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Gunning For PBS

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The GOP is hoping to make PBS and NPR DOA as far as federal funding goes in FY2007.

House Republicans yesterday revived their efforts to slash funding for public broadcasting, as a key committee approved a $115 million reduction in the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that could force the elimination of some popular PBS and NPR programs.

There are several points to be made here. But first, some context.

1. Even if enacted these cuts wouldn’t destroy public broadcasting. Most such stations are largely self-supporting. Minnesota Public Radio, for instance, gets 80 percent of its funding from private sources. If federal dollars disappear, there would still be state funding. But even if they both vanished, the resulting 20 percent budget cut would hurt but it wouldn’t be fatal.

2. Some areas would be hurt pretty badly. The cuts would be disproportionately felt in poor and rural areas, where listeners are fewer or have fewer dollars to spare for station support — and thus rely more heavily on government funding.

3. Conservatives have been gunning for public broadcasting for years on ideological grounds, considering the programming to be liberally biased. What’s ironic is that if they succeed it will be the rural areas that will be hit the hardest — areas that are generally more conservative, and thus less likely to schedule programming the conservatives find offensive. The stations they really dislike — large urban operations — will be largely unaffected.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s look at why the House says it’s trying to cut this funding:

Republicans are looking for ways to save taxpayers’ dollars, amid fiscal conservatives’ concerns over the budget deficit.

“We’ve got to keep our priorities straight,” said Representative Ralph Regula, an Ohio Republican who is chairman of the appropriations panel that approved the cut. “You’re going to choose between giving a little more money to handicapped children versus providing appropriations for public broadcasting.”

Oh, so it’s a tough budget call. We need to get the deficit under control, and it’s either PBS or the handicapped kids.

Give me a break.

We’re talking chicken feed here. $115 million won’t even begin to make a dent in the deficit. Yes, enough small cuts can add up to big cuts. But Republicans aren’t even pretending that this is part of a significant cutback in spending. Maybe, before spending so much time and effort cutting pennies from PBS, they should assemble the $300 billion worth of cuts it will take simply to balance the budget, never mind start paying down the debt.

And trying to frame this as a choice between PBS and handicapped children is breathtakingly cynical in a year when Republicans have led the fight to abolish the estate tax — at a cost to federal coffers of $70 billion per year. And that’s on the heels of $2 trillion or more in previous tax cuts and another $300 billion or so in Iraq-related costs.

You wanna save PBS and help the handicapped kids? Raise taxes by 50 cents per capita. Problem solved.

There are plenty of principled debates one could have about public broadcasting, involving the role of government and whether that role includes funding for the arts. Or, given the recent experience of Italy under Silvio Berlusconi, whether the government should be owning or supporting domestic media outlets at all.

But that’s not the debate that House Republicans are having. Their chosen arguments are cowardly, cynical and intellectually vapid.

Debate public broadcasting on the merits. But don’t try to slit its throat in the dark of night while hiding behind needy children.

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About Sean Aqui

  • http://wp.blogcritics.org Timmy

    I can’t wait. The government needs to get out of the entertainment business. I’m personally tired of the Doo-Wop concerts myself.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    The GOP does seem to be engaging in some questionable excuse making here, when there’s a much better angle to take on this. PBS ought to be set free for the good of PBS itself. Management by government has not served the network well, and it has the potential to be commercially viable, so it ought to be given a chance to thrive without interference.

    dave

  • http://midtopia.blogspot.com Sean Aqui

    I’m somewhat sympathetic to the concept that government funding of culture — other than buying art for government buildings — isn’t really a core competency. There are plenty of nonprofits available to manage things like that.

    That said, PBS should not go “commercial” and become just another cable station. We have enough reality shows as it is without adding ones based on dreary 19th century novels. PBS should remain a nonprofit supported by tax-deductible contributions.

  • zingzing

    a commercially viable pbs? what would that be like? would there be commercials? day-time talk shows? late night softcore porn?

    ugh. this is clearly politically motivated.

    if american masters, nova, american experience, austin city limits, frontline, etc get the axe, i’ll chuck my t.v. out the window, as there is really nothing worth watching after that.

    ok… king of the hill. i’ll keep my tv for king of the hill.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Zing, do you not watch PBS? It already runs commercials.

    The same kind of content that’s on PBS drives more than a dozen cable channels. It CAN be done commercially. Hell, PBS resells a lot of its shows to commercial outlets.

    if american masters, nova, american experience, austin city limits, frontline, etc get the axe, i’ll chuck my t.v. out the window, as there is really nothing worth watching after that.

