Television

Will Donald Trump Cut Public Broadcasting Loose, Or Will He Decide He's the Man to Make It Great Again?

A predictable debate meets an unpredictable president.

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Sesame Street

The press is aflutter with talk that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting may be headed for the chopping block. More specifically, The Hill informs us that Trump staffers have been "discussing" the "privatization" of the CPB.

In other words, we don't actually know what's happening. "Discussing" means the administration hasn't settled on a plan; "privatization" could take many forms. Nor do we know how any particular proposal will play out politically. Usually I roll my eyes during these debates, knowing that for all the apocalyptic rhetoric they inspire they have invariably ended with the CPB still in the budget. Occasionally it gets a funding cut, but even those tend to be erased within a few years. But as you may have noticed, our new president is unpredictable. Given all the allegedly impossible things that have happened lately, you can't just assume past will be prologue, even if the forces that have kept the CPB alive in the past are still at work.

That said: The forces that have kept the CPB alive in the past are quite definitely still at work.

Back in 2011, when congressional Republicans were threatening to cut off NPR's money because it had fired Juan Williams, I offered a brief tour through the history of the We're Going To Defund Public Broadcasting show. The Williams spat, I wrote, was a more exciting hook for the drama

than the one Richard Nixon used in 1971, when presidential pique at the Eastern liberals who dominated PBS spurred him to propose a "return to localism" that would have kneecapped the crowd in charge of the system. On the other hand, it doesn't have the cloak-and-dagger spirit that the State Department flunky Otto Reich brought to the play in 1985, right after Ronald Reagan's reelection, when he met with NPR staffers in a smoky little room and warned them that the White House thought they were "Moscow on the Potomac." Nor is it as colorful as the 1993 spectacle starring Bob Dole and David Horowitz, who attacked the radical Pacifica network rather than NPR, providing an opportunity to quote a much weirder series of statements than anything in the Juan Williams kerfuffle. ("We didn't have Satan before the white man. So the white man is Satan himself.")

And the exclusive focus on NPR this time around means the stakes don't feel as high as they did in 1994, when Speaker-elect Gingrich started musing that he might "zero out" the entire public broadcasting budget. A decade later, a House subcommittee heightened the dramatic tension by voting to eliminate federal support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) altogether. That element of danger was a suspenseful touch.

While there are Republicans who honestly think the government shouldn't be in the business of subsidizing public broadcasters, there are more Republicans—or, at least, more powerful Republicans—who just think the government should be subsidizing a slightly different group of public broadcasters. As I wrote in 2011, "The system was still standing after Nixon made his threats, but all save one of the programs he found objectionable went off the air. After the Gingrich-era battle ended, the Republican pundits Fred Barnes, Peggy Noonan, and Ben Wattenberg all landed gigs at PBS—and following an initial cut, the CPB's budget crept back upward. The funding fight under George W. Bush took place against the backdrop of a conservative CPB chief crusading for a more right-friendly PBS and NPR." (*) These exercises may not cut public broadcasters loose, but they do whip them into line.

Sesame Street

Needless to say, it would be completely in character for Trump to try a trick like that. (Sample scenario: He ruminates about funding cuts, PBS adds a MAGA voice or two to its lineup, and then the president declares public television a great American institution.) On the other hand, it would also be in character for Trump to endorse a privatization plan as a painless concession to the more free-market wing of the Republican coalition. It's doubtful, after all, that he has strong personal views one way or the other about the issue. Defunding some small programs that conservatives love to grouse about might give him some brownie points when he amps up spending elsewhere.

So: no predictions. At the very least, let's wait to see what the actual proposal says.

Bonus links: To see me arguing, in a point/counterpoint with an NPR vice president, that noncommercial broadcasting would be better off without the interference that these subsidies bring, go here. For a pre-CPB example of the government using its pursestrings to influence public broadcasters, go here. For a paper I wrote many years ago about CPB subsidies undermining independent community radio, go here. For a piece I did on the history of Sesame Street, go here. For some outtakes from that article—including the story of the time one of the show's creators mistook Jim Henson for a member of the Weather Underground—go here.

