Government Spending

Zero Hour for Public Broadcasting

It's time for the government subsidies to end.


I am an American and a male, so you can easily guess the first thing I do when I arrive in a hotel room: pick up the TV remote and turn on ESPN. The second thing may not be so universal: tune the clock radio to the local public radio station.

I have been happily addicted to the medium since 1979, when National Public Radio launched its "Morning Edition" news show. I wake up to NPR every day. I listen to it in the shower.

It's the first button on my car radio. I've set up automatic monthly contributions to my public radio station, so I'll be supporting it till the day I die, and maybe after.

In short, I think congressional Republicans are badly mistaken in denouncing public radio as a contemptible source of liberal propaganda and snooty elitism that the nation would be better off without. It's a national treasure, in my view.

And their proposal to eliminate all federal funding for public broadcasting? I'm all for it.

Federal support for public radio and TV goes back to 1967. President Lyndon Johnson, in the salad days of the Great Society, signed a measure creating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

"While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth," he declared with his usual grandiosity, "we want most of all to enrich man's spirit." For that, he assumed, government funding was indispensable.

That attitude may have made sense in a universe of three TV networks and AM radio—before the proliferation of cable channels, before DVDs, before multiplexes, before the Internet, before satellite radio, before iPhone apps.

Today, there is a multitude of electronic means in which people may enrich their spirits. Public affairs programming has never been easier to find. Cultural fare is available in wild profusion. Americans who once had to rely on local outlets for news and entertainment can tap a vast array of sources from all over the world.

Your spirit can feast to the point of gluttony. Amid all these options that flourish on their own, it's hard to see why Washington should divert tax dollars to prop up two—public radio and television.

Yes, they provide something of value. But so does many other media. A lot of Americans think Fox News offers something crucial that did not exist before—a conservative news alternative to the other networks. No one thinks, however, the federal government should have provided the startup funding.

For that matter, major newspapers have long provided far-flung, in-depth reporting that Americans would have trouble finding anywhere else. But when the media environment changed, to their detriment, Congress didn't put them on the dole.

Those organizations had to decide what coverage their readers truly valued and were willing to pay for, and then find more creative, less costly ways to provide it. Some newspapers even went out of business.

But public broadcasting stalwarts have no patience with demands that it forgo welfare. The amount that could be saved, $430 million, is so small that "it's not going to make one iota's difference in the deficit," scoffs Patricia Harrison, president of the CPB.

Actually, $430 million amounts to at least a couple of iotas. If it's a trivial sum, would Democrats be willing to provide a matching grant to Fox News?

Public broadcasting is perfectly capable of supporting itself. In a typical week, some 27 million people listen to NPR. Many of them also kick in to support their local stations. In a pinch, they could do more. The typical NPR household had an annual income of $86,000 in 2009, far surpassing the $55,000 national average.

Doing without federal help would also take public broadcasting out of pointless political battles. If a commercial network fires a commentator, it doesn't invite members of Congress to protest. But when NPR canned Juan Williams, Republicans on Capitol Hill thought it was their business. They had a point.

Defenders of public broadcasting subsidies raise the specter of its most beloved shows, like "Sesame Street," going extinct. But even if PBS went out of business, which is unlikely, its most popular shows (if not all of its shows) would quickly find new homes.

Yet we continue to treat it and NPR like helpless children. Public broadcasting has been the object of federal help for more than 40 years. It's big enough and old enough to stand on its own.


NEXT: Also, Don't Eat the Large Mints

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  1. Good morning reason!

    The Grandy Group is now Grandyless:

    Another victim of the Muslim Brotherhood in America.

    1. More:…..f-wmal-am/

      CAIR gets Fred Grandy yanked off WMAL-AM

      Those inside the Beltway know Fred Grandy’s cheerful bright morning talk on WMAL-AM. Those outside the beltway know him as a Congressman, Gopher or star of the Monster Squad. But he somehow offended the thin sensibilities of the Council of American Islamic Relations, enough to get yanked off the air.

      WMAL has a reputation for caving to this group. They did the same thing to Boston talker Michael Graham when he was at WMAL.

      Posted at 5:43 pm on March 2nd, 2011

      1. Fucking cowards.

        Fuck CAIR.

  2. Ahh, libertopians. Unable to see market failures that are sitting on their face.

    “free rider” *cough* *cough*

    1. Which is why they need to stand on their own, live or die. But you knew that, right, Tony?

      1. Chad is a collectivist, at best, and despises the private sector. So, of course he’s in favor of “public” broadcasting.

      2. The key to understanding Chad is that when he says “market failure,” what he means is “a market outcome I don’t like.”

