow just because they happen to like what they hear in the editorial nuances and spin on this government sponsored “national” television.
Orwell would roll over in his grave, especially if he ever heard one of NPR’s quarterly pledge drives. These are high tech, high-pressure solicitations for financial support from loyal listeners, and it is all Orwellian doublethink. The illusion created by the pledge program is that NPR is some sort of collectivist national medium of truth, sponsored directly by the people voluntarily, and out of a collective devotion of the people to the truth as conveyed by NPR.
In reality, NPR is a federally sponsored broadcast seeded with federal funds collected from all Americans, then used to serve a more narrow and less diverse audience of Americans who like NPR programming. This more narrow audience is then persuaded that they are the real sponsors, and that they need to pledge even more of their personal funds, in order to stop those of us who are not part of the great collective devoted to truth, and who want to take NPR away from them. That is how NPR really works.
Its success is the best reason to kill it, sooner rather than later. Instead, a lot of otherwise sensible people have been taken in by the illusion that this is just like our public library system. After all, it does provide some really good programming, and it is a good source of “commercial free” information. Of course, it is not really commercial free, but the commercials are in the form of pledge drives and constant propaganda to persuade us it is the best source of truth, so that we do not have to fend for ourselves in the jungle of deceit and confusion that is the “private commercial media”, aka the free press.
We all have been taken in by NPR at one time or another. Even when it was engaged in the overt and subliminal trashing of her husband and his presidency in 1992, First Lady Barbara Bush called in her pledge. A lot of my friends who have real misgivings about NPR tell me they have had the urge to pledge, because it seems like giving to the Red Cross. I was so captivated by some of the in-depth background reporting on NPR that I almost pledged once myself.
But I could not ignore the invidiousness of the pledge drives. The appeals are scripted to evoke the ideals of collectivism and communal movements in American history, especially the New Deal. This mass marketing of NPR’s left-of-center brand of federally subsidized “journalism” also includes not-always-so-subtle references to the barbarian conservative hordes that had taken over Congress, and threatened to “…kill Big Bird”.
In the name of truth and justice and “quality programming that only PBS can provide”, the audience is extolled to take a stand for “listener supported public radio”.
So which is it, “listener supported”, i.e. private sector, or “public radio”, i.e. taxpayer funded? Of course, if you call one of the NPR staff or volunteers taking telephone pledges, they are scripted to tell you it is both, and to add that the federal tax dollars are an increasingly small percentage of the budget.
This canned idealism and deceptively narrow description of public support for NPR does not fool those of us who feel passion about ending federal subsidy for the network. That is why there is an underground movement to disrupt NPR and PBS pledge drives to question the assumptions of the solicitation. The patient tones of tolerant resignation to the apparent ignorance of how NPR fulfills its “mission” gradually give way to escalating outrage and contempt, as callers using the anti-NPR script reveal their real mission to the unprepared NPR phone bank volunteer.
It usually goes something like this. First, the subversive protest caller baits the NPR agent on the phone, who is trying to take the caller’s name and close the deal with all the fervor of a commissioned tele-marketer working on a commission for a televangelist. It can be dragged out for several minutes for optimal effect, but the transactional scenario can be distilled here as follows:
The caller emphasizes, “I listen everyday and like a lot of the programming a great deal.”
The NPR phone bank volunteer says, “Well, we really appreciate that, and how much are you pledging?”
So he adds, “I also listen in order to monitor the levels of left-wing ideological bias at NPR”.
“Oh, well, I see, so are you going to make a pledge?”
“Well, no, actually, I am just trying to tie up the lines to repress pledges in retaliation for the misappropriation of my tax dollars to fund NPR.”
That is when they lose their gentle crusader tones and sputter outrage before slamming the phone down.
If it was truly listener supported, and NPR would have to answer to their listeners, and if the listeners chose to support the programs, that would be economic democracy in action. Then we would all be free to decide whether or not to support the programming despite any bias we might detect or perceive, given our own biases.