(* Interestingly, the CPB chief in question—Ken Tomlinson—later told me that he'd like to "get tax money out of CPB." But he felt that if there was to be public funding, he wanted "balance" in how it was spent. Whatever his personal preferences were, you could make a good case that his push for balance made the GOP less interested in fighting the funding.)

NEXT: Anthony L. Fisher on Red Eye Tonight, Talking Trump Protests, Spicer Pressers, and Naked Fitness

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  1. The press is aflutter with talk that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting may be headed for the chopping block. More specifically,

    Funding so inconsequential, it’s barely a drop in the bucket of PBS’s budget. Which is why it’s so important, because without that funding, PBS will collapse.

    1. Or be completely funded by the Kochs…

    2. Don’t they still have the ability to sell old people every single season of Rick Steve’s Europe?

    3. PBS could easily operate without federal funding. Everything that can be said of should be out. Among other things.

  2. who just think the government should be subsidizing a slightly different group of public broadcasters

    This would be my guess. Related: it’s time for me to dust off my old show idea, which is titled “Great Americans And The America They Made Great.”

    The ball is in your court, Trump.

    1. I used to like that show Real People. That was probably before you were born. Now get off my lawn! Anyway, they could make a new show titled ‘Real Trumpkins’. It would be yuuugggeee!

      1. I used to like that show Real People.

        Is it this one, Hyp?

        It seems to me that one of the interviewees speaks to self-responsibility near the end of the segment.

        1. Yeah, you know, folks were really bored back than on account of there were no intertoobz.

          1. ‘then’

  3. I used to listen to NPR all the time at work as background noise–even though I disagreed with them.

    I can’t stand the sound of them anymore.

    It’s gotten much worse than it used to be.

    I used to watch the McNeil Lehrer News Hour all the time, too. Now that Lehrer is gone, it’s a shit show.

    I’d be interested to see Bannon weigh in on this. Apart from NPR, right wing talk owns the airwaves.

    It’s like my take on Trump not doing hardly any press conferences with the White House press corps. Why should he?

    He doesn’t need them for anything. He was elected over their objections. They hate him.

    So does NPR. Why not throw them under the bus? What are they going to do? Suddenly go anti-Trump? They’re already anti-Trump 24/7. Isn’t that all they do between episodes of This American Life and reruns of Car Talk?

  4. Oh no, not National Proggy Radio. Where will I get my news?

  5. First they came for Bert & Ernie and I said nothing because I watched Nick Jr. as a child…

    1. I used to be for illegal immigration before they started calling them dreamers. Now I hate all illegal immigrants and the asshats who made up that stupid fucking term. Proggies are at their best when they keep their fucking yaps shut.

      1. Welcome. I’ve always hated illegal immigrants. Pro tip: proggies seem to lose their fondness for illegals, too, right after their toddler’s SSN is stolen by one. Nothing heals the drip of a bleeding heart like an illegal piece of Mexishit who racks up a bunch of traffic tickets and opens several credit cards and a HELOC in their kid’s name.

        1. I wasn’t being serious. I don’t hate illegal immigrants. I just hate the assholes who made up that dreamer term.

        2. How silly can you get? You’re complaining that illegals steal SSNs is the same as complaining that illegal drugs are dangerous because kids go to jail.

          If crossing the border wasn’t illegal, they’d have no reason to steal SSNs.

          Go duel with a proggie, they can’t think either.

          1. If crossing the border wasn’t illegal, they’d have no reason to steal SSNs.

            There’s a big fucking difference between hopping the border and stealing a identity. Unless you, absent all thought, believe that identity theft is a victimless crime.

            To attempt to smooth over the legit crime that is being committed is like saying that you’re not at fault for plowing into the car in front of you in the intersection because the light was green.