    This is why you should want PBS to be free, because with the idiotic hacks the Bush administration has running the place these shows might get the axe for political reasons.

    Dave

  • zingzing

    ok dave, how about, “will there be commercials every 10 minutes?”

    i have no problem cutting bush cronies out of running pbs. you should know that by now. need not be said. in fact, i didn’t say that, you just knew it.

    if pbs were able to be “commercially viable,” aka, able to stand on its own throught private contributions, then that would be fine. i’m not sure that it can. people think it’s boring. (people are stupid.) i think they would have to change dramatically, and the amount of fundraisers would have to be raised… oh god… and i don’t like the idea.

    consider me a pbs conservative. don’t fix what ain’t broke. plus, the fact that the government actually funds this stuff satisfies my craving for a little subversion (did you see the edward r murrow stuff?) and gives me comfort.

  • Nancy

    As an off-&-on professional artist myself, I think the government, local, state, or federal, has no business being a patron of the arts, period. As pointed out in the article, most funding for things like PBS or museums come from private sources, and in any event very few persons will agree on what should be funded, and to what extent; witness Mapplethorpe. Yes, artists struggle. So what? Artists have always struggled, and always will. That doesn’t mean the public should support them. They can support themselves with a regular-paying job, and work on their art in between, like the rest of the world. The very lucky or extraordinarily talented few will make it big in their lifetimes; the rest of us will have to wait for our heirs to be the ones to strike it rich. That’s art.

    I do love PBS & all the lovely BBC productions, I’m the first one to admit it, but I don’t think they should be publicly funded.

    BTW, I’m puzzled: last time I checked, most farmers & rural types had/have access to TV & cable, so how is it they will be deprived of PBS & various interminable whine-a-thons more than their urban counterparts? If such programming isn’t available, it’s more likely due to the cupidity of the local cable company refusing to carry the channel than lack of government funding.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    ok dave, how about, “will there be commercials every 10 minutes?”

    Likely that will be up to the local affiliates and national management. I think their current commercial format would work. All they need to so is make up for the loss of federal revenues (now down to 6% of operating capital) with additional cable revenues, which shouldn’t be hard if they launch a PBS cable network.

    if pbs were able to be “commercially viable,” aka, able to stand on its own throught private contributions, then that would be fine. i’m not sure that it can. people think it’s boring. (people are stupid.) i think they would have to change dramatically, and the amount of fundraisers would have to be raised… oh god… and i don’t like the idea.

    I don’t think so. They haven’t managed their assets well under government control. In particular they’ve made terrible deals on reselling original content and merchandising, allowing most of that revenue to go to production companies like the Childrens Television Workshop. If they were being run as a business they would have gotten a bigger slice of those pies.

    And it’s not boring, or at least not enough to scare away viewers. Look at the equally boring cable channels that do quite well with thier audiences – Wings, Speed, History, Travel, Discovery, DIY, and the list goes on for a dozen more.

    Dave

  • Nancy

    PBS is no more boring than MTV or E! which endlessly fixates on the vacuous & vapid lives of stupid celebrities.

  • Clavos

    Ouch, Nancy! How can you even mention PBS in the same comment as those two moronic timewasters?

    PBS has some outstanding programs; the best ones are already getting private support to a much greater degree than the government provides. It’s time to cut the political umbilical cord.

    The GOP is indulging in some cheap-shot politics on the issue, but it is a good idea.

  • http://wp.blogcritics.org JL Lewis

    Oh, now it’s all out in the open. It’s Bush’s fault! Now that you’ve made yourself feel better and made a few friends, how will you solve the problem?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    ummm..problem can be solved easily…

    one way, freeze the pay of all federal employees until the budget is balanced… that’ll get it started…

    but , this is all bullshit for November..as any Observer knows full well

    so let’s toss aside the bullshit pandering to the “base” from both sides…

    does PBS provide a public function….yes

    are they very cost efficient, with more than 3/4 of their budget coming from donations….yes

    so..i bet if we take the money that has fueled Air Force One for the last 2 years for purely campaign purposes , i bet ya can cover the proposed cuts…

    if not, there are plenty of other bits of *pork* than can be slashed rather than something that actually works for the public…

    hell, NPR’s news segments alone , and if you actually listen to them, you may find some of the best objective journalism there, are worth the price fo this “budget cut”

    even with all that being said, i can deal with the cut in principle…as long as ALL corporate welfare and pork barrel projects are cut first

    nuff said…

    Excelsior?

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    You know, I have an acquaintance at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and he has indicated to me that the problem with public television has absolutely nothing to do with politics, the government, and/or who happens to be running said government at any given time.

