Still Rumbling on Sesame Street

Less than a month after I wrote that "you're not likely to hear [Republicans] call for taking public broadcasters off the public tit," a House subcommittee voted to cut the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's budget by 25% and to eliminate the rest over the next few years. That's a much bigger reduction than the White House had asked for, and the idea of zeroing out federal support hasn't been a live issue in Washington for a decade.

Before you get too excited, this looks more like a hardball maneuver than anything else, and there will be plenty of opportunities to put the brakes on the plan before it becomes law. Having argued that the GOP would rather control public broadcasting than defund it, I'm still standing by that statement. Patricia Harrison, the leading candidate to succeed Ken Tomlinson as head of the CPB, is a former chair of the Republican Party. Her partisan past prompted a protest Tuesday from the Association of Public Television Stations. Two days later the subcommittee voted to cut their funding. The implied message: "Get back in line."

The best-case scenario: Everyone tries to call everyone else's bluff. The broadcasters keep fighting back. The Republicans decide that if they can't control the system, they really will defund it. The broadcasters decide that if they can't rely on Congress, they'll push for an independent trust fund instead. The CPB as we know it, a federally funded body that doubles as a tool for political interference, disappears.

The more likely scenario: The broadcasters most vulnerable to cuts decide they'd rather compromise than fight, and a good cop -- probably Senate Republicans -- offers them a deal they can live with. It will look remarkably like the modest cuts the White House originally asked for, and while it may or may not involve Harrison becoming CPB chief, whoever does get elevated will have essentially the same loyalties.

One thing's for sure. Get ready for a lot of talk about how some children's shows that make a mint off of merchandising -- and a radio network that recently received a $200 million endowment -- just couldn't survive without public subsidies.

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  • ||

    Did you say "Rumpole of Bailey Street"?
    John Mortimer has a fairly new book out.

    Why are books from the UK so short and cute while US books, "1776," e.g., drone on and on?

  • ||

    Don't see what the big deal is, since as the begathons always remind you, it's US who shoulder the biggest burden as far as the PBS budget goes...

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    "there will be plenty of opportunities to put the breaks on the plan before it becomes law."

    Not to be picky, but shouldn't that be 'brakes?'

  • Jesse Walker||

    Yep. Fixed. Thanks.

  • ||

    couldn't survive without public subsidies

    I could be wrong, but I seem to recall supporters conceding that point (that they can survive off of merchandising).

    I think their big beef is the destructive influence of commercials and corporations on young minds. It's all about the children, after all.

  • ||

    I agree with Jesse's analysis.

    CPB could definitely survive without public subsidies, and could almost definitely maintain the exact same format. But there's no way that a party with near total hegemony will let go of a state-run media outlet.

  • ||

    NPR on NPR, here. The story actually tracks your post quite closely -- the intimidation factor, the Sesame Street reference, the self-sufficiency of NPR. I was fascinated by Pat Mitchell's "Yep, this happens every year" comment, because I couldn't tell whether it was truly a blase response or if she was the slightest bit worried the usual dance would go differently this time. What a strange work environment it must be.

    Anon

  • ||

    Very tangential question: why aren't the Car Talk guys on commercial radio? They could be driving Dodge Colts with solid gold hubcaps by now.

  • ||

    The CPB has always been one of the hardest tests of my libertarian ideals, because, quite frankly, they produce some excellent programming. However, I agree that people who don't enjoy NPR/PBS shouldn't have to pay for that, and I would find the occasional commercial vastly preferable to the pledge week programs. The Newshour, Nova, Nature, and Frontline are my favorite TV programs, and I used to listen to All Things Considered and Morning edition all the time when I worked at a bookstore, but people who *actually want to listen/watch* them should be the only ones to pay for them.

  • ||

    I'd be in the same boat with you Lucas, but for the fact that I've come to libertarian ideals as a result of conservative activism. I'd much prefer CPB be cut off rather than see it get tooled around. Just like I'd like to see the government get out of funding for the arts and sciences, because I have no desire to see the government tell us what should not be studied or portrayed.

  • Jesse Walker||

    I could be wrong, but I seem to recall supporters conceding that point (that they can survive off of merchandising).

    Oh, some of them will concede it, but that doesn't stop them from trotting out the "Save Sesame Street" slogans whenever an idea like this gets floated.

    The story actually tracks your post quite closely

    That NPR reporter's a friend of mine. I didn't hear his report before I posted my comments, but I'm not surprised that we have somewhat similar takes on what's happening (though I suspect he disagrees with me about what the best-case scenario would look like).

  • ||

    The feds pay such a small percentage of PBS and NPR funding these days that I don't think they'd need to change their formats or add commercials or anything to compensate for loss of tax funding.

    As for it becoming corporate and adding commercials, corporations are already the primary source of funding for public media, and if you pay attention, you'll notice both NPR and PBS actually do have commercials.