            1. Reading comprehension, how does it work?

              Hint: it’s ok to read out loud if you have to.

  6. I wish Reason had covered the “Open Letter to Trump from the US Press Corps” that ran in the Columbia Journalism Review last week.

    It’s basically a collective letter from the White House press corp declaring open war on Donald Trump for daring to deny them office space in the White House.

    Read it for yourself, here:

    http://www.cjr.org/covering_tr….._corps.php

  7. Choice excerpts:

    “Reports over the last few days that your press secretary is considering pulling news media offices out of the White House are the latest in a pattern of behavior that has persisted throughout the campaign: You’ve banned news organizations from covering you.”

    . . . .

    “You may decide that giving reporters access to your administration has no upside.”

    . . . .

    “That does not mean we are required to turn our airwaves or column inches over to people who repeatedly distort or bend the truth. We will call them out when they do, and we reserve the right, in the most egregious cases, to ban them from our outlets.”

    . . .

    “while you may seek to control what comes out of the West Wing, we’ll have the upper hand in covering how your policies are carried out.

    . . .

    “We now recognize that the challenge of covering you requires that we cooperate and help one another whenever possible. So, when you shout down or ignore a reporter at a press conference who has said something you don’t like, you’re going to face a unified front.”

    . . . .

    “We’re playing the long game. Best-case scenario, you’re going to be in this job for eight years. We’ve been around since the founding of the republic.”

    http://www.cjr.org/covering_tr….._corps.php

    1. These are the people America depends on for “news”.

      According to Gallup, our opinion of them may never have been lower than it is now.

      http://www.gallup.com/poll/195…..w-low.aspx

      Does anyone wonder why?

      If there were ever a politically opportune time to get rid of NPR, it’s now.

      1. There’s a local radio station here that I sometimes listen to on the way home from work. There’s a guy on there who has a show where he has locals to call in and comment on whatever proggy issue is the topic for the day. My lord, the people calling in are so fucking dumb it’s hard to believe that they actually were able to use a phone to call in. I actually thought it was satire the first coupe of times I heard it. But no, it’s not.

      2. I was laughing about some stupid proggie stunt this morning with a co-worker, said the media complaints about unfair treatment are laughable because they bent over backwards so much for Obama and Hillary that they get no sympathy from me. He said I must be listening to too many left wing news programs because he’s heard plenty of criticism of Obama on mainstream news.

        That kind of shut me up. I don’t watch TV or listen to radio, just various blogs and google news. Google news probably claims to be neutral, and maybe they are in most ways, and the news sure was sucking up to Obama and Hillary. Their outrage at every little insult, their burying of the email server scandals, their outrage at the FBI October surprise, all was palpable. If my co-worker can’t see the bias, he must be …. one ….. of …. them ….. and there’s no point in trying to discuss it with him.

        1. If he’s talking about Fox, then yeah, there was. Outside of that, almost none.

    2. “We reserve the right to throw impotent rages like petulant children because our privileged status as the gatekeepers of the American collective conscious is evaporating.”

      Cool story bros.

      1. They’re saying they’re going to ban certain people from the news?

        They’re promising to go after his policy implementations?

        They’re offering a united front?

        Why should we trust anything these people say about Trump.

        Here are the people in the White House press corp: a list of networks and reporters.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ White_House_press_corps

        “Why Trump should bother to talk to them–ever?”, is a secondary question at this point.

        The bigger question is, “Why should we believe any of them on anything they ever say about President Trump?”

        1. The mainstream media are already highly disliked and highly untrusted. The likely outcome of Trump treating them like unwanted orphans is to increase his popularity.

          1. There’s no downside to him treating them like shit. I even told someone that despite me not agreeing with him on much, it’s great to see the legacy media being shat upon. They have gotten away with their bullshit for far too long.

    3. If I was in Trump’s position, I would probably read that letter during the daily press briefing in a condescending tone and then proceed to rip them apart.