    Bear in mind that the vast majority of PBS’s funding comes from viewers. And the main problem they’re having is with attracting viewers.

    Contrast it with NPR. Public radio in the US is in one of its peaks: they do innovative, imaginative, extraordinarily high-quality programming that attracts a tremendous listenership and subsequently a lot of funding–and they also have central structures, the NPR news bureau and PRI syndication, at the heart of their organization.

    By contrast, PBS is offering up pretty much the same programming they’ve been producing for the past three decades: educational and informative, but no longer on the cutting edge or even particularly novel. And they DON’T have a central structure: all of their programming is produced by individual member stations.

    What I’m getting at is that, although I personally am satisfied that my tax dollars go towards PBS, government support and/or interference seems to me to be the least of their problems.

  • Baronius

    - I occasionally turn off the tv during certain commercials (mostly starring Taylor Hicks). I dive for the remote control when the PBS pledge people come on screen, because I know what the next 20 minutes will be. PBS not only advertises; they do infomercials.

    – Does PBS get any royalties from Sesame Street, Clifford the Big Red Dog, or “Bill Moyers Presents: Christians Suck”? PBS should be richer than Disney if they’ve negotiated their deals correctly. If they haven’t, well, non-profit shouldn’t mean incompetent.

    – Nancy, you’re right. If PBS closed their doors, no one would be deprived of cable and satellite opportunities. I’ve tried to run the numbers on CPB subsidies versus a one-time federal satellite dish giveaway, but CPB funding is indecipherable.

    – Michael, I agree. There are a number of ways that PBS could cut their bottom line and increase viewers. I receive signals from three PBS stations. They show 98% of the same programs, at different times. Their schedules vary week to week. You could close at least one of them without affecting broadcast coverage. A consistent, well-advertised schedule would help immensely. But it’s like low ratings and unprofitability are badges of honor.

  • Lumpy

    the existence of PBS as a government funded media outlet is quite possibly illegal under the statute banninf propaganda.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com/ Michael J. West

    But it’s like low ratings and unprofitability are badges of honor.

    You’re right, Baronius, on low ratings. Unprofitability? Um, well, uh, yeah, for a nonprofit enterprise, unprofitability is kinda a badge of honor…

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    There’s a big difference between non-profit and unprofitable. Non-profit may be honorable, but not being able to make any money, suggesting not being able to attract viewers, is not. Non-profits can go bankrupt too.

    And Baronius is dead on about the poor business sense at PBS. They may not make profits but the production companies they work with certainly do, and have been taking advantage of the situation for years.

    Dave

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    and look at the appointed Management for PBS over the last 6 years…

    when you take a peek at some of the fuck-ups those folks (Bush Appointees) have done, some of the numbers make sense

    but, as i said earlier… the organization serves a purpose, and is pretty efficient in it’s use of the federal dollars it gets

    cut the funding is fine, right after you cut out the pork bloat

    especially considering that the entire year of federal funding for all of PBS/NPR costs us less than a single day in Iraq

    oooops… did i slip some perspective into there..

    “sorry about that, Chief”

    /end Maxwell Smart

    Excelsior?

  • Martin Lav

    Until public broadcasting signals that it can provide entertaining and demonstrably educational programming for television, the Internet, and the classroom, public broadcasting does not deserve to be treated as a sustainable enterprise. If it does rise to that challenge, reaching once again for the educational ideals that animated its founding, the public, corporate, and foundation monies it has been struggling to preserve for the last decade will be made available. And that, not partisan politics, is Patricia Harrison’s and public broadcasting’s real challenge.

    ——————————————————————————–
    James MacGuire is a former executive of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    nice Quote there Martin…

    now the Argument is about the accuracy of the primary thesis of the statement

    some think that PBS IS doing it’s job

    some don’t

    all agree it can do better

    and some can easily argue that the partisan management of the last 6 years (by people who had previously and publicly stated they did NOT support the PBS mission) might have something to do with the results in the last few years…

    meanwhile, no one addresses the point of the political posturing involved with bringing this *issue* up, while NOT addressing the pure pork spending that runs into the billions

    so, there ya have it

    Excelsior?

  • Martin Lav

    The republicans have been trying to get rid of PBS since the 1990’s and Newt Gingrich. They don’t like the left-leanings and don’t want “their” tax dollars going to the opposite side of the aisle’s constituients. That is the bottomline.
    I believe that PBS needs the funding of the federal government in order to compete, however, they also need to shred some of the beaucracy that’s inherent in a company that relies on the Gov’t teat. Somehow they got to get back to doing what they used to do and create entertaining educational programming, that is not so left leaning that they are constantly accused of trying to push an agenda. Heck, even Richard Nixon, who opposed much of the public affairs programming aired on public television (correctly considering it to be slanted against him), felt strongly that public broadcasting had an important educational mission to fulfill.