        1. There’s no need to understand Chad, just as the only thing schoolkids need to be tught about socialism and communism is “they are both evil”.

    2. Chad trots out evidence of his misunderstanding both of freeridership and of “market failure”, whatever that means.

      Since he fails to explain the latter, I’ll do so for him. “Market failure” is what you cry when you want something but no one will give to you for the price you’re willing to pay. “A market outcome I don’t like”, as Ballchinian notes. “Market failure” is a slogan of parasites.

      As for free ridership: What the blogroach fails to understand is that listening to public radio and TV imposes no marginal costs on the broadcaster whatever, nor even wear and tear on the broadcaster’s capital.

      So what Chad meant by “free rider” in this case is “somebody smart enough not to buy sunshine when it shows up at your house for free.” And it just so happens that both the transmissions and sunshine are EM radiation.

      Blogroach Chad should confess that his complaint was motivated by nothing more substanatial than bitterness and resentment.

      Terminate the funding.

  3. It’s [NPR] big enough and old enough to stand on its own.

    Just as long as Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, stay on the air.

    1. I’ve had enough of their forced laughter to last me a lifetime

      1. I agree completely. These cafones are nothing more than concelebrants of their own “wit.” But wait: they have DEGREES from MIT or some such place, and are therefore eminently qualified to represent NPR.

        A FAR better auto advice program can be heard on WOR, New York, at 2:00 each Saturday- The Car Doctor.

    2. Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me isn’t half bad usually.

    3. Are they flat tappet or roller tappets?

  4. But public broadcasting stalwarts have no patience with demands that it forgo welfare.

    I would pay any amount to hear Eleanor Clift differentiate herself from the public sector unions currently leeching taxpayers dry and justify her miserable existence, then give her the ole heave ho. The missing Weird Sister has more than sullied the public sector airwaves with her shrill vitriol. In fact, the rest of the Geriatric Park that is White House Chronicles, Washington Insider (why hasn’t that blimp Germond keeled over yet?), and To the Contrary, along with their token neo-cons. Too bad, they couldn’t keep WorldFocus; Daljit alone made PBS worth watching.

    As McLaughlin would say, “Bye Bye!”

  5. I live in the Adirondack Mt. region of NY state.I happily donated to Vermont public radio until the mid 1980’s. I finally tired of hearing how evil the Reagan administration was. I still listen to them, I say them because PBS has saturated AM & FM with their stations.
    I am heartened to hear Garrison Keillor hawking some of the same products as Rush Limbaugh. Free markets are a great equalizer.

    1. Garrison Keillor has the most annoying cadence ever. Especially when he reads poetry. That’s the only time my car radio strays from NPR. I just can’t take the awkward, ill-timed pauses!

      1. omg my morning commute is not complete without Writer’s Alamanac!

      2. People still use the radio receiver in the cars? Ya know, for ~$75 you can pop in a new dash unit that lets you plug in your favorite audio storage device.

    2. Dude, they were right about Reagan.

  6. Okay, can we once have someone stop saying, “I’m a man, therefore I watch sports. Teehee!” Watching sports isn’t manly at all. Playing them is more like it. Or mention hunting, woodcutting, getting your wife pregnant, or doing 30 pullups in a row. Plenty of shit is more manly than getting fat and watching rich dudes chase after a ball.

    Good article otherwise.

    1. Thanks to title IX, playing sports is equally manly and womanly.

      1. Disagree. It just created an artificial market for female athletes.

        1. No, it didn’t. Title IX was about school sports, not pro sports.

          1. Title IX was about school sports

            This is true Jen. However, do the female sports expositions sell more tickets than the boys sports expositions? Which is more likely to be self-sustaining from a business point of view: men’s football or women’s softball?

            1. Doesn’t really matter with school sports, because public schools aren’t businesses. Anyway, I don’t remember ever buying a ticket to see a school sporting event below the college level. And these sporting events are equally attended, because it’s generally the parents of the athletes attending them.

              1. I don’t know where you’re from, but around here it would be insane to compare attendance at high school football games to attendance at any other high school sport. They aren’t even remotely equally attended.

                1. That’s true, but you’re misinterpreting Title IX if you believe that’s relevant. Comparing football to field hockey is a non sequitur in this discussion. Title IX says schools need to offer the same sports for female students, and if there isn’t enough interest to field an entire team, girls need to be allowed to try out for the boys’ team. According to Title IX, a high school football game would be a co-ed sport, provided that any girls were interested in playing and qualified for the team.

                  DNS’s anology about baseball vs. softball was far more apt, and my answer to his is: on the high school level, YES, they are equally attended and, more importantly, equally participated in.