The bias that actually inherent is in all news and opinion programming would bother us a lot less if it were not produced, protected and funded by the federal government.
However, no one should ever pledge one dollar voluntarily as long as they are taking one dollar in tax involuntarily.
Many of those who oppose federal subsidy really do listen to NPR almost every day. Many such people like some of the programming. In many respects supporters of NPR are right, it is some of the highest quality programming available. They also are right that some of the programs come darn close to being intrinsically good, like the public library system.
And that is why it is so dangerous. It is so good that it has credibility derived from its public sponsorship. It earns listener loyalty, and the idea that it is in the public domain makes it almost seem inherently legitimate. Just as public buildings often are nicer than commercial private sector buildings, NPR has more class than most for-profit broadcast operations.
Indeed, PBS and NPR evoke a public spirited and almost patriotic response, as if it is the source of a more pure form of truth, for the very reason that it is public, and it is even sort of official. It is from the government, and for those who have no objections to its content, it seems somehow to come from that part of the government that is good and decent and honest and objective and fair, like the American people.
From time to time, there is a debate about what should be allowed in public libraries, and public school libraries. There are controversies over what teachers in public schools should be presenting to students as fact, or truth, or as important. The value of content is an issue in any public institutional setting.
So we have debates and lawsuits about religious symbols in public programs and services, facilities and institutions, and our political and legal system sorts those issues out. Often the particulars of the solution are quite imperfect, but the political and legal process that leads to acceptance of the solutions, and generally to peaceful and lawful efforts to change results that are seen as wrong, is as close to perfection and human civilization has ever come.
But the issue of content and value and truth in libraries and public schools and public buildings is collateral to the primary function and purpose of those institutions. Even in public schools the occasional controversy over content and academic freedom is at the margins, because the student body and the curriculum are too diverse and mainstream for a debate over truth and freedom to define or dominate the purpose and the very existence of the institution. Obviously, at any given time at any given public school, an issue of academic freedom and debate over the value and truth of content can become the focal point of the school and community, but those debates are resolved through the governing process.
The press, journalism, the media, is a very different institution in our culture and in our model of a political economy under the constitution. Every minute of every day the total focus has to be on content, on the value and truth of content. A news organization can have content that is diverse and mainstream, there can be human interest stories, children’s features, advertising, sports and entertainment, community events and whatever else may get thrown in, but the defining reality, the single dominate mission and purpose, is that small percentage of the final product, the headlines and the news.
That is where the viability and legitimacy of the freedom of the press is tested and sustained every day. That is the only reason for the existence of the press. That is the crucible in which the conscience and the truth and the reality of our nation are forged every minute. Whether it is television, radio, print or on line, it is the source of truth, and it is the marketplace for competition harnessed in serve to the truth. It is one of the most sacred traditions of our democracy, because you can manipulate the truth and distort the truth and influence events with lies, but somehow in the end the truth trumps the truth, and the product that pushes the boundaries of the truth the furthest and reveals the most truth usually wins.
The process through which an independent press exposes bias and inaccuracy through competition to get the real story out is what ensures the freedom and integrity of the press in America. It is not pretty, and half the time you just hate them, but it works and half the time you love them.
NPR and PBS may have a lot of programming that serves the same function as programs in public libraries and schools. The problem here is that PBS also seeks to play the same critical, imperative role as the real and free and independent press. PBS is in competition with the private press. It is very different than the competition between private schools and private libraries and the public libraries and public schools. The critical mission of these institutions is not the daily struggle and competition for the truth needed to forge and shape the conscience of the nation about the immediate issues of the moment.
That is what the press does, and the idea of public press and public journalism is something that requires a lot more analysis than it has been given. Sure, federal, state and local governments have public information programs, and we have Voice of America and public diplomacy in the State Department. But the value and truth of content of those programs is not really in competition with the real, private, free and independent press. Government “news” services compete with foreign government “news” and information, with propaganda and policy arguments.