    As Neil Young said:
    Where even Richard Nixon got soul.
    Even Richard Nixon has got it,
    Soul.

  • Nancy

    WHAT “left leanings”? How can stuff like ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ and ‘Are You Being Served’, etc. be leftist? Or do they think that art show with the nun is too liberal?

  • Clavos

    “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Are You Being Served” aren’t leftist, Nancy, but they’re not PBS programs, either.

  • Nancy

    Well, what are PBS programs? I haven’t scoped out PBS in awhile so I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Thanks.

  • Clavos

    What I meant was that you happened to pick two shows as examples which were not produced by PBS, they were rented from BBC.

    Exmaples of PBS (or affiliate)-produced programs include:

    A Prairie Home Companion
    Nova
    American Experience
    Mystery!
    Nature
    Great Performances
    Frontline

    Worth noting: PBS itself (as pointed out elsewhere in this thread) says that the bulk of their budget comes primarily from private contributions.

    The loss of the relatively small amount the government gives them will not be important, and IMO is a good thing–government involvement in art and information services is too fraught with possibilities of manipulation.

  • Martin Lav

    Frontline (so-called liberal journalism, but I think it’s the best damn show on TV)
    NOVA (they don’t necessarily teach creationism)
    American Experience (deals with American History)

    But this is the one that really got PBS in trouble…….Postcards from Buster in which one episode has a lesbian couple touring kids on a maple syrup farm.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Mystery! comes from the BBC. It’s just a name slapped on various BBC mystery programs for the US.

    Overall I don’t think PBS is too horribly left-leaning, but whether it is or not is irrelevant, there’s still no justification for the government being involved in broadcasting in competition with commercial networks.

    Dave

  • JustOneMan

    PBS should not go “commercial” and become just another cable station.

    Hey the Muppets is a one of the biggest entertainment franchises. At its peak it was valued at over 700 million all due to PBS!

  • JustOneMan

    As for NPR the only non-bush bashing show is Car Talk….the rest has an exttremely biased slant

  • Nancy

    Nothing wrong with bashing Bush: he just gets what he begs for every time he opens his mouth.

  • Nancy

    Besides, the Car Talk brothers bash everyone, bar none. That’s the best show, I swear…and I’m not even ‘into’ cars.

  • JustOneMan

    Nancy…the point is that since all they do is bash bush and blame america first–they really serve no public purpose..people can just listen to Air America…oh….i forgot no one listens their either

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Actually, JOM, as I pointed out earlier, lots and lots of people listen to NPR. Including you, apparently, since you know that every show except Car Talk has an extremely biased slant.

    As for PBS, I will argue for Sesame Street until my dying day. I learned to read at 30 months, and that show bears some responsibility for it.

  • Nancy

    I used to listen to NPR, but got soooo … annoyed at those stupid, ultra low key, condescending voices the moderators all used – rather like they were always soothing restive idiot horses or something … anyway they set my teeth on edge so I don’t listen anymore. Oh – I know: they remind me of the voice of HAL 9000. Robots.

  • Martin Lav

    The importance of PBS besides the Educational purpose, is the local programming and flavor that is virtually non-existent since the consolidation of the current media empires.
    Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, Romper Room, JP Patches….etc…..endless list…..
    They are no more and I think a PBS is the only opportunity left to produce these shows.
    However, even PBS fights for the almighty Gov’t dollar and they too now have to please their own advirtisers and have to sterialize their programs to satisfy their NATIONAL constituency and provide entertainment….ie Antiques Roadshow as an example.

  • Nancy

    Antiques Roadshow … lol! You should have seen the lines of people 10 deep stretching twice around the Baltimore Civic Center when they were doing a show there – most of them laden with all kinds of junk. Excuse me: junque. It was a hoot. Lots of fun for all, and very interesting. The guy who hauled in a big bombe desk found out it was a reproduction from the 40s, while a lady with a little tiny cheap-looking painting discovered it was a rare original by a well-known antebellum primitive artist. Some might not have liked the results, but I do believe a good time, as they say, was had by all.

  • JustOneMan

    Nancy…good point…they should make it illegal to listen to NPR while your driving….electric Narcalepsy…

    Micheal West…you made the point freakin Elmo in a $500 million dollar franchise…just walk into ToysRUs and youll see…Sesame Street is no different than Ron Popeil selling his “hair in a can” or “vegamatic”

  • Clavos

    The importance of PBS besides the Educational purpose, is the local programming and flavor that is virtually non-existent since the consolidation of the current media empires.
    Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, Romper Room, JP Patches….etc…

    None of these shows were PBS shows. Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody were network shows (CBS and NBC, respectively), which were nationally produced and distributed.