                  1. Just realized DNS was comparing football and not baseball to softball. So you were both off the mark.

                    1. Sorry, Jen, but Title IX is more trouble than it’s worth.

                      If women *want* to play sports… let them. Artificially rigging the male/female ratio is just wrong.

                    2. Title IX doesn’t artificially rig the male/female ratio. Seriously, where are you people coming from? Have you ever read anything about Title IX or seen it in action? Where is there a single school where the male/female ratio has been forced to be even in sports?

                      In 1970, only 1 out of every 27 high school girls played varsity sports. Today, that figure is one in 2.5. Female high school participation increased from 294,015 in 1971 to 2,472,043 in 1997. College participation has more than tripled, from 31,000 to 128,208. There is nothing “artificial” about that.

          2. I was referring to college sports (and, for that matter, high school). By “market”, I menat that colleges had to now go and create women’s sports that would otherwise not have existed, and find females to offer scholarships to. Therefore, “artificial market” created by regulatory fiat.

            1. That’s not what Title IX requires. Schools are only required to create a women’s sports program if enough female student express a desire not to participate. In other words, these are not sports that would “otherwise not have existed.” They are sports that students want to play. If no female students care to play a sport, the program isn’t created.

    2. Thank you, Jeff. The first thing I cut on in my hotel is C-SPAN or C-SPAN 2 if it’s a weekend. I need my manly Book TV before I go do pullups.

    3. thanks Jeff, i wondered if there was any other guy that is just so tired of this stereotype…
      my favorite: “Biff, you look so depressed!”
      “Oh Barf, ‘my’ team lost yesterday!”
      “Oh no, not ‘your’ Philadelphia Pharts, not again!”
      “Yes, and I don’t how I can go on living, but I’m a FAN I’ll support them to the end… even if they change their name and move to another city, keep their worthless coach, financially support thugs, wifebeaters, dog killers, ect.,ect…..

  7. I am so with Chapman on this one and I’m so glad to see someone else who thinks the same way. Always have been, AAMOF. Yeah, NPR should support itself. Let’s get that out of the way up front.

    And yeah, its programming is great. I still remember the first NPR program I ever heard – a piece on the rattan industry in Sumatra, fer crissake. Snor-ore, right? Wrong, it was fascinating and I’ve been hooked on NPR’s esoteric pieces on obscure topics ever since. Its more mainstream stuff is excellent too.

    I have always puzzled over it’s reputation for lefty politics, an idea which I obviously think is overwrought. Even though a somewhat lefty slant might come through the programming occasionally, I can’t remember ever coming away from an NPR program grinding my teeth over its “left-wing” political bias (and I’m a conservative, libertarian, nationalist hawk, though you can call me a right-winger if you wish).

    This viewpoint has just never been a particularly salient feature in what I hear on NPR, as best I’ve been able to tell in a couple of decades of listening. Sure, some of its commentators have that annoying demeanor and vocal tone ala the SNL parody, and sure it did regularly feature Daniel Schorr, and yes NPR did fire Juan Williams, and I even read somewhere that Terri Gross is a left-winger – notwithstanding the fact that she is one of the best interviewers in the business.

    So maybe Gross is even the paradigm for NPR, I don’t know. I don’t care – I’ll listen to her, and NPR, any time.

    1. You weren’t wearing enough tinfoil apparently.

      1. That’s the lifetime premiere of my being accused of being a tinfoiler. LOL, you’re slaying me.

        1. I inferred that you are NOT a tinfoiler. The tinfoil would protect against NPR’s brainwashing. I gotta relearn english apparently.

          1. Well, no, you implied that he was a tinfoiler, but half-assed about it. Otherwise, you would have said “you should have worn tinfoil”, instead of “You weren’t wearing enough tinfoil”

          2. Not particularly clear, amigo. But I appreciate the compliment. Speaking of that English thing, I think incidentally that the word you wanted is “implied” – that, or I really have no idea WTF you’re talking about.

            1. That reply was to Wylie

            2. Ok, you caught me, i don’t know the difference between an inference and an implication.

              I agree with cynical’s correction. That’s what I was going for.

