Monday, March 28, 2011

The real reason to defund public broadcasting

There are many in Congress and around the nation calling for a complete defunding of public broadcasting. This call has been going on for a long time but the recent “sting” operation where a leading NPR fundraiser was recorded slandering conservatives has given this movement new life. NPR and PBS know they are on the defensive more than usual and are broadcasting short informercials (at least on NPR) to try to rally support for public broadcasting. I am in full support of defunding public broadcasting but not primarily because of its liberal elitism.

While it is undeniably true that public broadcasting, especially NPR, is overtly liberal, that is not the prime motivation for defunding public radio and television. Granted there is something unsavory about a publically funded, unaccountable organization that is a shill for policies that will lead to more government spending and that presumably some of that spending will head their way. But there is more to it. Nor is the issue one of money. Public broadcasting is not a huge chunk of change in the grand scheme of things. Eliminate its funding entirely and the budget is still swimming in red ink. So why not leave it alone?

Public broadcasting should be defunded primarily because it is completely outside of the scope of what the Federal government should be doing.

Of all of the various ways that the Federal government finds to spend tax money (or more properly spending borrowed money on the hopes of paying it back someday with tax money), few are more egregiously outside of the scope of what the Federal government is Constitutionally tasked with than public broadcasting. Like hundreds of others Federal programs, public radio/TV is a luxury and a subtle example of social engineering. The underlying presumption is that the ignorant masses of Americans are too brain-dead to make consumer driven choices for quality programming. Without the tax-payer funded mechanism of public broadcasting, Americans would watch nothing but monster truck rallies and reality TV. That message might have made some sense when there were only three for-profit TV stations but in an age of hundreds of channels and the internet, that no longer holds true. Sure many people will watch mindless TV (much of which has the same subtle leftist slant) but many people also watch The History Channel, Discovery, a slew of news stations, National Geographic, etc. The days when PBS was the only station showing intellectually stimulating programming ended with the advent of cable and satellite TV. PBS is a relic of the days of rabbit ears and giant TV antennas next to houses.

The same with NPR which is even more overtly liberal. Once NPR was unique in terms of bringing substantive news and talk radio to the airwaves. Now talk radio is ubiquitous, news channels abound. Satellite radio gives listeners a ton of choices and those choices include what used to be something only NPR broadcast, i.e. classical music. Like baroque? There is a station for that! Like folk music? A station for that! Bluegrass, jazz, world music, on and on. Just like people don’t wait for the newspaper to get their news anymore, people don’t wait for All Things Considered to get their news. I listen to NPR because I have a fairly long commute but I do so understanding that the news I am getting is heavily slanted, in terms of what is said, what is not said, what is or is not covered and the expert talking heads that are called in to speak. When your weekly political round-up consists of two liberals (David Brooks and E.J. Dionne), you know you are not getting a balanced view of the issues of the day.

Is there a place for NPR and PBS? Sure. They just need to be self-supporting. If they really have a unique voice and a superior product, they should have no issue finding support from their affluent audience.
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