by Matthew L. Schafer
A little known bill, introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn [R-CO] this summer is being revitalized by NPR’s firing of news analyst Juan Williams. Despite some conservatives’ new found resolution to cut public media funding, the idea is not a new one.
“One of the things we’re going to do this year, I hope . . . is to zero out the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has been eating taxpayers’ money,” Newt Gingrich said after Republicans took control of Congress in 1994.
Today the tune from Republicans is strikingly similar. In the wake of Williams’ firing, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Rep. Eric Cantor [R-VA], Tucker Carlson’s website, Sen. Jim DeMint [R-SC], and a slew of Fox News commentators have all called for defunding NPR and PBS. On Friday, DeMint announced that he would introduce legislation to defund both public media outlets.
“Once again we find the only free speech liberals support is the speech with which they agree. The incident with Mr. Williams shows that NPR is not concerned about providing the listening public with an honest debate of today’s issues, but rather with promoting a one-sided liberal agenda,” Sen. DeMint said.
DeMint’s legislation would be the counterpart to Lamborn’s bill. Lamborn’s bill also calls to cut all government support for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting. Lamborn called the CBP “low hanging fruit,” saying, “We have to make hard choices if we’re going to get our deficit under control… [or] we’re going to go the way of Greece.”
The CPB was established in 1967 with the goal of facilitating “the development of… and universal access to, non-commercial high-quality programming and telecommunications services.” Currently, the government spends approximately $420 million dollars on the CPB, which is then distributed to PBS and NPR. That $1.43 per person covers about 13% of the CPB’s total funding. NPR’s share accounts for about 2% of its total budget.
Despite this pittance of funding, Sarah Palin argues that NPR would be a perfect place to start cutting into the federal deficit. “At a time when our country is dangerously in debt and looking for areas of federal spending to cut, I think we’ve found a good candidate for defunding. National Public Radio is a public institution that directly or indirectly exists because the taxpayers fund it,” Palin said in a Facebook post this week.
Cutting CPB funding, however, would not begin to put a dent in the federal deficit. Actually, it would only reduce the 2010 $1.5 trillion dollar federal deficit by 0.028%, and the $13 trillion national debt by .0032%. “That is a grain of sand on the federal budget beach, and you are not going to solve deficit reduction problems by cutting public broadcasting funding,” said Wick Rowland, president of Colorado Public Television.
Nineteen Republican congressmembers have joined Lamborn’s bill. Rep. Cantor, who is currently not listed as a supporter of Lamborn’s bill, argued that political correctness has gone too far, and that funding to NPR and PBS should be cut off.
“Whether it’s people walking off “The View” when Bill O’Reilly makes a statement about radical Islam or Juan Williams being fired for expressing his opinion, over-reaching political correctness is chipping away at the fundamental American freedoms of speech and expression,” Cantor said. “In light of their rash decision, we will include termination of federal funding for NPR as an option in the YouCut program so that Americans can let it be known whether they want their dollars going to that organization.”
While politicians would rather focus on a single incident to continue their assault on public media, they should focus instead on the track record of these organizations. Indeed, if these politicians get their way, they’ll be gutting one of the nation’s most important institutions. Last year, PBS was nominated for 111 different Emmys. The public is more likely to trust public television’s public affairs programming than they are to trust Fox News, CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, and MSNBC’s programming. Additionally, 80% of the public called public broadcasting tax dollars well spent and almost 50% of the public supported increasing funding to public broadcasting.
Since 1971, NPR has been a cornerstone of quality enterprise journalism. Indeed, it has won 30 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, 53 George Foster Peabody Awards, 37 White House News Photographers Association awards, 17 Webby Awards, and 18 awards from the Overseas Press Club of America. In a late 2009 public opinion poll, the Pew Research Center found that 50% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans had a favorable view of NPR. In this political climate, having 50% of any group agreeing on a single issue is rather impressive.
Republicans have it all wrong –- we need to invest more in public media, not less or at all. With the ever increasing amount of “junk news” we see in commercial media, it is increasingly important that we invest in media that’s impetus is the production and distribution of quality educational and investigative journalism – and not just the highest ratings or the biggest profits. NPR and PBS have a proven track record of providing award winning quality journalism, there is no reason to throw that away for mere political points.