      Especially if they couldn’t beat me during the election despite them lying and throwing their objectivity out the window. It would probably make me popular with my base and it would perhaps force the journalists to finally do their jobs with some sort of standards and integrity or make them lose their shit and destroying what little trust the American public has for the media.

      1. I have never seen the press so despised.

        It’s part of the wider reaction to elitism that brought Trump to power.

        That poll was taken in September before some of the worst crap came out in the media.

        Before Pissgate and all of that. I’m sure the national opinion of the press has fallen ever further since September.

        Yeah, he’s got little to lose by beating up on the White House press corp–or shutting them out.

        1. Someone asked me why I don’t watch the news and I responded it gets pretty old when you see a newscaster or journalist misrepresent your views and not only that but constantly lie so they can push their own narrative under the guise of objectivity. I’m bullshitted enough already so I don’t need to use my leisure time for someone else to bullshit to me.

    4. “We’re playing the long game. Best-case scenario, you’re going to be in this job for eight years. We’ve been around since the founding of the republic.””

      Humm, wait…New York Times to vacate ‘at least eight floors’ in Manhattan headquarters

      Hey reports, since you didn’t do your job and no-one trusts you – you might not be around in 8 years.

      I just want the facts and a neutral article.

  8. Why did they put on blond hair on the Gillespie muppet? Is it so we don’t confuse it with the real thing?

  9. I love how the image has both Trump and Nick Gillespie with an obvious dye job sporting the Jacket.

  10. Fuck NPR. If they want funding, make them go door to door like NHK in Japan does. Make people hand over cash in person and you’ll see how much support they really have.

  11. ‘You Can Cut Big Bird, But Don’t You Dare Touch Funding For Planned Parenthood’

    -Reason headline from the near future

  12. So PBS maybe was relevant when there were 3 other channels on TV and no internet. How can they possibly only stay in business by robbing people at gunpoint for money?

    (Well that’s what taxes are you progs)

  13. Can’t wait for Trump-approved public tv programs.

  14. The more WAMU replaces Bluegrass Country with NPR, the less sympathy I have for public broadcasting.

  15. Cut it loose. If it can’t swim, let it sink.

  16. I’m always surprised people don’t post the numbers during these discussions!

    Corporation for Public Broadcasting 2014 Federal Government appropriation: $445 Million
    An endowment of $8.9 billion would be needed to throw off enough interest to fund it, based on 5% ROI.

    Hey while at it, throw in the $553 million budget for Planned Parenthood and get to a nice cool Billion. Endowment needed at 5% to fund a billion? 20 Billion.

    The richest liberals have a net worth of $427 Billion. They could do this easily.

    Rich guys’ net worth, in billions
    1. Bill Gates 75
    2. Amancio Ortega 67
    3. Warren Buffett 61
    4. Carlos Slim Helu 50
    5. Jeff Bezos 45
    6. Mark Zuckerberg 45
    7. Larry Ellison 44
    8. Michael Bloomberg 40

    I say, let liberal billionaires fund CPB and Planned Parenthood.

  17. I’m always surprised people don’t post the numbers during these discussions!

    Corporation for Public Broadcasting 2014 Federal Government appropriation: $445 Million
    An endowment of $8.9 billion would be needed to throw off enough interest to fund it, based on 5% ROI.

    Hey while at it, throw in the $553 million budget for Planned Parenthood and get to a nice cool Billion. Endowment needed at 5% to fund a billion? 20 Billion.

    The richest liberals have a net worth of $427 Billion. They could do this easily.

    Rich guys’ net worth, in billions
    1. Bill Gates 75
    2. Amancio Ortega 67
    3. Warren Buffett 61
    4. Carlos Slim Helu 50
    5. Jeff Bezos 45
    6. Mark Zuckerberg 45
    7. Larry Ellison 44
    8. Michael Bloomberg 40

    I say, let liberal billionaires fund CPB and Planned Parenthood.

  18. It can only be GREAT if it is INDEPENDENT.
    End the funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting!

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