              1. Wasn’t trying to “catch” you – only to understand you. Anyway, we’re all happy now. Ain’t it great.

                1. Now that my subsidized unicorn finally arrived, yes.

      2. Where the fuck do you get tin foil?

        1. At the tin foil store, you dope.

        2. omg, SORRY

          Aluminium Foil

          1. Is that like cuprium and aurium? Frickin’ Brits.

          2. There is a difference.

            1. It has to be TIN! Aluminum foil makes the rays stronger. I know…

    2. You haven’t been listening to Diane Rehm, then.

      Or Left, Right, and Center, which features David Brooks and Tony Blankley on the Right, some commie on the Left, and that model of political objectivism, Arianna Huffington, in the Center

      But my personal pet peeve about NPR is the intentional pretentious mispronunciations. Yesterday morning, while local AM was on commercials, I heard some art museum schmuck pronounce “metamorphosis” as “met-a-mor-PHO-sis” with a deliberate British affectation. It’s stuff like that that makes me want reach through the radio and choke ’em. Sure, it’s completely inane and meaningless, but it really gets under my skin for some reason.

      1. You’re right – never listened to Diane Rehm.

        Hmmm, Huffington, Blankley and Brooks – Left, Right and Center. Sounds pretty balanced to me. So the complaint here is that they dare to have shows that feature Lefties? Hey, I hate ’em as much as you do. But I don’t get too nervous about a network that has Arianna go up against Blankley.

        1. You think Brooks is a righty?

          1. Observe the parallel construction up there, friend. I clearly think he is a “centery”.

        2. Would rather listen to cats being beaten with sticks

      2. Scruffy:
        Where DO they find these Faux Brits anyway?

  8. Imagine a world where we have no subsidies for NPR?
    Why not just imagine a world where Mara Liasson is scavenging for cans in the trash.

  9. No one thinks, however, the federal government should have provided the startup funding [for Fox News].

    The *bailout* funding, perhaps. 😉

  10. Speaking of public broadcasting, some of the biggest fans of the BBC in my experience live in North America. When the usual BBC tax arguments arise in some internet forum, they are the its biggest supporters. When I make the offer to them to pay for a single individuals BBC license the response is usually a deafening silence.

    1. As an ex-colony, I can’t see why America wouldn’t support watching limey programming while making the limes pay for it.

  11. President Lyndon Johnson, in the salad days of the Great Society, signed a measure creating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    “While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth,” he declared with his usual grandiosity, “we want most of all to enrich man’s spirit.” For that, he assumed, government funding was indispensable.

    Tell me again how lateral wealth redistribution schemes create new wealth? Particularly when the new entity lacks a self-sustaining mechanism?

    1. If the money goes in my pocket, more wealth was created in my world.

  12. Is federal communications a free market? Does the government not impose massive barriers to entry? In fact, does it not have a freeze on new radio stations and television stations? In a case like that, is it not acceptable to subsidize a company like NPR that could prosper in a truly free market?

  13. Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t the whole idea behind the Corporation For Public Broadcasting to provide the Nation with an independent source of news?

    In other words, hasn’t it been an absurdity from day one? The very idea that a media entity run on Government funds would be independent is ridiculous ….. an idiocy only a Statist could commit.

    But then I have little patience for the old Media Bias debate. Is the Media still run by human beings instead of Seraphim? Then it is biased; deal with it. Don’t like the bias? Buy some newspapers and a TV network!

    As for the “That sum is too small to matter” argument; I wish I could force every world-weary pol who tells me that to part with 1% of the sums involved; I’d retire in luxury. Half the problem in Washington is that it is inhabited by parasites who consider anything under a billion dollars to be chump change.

  14. There’s no reason for public broadcasting, liberals may think they care about “quality” over ratings, but what kind of business model is that?

    Would a restaurant with “quality” food that tastes like crap survive without government assistance? Of course not!

    PBS is a bad dish, the Haaavad and Ivy League progressives make enough money to afford the cable bill everyone is paying. Let them establish the Progressive Broadcasting Network with their own money.

    1. By all evidence, delivering quality broadcast journalism doesn’t seem to be the most profitable enterprise in the world.

      Whether they actually need public funding or not, it’s hard to deny that the public broadcasters, radio and TV, deliver the best news compared to the for-profit alternatives.

      1. hey, no news is good news.

        1. i know i’m going to miss that cute little comedy show “All Things Considered”…

      2. If you think NPR/PBS is so great then pay for it your own damnn self. Leave my dollars out of it.

      3. Hahahahaha.

        Shut the fuck up.

      4. What is quality anyway? Is boring quality? Is dull and annoying quality? Some episodes of Frontline are good, but there boring compared to anything on The History Channel and Stossel on FBN.

        60 Minutes is supposed to be a quality show, yet is boring. Meet the Press is supposed to be quality, yet again, booooring. The truth is that the best judge of quality is the mass market, does that mean that movies like Jackass will be made? Sure, but it also means quality movies like Gone with the Wind, Saw, Friday the 13th, Amadeus, The Last Emperor, etc, etc, etc.

        In the end, we don’t need government defining, promoting or supporting quality, we can do that perfectly well for ourselves, thank you very much.