The FTC regulates commercial enterprise and speech by private enterprise to influence consumers. That is intervention, but not competition with the private sector. The federal government has dozens of financing, loan and insurance programs that arguably compete with private industry and services. Public transportation system in effect competes with private transportation providers. There is government production that competes with private production in many fields of enterprise, science, research and human endeavors.
However, these activities are different than the press, and have a different political and legal nature, a different relationship to freedom, liberty and the best constitutional model of a political economy in the history of human civilization. The free press, private and independent journalism, is in a class by itself. Government can get very close to journalism and free press, but government can never be journalism and free press. NPR and PBS attempt to cross that line, and it does cross that line, and it has to end.
NPR and PBS are publicly sponsored and taxpayer supported news, it is government journalism, it is the official captive press of a government agency, competing with the free press, and it is clearer to me than ever that it is wrong. It is more than wrong. It is dangerous. The government can never be the source of independent truth. We cannot have a Tass or a Pravda in America.
A Pentagon news briefing is raw meat you feed to the real working press. The real press may hold a story at the request of the government for reasons that stand the test of standards for journalistic ethics and integrity, but other than that government information must always be subject to the test of truth in a free and independent press. A government subsidized news production agency that operates on taxpayer dollars targeted to that agency can never be truly independent, and the attempt will never succeed.
The issues and problems we need to face with respect to PBS and NPR are not like the occasional flare up over content and truth in other public institutions. The issue of whether the government should operate a news agency that competes with the private press is a constant and perpetual source of controversy, because it cannot be sustained or justified in a democracy that protects and preserves freedom of the press as a constitutional principle.
The problem of government sponsored press will not go away:
The more we like the programming on NPR and PBS, the more dangerous it really is to our success as a pluralistic democracy. To understand, we need to take an honest look at what NPR and PBS really are and what their current operations really mean.
First, let’s be honest. PBS and NPR were created in the period when Congress was controlled by leaders who saw themselves as stewards of the legacy of the New Deal and Great Society collectivist ideals. Fine. That is true of public libraries and a lot of other collectivist programs and institutions that are part of the American culture and mainstream government policy.
However, this nationalization of a private industry was and is very different. This is first and foremost about value of content and truth. It is about the daily struggle between liberty and tyranny. It is not about Big Bird.
Again, let’s be honest, CPB, PBS and NPR are a social experiment and it has been conducted by people who see themselves not as government agents, but as agents of social and cultural values they hold. Many of them see themselves as journalists first and last, and these people have controlled the news production programming. They are using taxpayer dollars and the auspices of the government to do what they would do if they owned and operated a private news corporation, but they pretend, and ask us to pretend with them, that they are doing something with a higher purpose.
They pretend they are operating under some higher standard of truth, by some higher calling that exempts them from being reproached for bias just like any other journalists. They want to have it both ways, enjoying the prerogatives of being the government, but also the independence of the press. The result is a lack of accountability under both government standards and journalistic standards.
This is not what librarians do at all. When was the last time you saw a librarian telling people what books to read, and then hiding behind a claim of independence because it is a public library? It stands the logic of public purpose and private sector independence on its head.
When was the last time you left a public library really annoyed at the ideological bias of the librarian, because of the “spin” he or she put on her performance of her duties. Or, when was the last time you changed the channel on a television or radio program because the content was offensive to you, and had to think about the fact that your tax dollars were sponsoring the program?
Because right now, let me tell you, millions of American cringe every time Carl Castle smacks his lips, pretends to be reading truth carved in stone, but puts a snide ideological spin on the news that we can not accept as impartial or high quality programming. The fact that he may actually think it is impartial only makes it more frustrating for us.
What we should have at NPR if it is going to be federally subsidized is a Republican Carl Castle, then those who support NPR as it currently operates will be the ones to cringe. Maybe then those who support CPB because they like it will join us in supporting true free and independent press in America, and get the government out of the domestic journalism business.