  • ||

    I think that what many people overlook in this matter is that the government funding, although minimal, carries an implicit endorsement of the validity of what is being presented by the stations. A desire for a similar kind of implicit endorsement can be found in the effort to have the federal government fund embryonic stem cell research, although there are ample private and state funds for the purpose. Also, note that the aversion to such funding is driven by a desire not to provide such an endorsement, and by extension, an endorsement of the practice of killing embryos that is abortion.

  • ||

    Pledges and trust funds and grants, oh my... why aren't these enough? (Seriously, somebody please explain this to me.)

    Also, when did something "public" become synonymous with "government-controlled"? If this continues, then down with "public" television; long live public access!

  • ||

    I'm sorry, but does PBS still exist? I've been too busy dividing my time between A&E, Bravo, The Discovery Channel, The History Channel, Animal Planet...

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    "The CPB as we know it, a federally funded body that doubles as a tool for political interference, disappears."

    The CPB never operated as a "tool for political interference" until the recent Republican assault on its independence.

    It's a pretty good trick - politicize public television, then call for its defunding because it's been politicized. And along the way, maybe you get to have some of your favorite propaganda put out with the assumed credibility that comes from airing it on the most credible station on the dial.

    Sort of like starving the beast by busting the federal budget with pork for your buddies, I guess.

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    So, panurge, were you checking out the x-treme motorcycle makeover, the report about a British murder that took place in the 70s, or the biography of J-Lo?

    Quick, better swith from "commercial stations air the same programming as PBS" to "PBS only airs snobby stuff that nobody watches."

  • drf||

    "PBS still exist? I've been too busy dividing my time between A&E, Bravo, The Discovery Channel, The History Channel, Animal Planet..."

    joe: i have to agree with panurge here, too. biography has Inspector Morse and the Saint. And other shows. the four or five discovery channels have great stuff, too. i don't like the stuff you mention, either, but the only time we watch pbs and give is to get one of those really cool chicago video programs during their sweeps.

    and the newshour is the only nightly news i watch. that would be missed.

    so, joe: for my age group, the various digital cable channels fit my viewing needs better. i don't want to speak for others here, or to throw these tastes at everybody, but why do we need publically-funded programming, especially when it so easily becomes the partisan lapdog.

    viz: ORF (austrian tv) and DR (danish) children's tv teaches the particular values of those nations. as the governments are pro EU, there were pro EU segments airing. to me, the shows reminded me of monty burns giving pro nu-q-lear power propaganda to the good citizens of springfield, where a noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.

    so the repubs, the party with tremendous inner-rank discipline, dickering around with PBS should come as no surprise.

    ahem. anyways, this reader prefers the snobby stuff that's on A&E or International or Discovery Biography etc.

    cheers,
    drf

  • Jesse Walker||

    The CPB never operated as a "tool for political interference" until the recent Republican assault on its independence.

    Yes, it did.

    If the article looks familiar, it's because it's also the first link in the blog post.

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    So, panurge, were you checking out the x-treme motorcycle makeover, the report about a British murder that took place in the 70s, or the biography of J-Lo?

    All of that stuff sounds a lot better than the Suze Orman/disco music/50's music extravaganza that was WETA this weekend.

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    The article is familiar. Just not terribly convincing on that point.

    Sorry.

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    Though I am philosophically against any organ of the state being involved in broadcasting, PBS does manage to run a good program or two, perhaps by accident. :) This week's Independent Lens is a documentary about the Chavez Ravine neighborhood of L.A., grabbed via eminent domain to build a stadium for Los Angeles' entry in the National League.

    Kevin

  • ||

    Ok, so PBS sucks.


    But cmon, what other options do we have on the radio?

    Snakeboy and the Crazy Man morning hour show?

    Some other bullshit.

    Let's be honest, there isn't much good on public radio. Go NPR. I'll give money to them, as soon as i'm not a poor public college student.

  • ||

    It's simply a scam that hugely marketable entities like Seasame Street get a dime of public money. A huge scam. Someone's getting stinking rich here.

    Ted Turner has proved that leftist bullshit like Captain Planet can exist outside forced public patronage. Also, as mentioned, cable TV, for many years, has provided the needed "alternatives" that did not exist when all we had was four channels to watch.

    No mas! No mas!

  • ||

    "..all we had WERE four channels to watch".

    And yes, kids, there was a time when we didn't have a feed.. we actually pulled the signal out of the air with a crude device called an antenna. And we only had four channels..

  • ||

    Jared,

    There's always Bob and Tom.

  • ||

    I like NPR programs too - but boy are they classic knee jerk liberals. Listen to "It's only a game on Saturday" they manage to get a nasty comment about
    anyone not liberal every 10 minutes. This isn't even a political show..

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