    Romper Room and JP Patches were locally produced, but were also commercial shows; Romper Room was a franchise operation.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Martin, I believe they are still producing Romper Room for local distribution in Arizona – if I recall correctly.

    And Michael, if you love Sesame Street you should want to set it free.

    Dave

  • ss

    Forgive the long post, but I saw a great doc on PBS a few weeks ago, and it hits this discussion, indirectly, in so many ways I just have to describe it.
    Anybody see the expose on reproductive science called ‘Frozen Angels’?
    I know, with the subject matter, it’s hard to hear the title and not think ‘snowflake children’, but it actually barely touched on stem cells. Instead it focused most on law and commerce currently practiced in California regarding reproductive technology. By showing some of the actual mediators at the junction of biology and commerce; namely, a fairly greedy lawyer/radio talk show host, and some other privateers, and just letting them talk about life as a product…
    The arrogance on display was breath taking, I mean right up there with the worst of the Neocon movement.
    Interspersed with this repellant talk are unsentimental looks at how surrogate motherhood and egg ‘donation’ actually work.
    A blond haired blue eyed woman who went to an Ivy league school can sell her eggs for $60,000. More (as in the sky’s the limit more) if she teaches music or handicapped kids. And although such altruistic traits are prized, before the women offering to sell their eggs put their pictures in the catalogue, the company selling their eggs gets them made up by professional beauticians. So as to look their best and hopefully fetch a higher price.
    On the other hand…
    A brown haired brown eyed women with a husband serving in Iraq gets $7,000, not for the commodity of her ovum, but for the service of undergoing pregnancy and having another woman’s child. On yet the other hand, it showed you a sterile woman, who would probably make a pretty good mom, who really wanted to have a baby but couldn’t.
    I’m not against sterile couples being able to have children, I doubt anyone is. But the reality when ‘choice’ becomes consumerism and the product is human life.
    It will make you squirm.
    Then the doc’s makers cut back to the lawyer/talk show host talking with a colleague of his about a French scientist who’s cloning frogs without heads, and the lawyer and his buddy are smacking their lips in anticipation of the day humans can be cloned without heads.
    It’s gonna be great for business.
    I’m still 100% for embroyonic stem cell research, cloning for medical research (as long as it is done in petri dish, and doesn’t involve implantation in the womb), I’m still 100% against religious arguements for blocking the science…
    But the best arguements presented for the other side of the coin, that we are to vain and shallow for this science, that lawyers and greedy bio tech start-ups will turn our best intentions into creating human life for harvest, the best presentation of that side of the arguement I’ve seen was in a little documentary, aired on PBS, that probably, unfortunately, didn’t pull very big ratings (even by basic cable standards).
    I mean I’m ultimately against the point of view it was pushing, but it was so NOT condescending, or shrill, or argumentative, and it forced you to recognize the moral ambiguity.
    It reached the level this questions deserves to be debated on.
    Hardly anyone saw it because it was on PBS. And, ironically, if this election year stunt goes through, even fewer people will have a chance to catch it.

  • Martin Lav

    Dave and Clavos,
    What I was trying to point out is that there aren’t many local network stations that aren’t affiliated with the WB, UPN or some other network anymore, therefore the ability to produce localized shows that could eventually be syndicated like the ones I previously mentioned, is harder to come by.
    JP Patches is a good example of one in Seattle when I was a kid that was a clown that showed cartoons. In California we have Huell Howser and his California Gold series that’s broadcast on PBS. However, there are no local shows on any of the affliate stations any longer. They are just too expensive to produce and since the local affiliates are now tied to the WB or UPN or Disney or one of the networks, there are virtually no more locally produced shows without PBS.

  • Lumpy

    What about loclly produced cable shows? We’ve got 5 channels of them including a local music channel and a 24 hour local news network. Local programming has moved to cable just like everything else has, making PBS obsolete.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com/ Michael J. West

    And Michael, if you love Sesame Street you should want to set it free.

    And if it comes back, it’s mine?

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com/ Michael J. West

    Actually, you guys have got me thinking about a post I’ve considered for a long time, about local TV programming and the lack thereof…thinking about calling it “does anyone remember UHF?”

  • Clavos

    Michael,

    Here in Miami, we have LOTS of UHF, but it’s all in Spanish, except for the religious nuts…uh…nets.