NPR and PBS are products of the political system, and it is a bad policy that has been abused. PBS and NPR also have been employment agencies for the friends and families of those in Congress and the Executive Branch who share their political tendencies, and who like and support PBS and NPR. It is no secret, everyone knows that. But as long as the people in control in Congress and the Executive Branch either liked the news product at PBS, or believed it was here to stay and there was nothing to be done about it, everything was coming up roses for PBS and NPR.
Then something changed in 1994. Suddenly the Congress was controlled by people who did not draw their inspiration or make policy based on the legacy of the New Deal and Great Society. Both the specific content and the policy of public broadcasting that competed with private broadcasting were not appealing to those who got elected to make policy. Even members of Congress who generally liked the programming began to question the policy and the content of the programs.
So what we heard then was that “government is trying to interfere with journalistic independence.” Well, it really never was
independence. It was a case in which the programs began when the people in power liked the content of the program produced by the people they selected to run the operation. It should have surprised no one that they liked the programs created in their own ideological image.
Then in the mid-90’s some of those with the ability to change policy didn’t like the policy or the program content. One major reason is that many of us don’t believe there is an objective standard for what is unbiased news, and it is not fair to use taxpayer dollars on news that so many taxpayers do not want to sponsor.
The argument that many taxpayers do not like other policies and programs but still have to pay for them is interesting. Take the war, for example. The policy to wage war is a result of our political and legal process. All Americans exercise their right of self-determination through the constitutional process to influence the political system. That includes not only with respect tot the decisions to go to war, but to control campaign financing and corporate influence on the decision to go to war.
We get the government we accept and allow, and we all participate in the process on an equal footing, and we live with the results. In the case of recent wars, the constitutional process produced a decision to go to war. A lot of citizens and voters do not like the policy, but enough do that it is the policy.
For those who do not agree, the recourse is to persuade enough other voters to support candidates who oppose the current policy. But that familiar paradigm breaks down when it is applied to CPB, PBS and NPR. We have elected representatives who are questioning PBS and NPR news programming, but when the people who oppose the program and their elected representatives propose reform what we are hearing is cries of interference with freedom of the press, free speech and editorial independence.
Let’s compare that again to the politics of making war. Can you imagine how anti-war advocates would feel if Kerry had been elected in 2004, and tried to end the U.S. policy in Iraq, but the military and the defense contractors with a stake in the war started objecting to politically motivated interference in military operations in Iraq, and accused opponents of the war of aiding and abetting the enemy, or even treason? Invoking the most extreme accusations of un-American motives is exactly what supporters of NPR do every time this debate arises.
The most egregious argument made by those who want public news broadcasting to continue is that we need PBS and NPR because the private free press is not doing its job reporting the truth about what is wrong with government policy! This is really interesting, the idea that only a government sponsored news agency can tell the real truth about political issues and government policies.
The only good thing I can say about the private press, the free press, is that it is private and free. It is independent, and it performs the role we have carved out for it in the Constitution. There are few things in life I am more passionate about than bias in the free press. I could be arrested if I expressed what I would like to do to those people. But in their own principled and often despicable way they help guard our freedom as much as anyone.
Even though the belatedly revealed Bob Woodward relationship with FBI Deputy Director Mark Feld takes a lot of the moral punch out the Watergate legend, the faked tale of intrepid reporters defying the most powerful office in the land against all odds, everyday there are a thousand Watergates that the press takes on in local papers and news broadcasts. Maybe Woodward and Bernstein were not exactly the heroes many in my generation may have thought, because they were really in collusion with the sinister Feld, and were being used by other power players in the government as well, they got some of the truth told, even if not the whole truth.
That happens imperfectly but unrelentingly at the national, state and local level everyday, and as much as we would like to wring their necks, we are a better nation and we are free because of it.
Still, we love to hate the press, and there is only one thing we hate worse than the bias and all that we disagree with in the independent and free private sector press. What we hate even more is bias and content we disagree with when it is peddled in the government-sponsored press, especially when it pretends it is free and independent. That is why it literally scares me when people I know to be otherwise rational people tell me we need NPR because the real press is failing to provide enough truth for the people to make sound judgments, including choices in who they elect!