        Trump Vegas offers dog massages at $150 each.…..sages.html

        1. Wait, what? Friday the 13th is a quality movie? When I watched it I was nearly doubled over laughing at how ridiculous it is.

  15. So which muppets get laid off? I’m betting Prairie Dawn gets the axe…

    1. So which muppets get laid off?

      None. They’re unionized. Except for Oscar the Grouch, who has squatter’s rights.

      1. Oscar looks like he’d fit right in with the Sanitaion Workers International…

    2. Ms Piggy will be forced into turning tricks, they’ll have to eat big bird…oh, the humanity (oh, the foam rubber?)

      1. or vice versa…

  16. Of course PBS should not receive government money. With that said:

    PBS TV is largely insufferable, and I rarely watch any more. Radio is slightly less wretched, so I’ll listen on occasion for the quirky, REALLY INTERESTING stuff you never hear anywhere else, as Ice Nine noted.

    But I resolutely refuse to give them a “donation” as long as they get tax $$ from me. Never have, and will not as long as they receive my tax $$.

    1. Doesn’t it seem like “Black History Month” comes along about three times a year?

      1. racist

        1. We’re all black now.

  17. “It’s time for the government subsidies to end.” Gee, so soon, did you figure that out all by yourself?

  18. NPR “Supported by listeners like you… (wait for it)… and [insert commercial here]” Commercial-free my goddamn ass.
    Sorry, they’re in their spring fund drive right now here and I’m just about sick of listening to it. Ask their sponsors for more money if they need it the damn panhandlers.

  19. Speaking of public broadcasting, some of the biggest fans of the BBC in my experience live in North America. When the usual BBC tax arguments arise in some internet forum, they are the its biggest supporters. When I make the offer to them to pay for a single individuals BBC license the response is usually a deafening silence.

  20. Commerical free, my ass. They always mention their non-governmental corporate sponsorship in the most glowing terms. Like giving to PBS is akin to helping cure cancer or feed the hungry.

  21. Well if NPR and PBS are really worth anything then they will and need to stand on their own.


  22. There are about four public radio shows I can’t live without. I listen primarily on my ipod and would gladly pay more for them (I already support them) if they lost funding. It would so be worth it to get rid of the pledge drives. Who in their right mind thinks pledge drives are better than commercials?

  23. I enjoy watching PBS, particularly Nova and Nature (at least while they aren’t chanting “mankind is destroying the world – woe, woe, woe”). Some of the Frontline documentaries are first rate.

    TBS, I think I should pony up the dough to pay for it myself, not put the US taxpayer on the hook.

    [Before anyone asks, Canadian Cable and Satellite carriers all provide at least one PBS station. I get Seattle and Detroit PBS. (My condolences to a certain former naval person on much of the content of the latter.)]

  24. This analysis omits something vital about public broadcasting’s ability to stand on its own: the cost of licenses. If public broadcasting had to pay retail for their licenses, they would quickly cease to exist; and if the stations hit on hard times, the temptation to sell to a commercial broadcaster would be immense. This nearly happened with KOCE a while ago.

  25. NPR is filled with about 65% boring fake intellectual fart smelling crap and 30% collectivist statist politics and 5% car talk. Probably rounding up on that last one though.

  26. I try to listen to NPR, but either their microphones are too sensitive or they stand too close to them; I get distracted by the sounds of their mouths moving. Very unsettling.

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  28. there is a multitude of electronic means in which people may bottes timberland femme enrich their spirits. Public affairs programming has never been easier to find.

  29. Steve Chapman is mistaken to donate to his public radio station. They are taxfeeders, so he’s rewarding bad behavior.

    Furthermore, he could enjoy it whether or not he donates. So why pay until the radio station’s management grows up and admits the impropriety of accepting extorted wealth?

    Also misguided is his argument for ending subsidies. There’s a glut of options from which to choose, he observes. The CPB and its affiliates can stand on their own, he added.

    But both of these are rooted in rationalizations. If people had wanted a new network in 1967, they should have been willing to pay for it theirselves. And if they aren’t now willing to support it, it should be permitted to die. So just terminate the funding and move on to bigger problems…

    …like military communism.

  30. $430M here, $430 there and soon you’re talking about serious money.

  31. By their own admissions (during their fund drives), NPR gets only about 10% of their funding from the government. They should be willing to give this up to be fully independent. Let the listeners and corporations who already provide 90% of the funding make up the difference.

    The biggest source of funding for NPR is corporate America. It would not hurt anyone to provide another few minutes of underwriting promos (can’t call them commercials on NPR) each week.

  32. Whoa…since when did you guys start doing game commentary?

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