No one wants to talk about how Ronald Regan was demonized by the media, or what he could have accomplished if he had not been encumbered by overt press bias. The discourse about conservative rhetoric after the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords was itself a form of political hate speech, as was the “mob rule” accusation when Tea Party activists showed up to protest business as usual at town hall meetings in 2009. In both cases Obama got away with fueling those fires, and NPR did no independent reporting on those issues.
That is because no one wants to talk about liberal hate speech or disruption of public proceedings, which in the case of recent political confrontation by liberals and unions over budget reform and public employee union rights in Wisconsin made conservative political action look tame. As far as NPR listeners know, threats by union leaders to “get bloody,” verbal sniping by Democrats telling a Republican Congresswoman “You’re dead,” none of it gets the same play on NPR as Clinton and then White House media advisor George Stephanopoulos blaming Rush Limbaugh for the Oklahoma City bombing, or the Obama insinuation that FOX News somehow contributed to the Giffords assassination attempt by a freaking lunatic.
This unethical double standard in journalism is bad enough in the private press, and we felt aggrieved when ABC hired Stephanopoulos, or MSNBC hired former Democrat staffer Chris Matthews. But what really galls millions of Americans is when we have to pay for NPR to practice a liberal double standard, and dare to demand federal funding to preserve “independence.”
It hit a low point in the Bush-Clinton, Bush-Gore and Bush-Kerry campaigns. I can’t tell you how many people I know who supported Kerry argue that he lost because the press did not do its job reporting on the lies and failures of the Bush Administration. What about blaming Bush because there was not enough flu vaccine? What about blaming Bush for the woman who died waiting in line for the flu vaccine?
What about the phony U.N. report four days before the 2004 election blaming Bush for the ammunition that had been missing from bunkers outside Baghdad for months? How about Chris Matthews and the resentful son, Ronnie Reagan, hysterically demanding that Bush be held accountable for the missing ammunition?
Well, of course, when we complained about that bias the answers we heard from Kerry supporters is simple. They claim “independent news” that we think is biased in favor of liberals is simply countering the Republican bias of Fox News. Now that there is a mainstream news program that is as biased to the right, just as NBC, CBS and ABC have always been to the left, those who supported Kerry blamed it on FOX, just as conservatives blame the “mainstream” media for bias against Reagan and the Bush administrations.
Into the breach comes NPR, claiming to be the only truly independent press that can tell the truth to the American people. So we now need PBS and NPR to do that! Would it be better to just recognize the bias in private media, instead of pretending that there is no bias in public “news” media?
The recent history of NPR intermeddling in political campaigns is the best evidence of a more fundamental problem that people on both sides of the PBS/NPR debate do not seem to understand clearly. All reasonable people agree that government policy is subject to change through the democratic representative process. But if you try to change the policy of funding PBS and NPR, there is an objection and a protest based on the principle that news and information programming should be free of political influence. So reform of NPR is characterized as suppression of the press, and somehow we fall for that.
Well, it is true that the government should not interfere with the press, but only if it is not government press. If it is really the private, free, independent press I will fight for its freedom, but NPR endangers press freedom by inviting government sponsorship of the news, and the undue political influence on program content that inevitably is ushered in with it.
So we are not talking about free press at all, but about news and opinion programming produced with taxpayers dollars under policies established by a government corporation created under federal law. Thus, it is fair game for the party in power to do everything possible to influence and change the policies under which PBS and NPR operate. Indeed, it would be a violation and denial of the rights of citizens who vote for representation in Congress not to try to appoint management at NPR that ensures what the political party in power views as “fairness.”
Does anyone really think that NPR management appointed by either political party in power should be trusted to be fair or practice neutral and independent journalism, under standards that can be accepted the public, including voters aligned with the party not in power? Similarly, does anyone accept the idea either party can appoint management that credibly can claim to be neutral, or plausibly argue that any attempt to change PBS and NPR, or end its existence, is interference with freedom of the press?
It confuses the constitutional and political issues to suggest that the petitions and grievances of citizens who want to change or end the government broadcast operations should be rejected on the grounds that PBS and NPR somehow are protected by the same independence from political influence they would have if it were a private press organization. The notion that millions of American taxpayers have no right to raise holy Hell and try to shut down PBS and NPR, because Carl Castle and some woman named Sylvia Poljoli have a right to spin the news in a way that drives a lot of us to distraction, is just not going to fly any longer.
This is a political issue, a legitimate subject of political debate and influence, and the battle is joined. No longer are those of us who deeply resent political, cultural, ideological bias on PBS and NPR going to be shamed into submission or even moderation by pleas to save Big Bird.
Let’s take Prairie Home Companion, for example. It is broadcast every weekend on NPR. It fills concert halls all over America and the live audience response has a powerful effect on the radio audience. This is the American town hall on Saturday night. It is very powerful programming that expresses our culture on every level.
I love the program. I love that man’s creativity. I even find his politics principled and sincere, even if I do not share his judgment about what is right for the country. The problem is that he is espousing his ideology on a program broadcast with my tax dollars. Months away from a national election he is holding a Democratic Party political rally adapted to the PBS and NPR format.
There can be no mistaking what is going on. The music, jokes, poems, lyrics, dialogue, it all has a Democrat theme, and for those who don’t get it he drives it home with out of the closet monologues about the stupidity of Republicans. This is not ironic, and any jabs at democrats are token and draw no blood like the Republican jokes do. Just to close the deal, he will have George McGovern come on stage and talk about how sad he is America has lost its way.
Even so, if it were not taxpayer funded I might become a sponsoring listener. But as is, I just bristle with anger at the hypocrisy of it. The attempts to bring in diverse options and supposedly allow all side to be represented are intellectual and ideological tokenism. We all know where the PBS and NPR producers are coming from, so let’s not pretend we don’t.
Finally, one of my friends may have touched on something when she mentioned a moratorium on news and opinion programming. I think it would have to be permanent and I am not sure it would work, but it may well be that those who really want to save Big Bird and need to get rid of Diane Rheem. I have no problem with Daniel Shore, Nina Tottenberg, Kojo Nambi and Garrison Keilor, I might even tune them in and make a listener pledge, as long as not one damn dime of my tax dollars goes to support the broadcast operation that puts them on the air.
You may think the news and opinion programming is balanced, because the people who have controlled NPR and its program content up until now have a worldview that you substantially share, or at least the net result is one you accept or like. Believe me, if the people with whom I share a worldview are able to gain control of PBS, those who like the current programming are not going to accept or like the net result. They are not going to want their tax dollars to support it any more.
My point is that none of us should be in the position of having to support with our tax dollars programming that we can not accept, that we believe is intellectually dishonest. I don’t want you to be put in that position, and you should not want to put me in that position.
The mere fact that people who I tend to agree with are even questioning the content of the PBS/NPR programming is leading to howls about journalistic and editorial independence. Wait until people I agree with actually start controlling the programming! Then those who support PBS now will protest, but will they then accept ou
arr arguments that we should have what we regard as “editorial independence” to take PBS and NPR wherever we want to even though it is supported by their tax dollars?
Those who defend PBS and NPR right now seem to suffer from the delusion that there is some objective standard of journalistic independence and veracity, and that the current programming is balanced and truthful. That is subjective, it is highly political and ideological, and it is predicated on the scary notion that the government can operate a news program according to standards of journalistic independence and principles of a free press.
We can all agree to disagree, that is fine. However, none of us should have to subsidize that disagreement with our tax dollars, or be told we are politicizing something non-political by trying to end or take over the programs on PBS and NPR. This is all about politics, always has been, always will be, as long as the government is operating news and opinion broadcasting. The only way to end the problem of political influence is to end government sponsorship of the programs. Privatize CPB now.