Should Government Fund Public Broadcasting?

Friday, October 05, 2012


Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said in Wednesday's debate that, if elected, he'd end the use of taxpayer money to support public media. Should we? In 2010, editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie told Brooke that yes, we should. On the other side, New Yorker editor Steve Coll told Bob why public radio should continue to receive some taxpayer support.  

Emiliana Torrini - Gun


Steve Coll and Nick Gillespie

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone

Comments [19]

Fred Leonard from Philadelphia

Brooke's interview is the worst I've heard on public radio since Terry Gross lost her cool with Bill O'Reilly. It is filled with false assumptions, straw men and red herrings. It crossed the line from interview to cross examination and then the line to debate.

First: Because public radio is good and serves an important function, does not mean in must receive public funding. I would not be averse to a system like that used in Britain. The one we have in the US is the worst possible compromise, which does not provide adequate funding nor insulation from either commercial or political pressures.

Second: Brooke assumes public radio is not driven by the bottom line. Wrong! Public radio stations may not have stockholders but their managers are rewarded for good financial performance. Instead of paying dividends, many public radio stations invest in various profit-making ventures (yes, including WNYC).

Third: Public radio's primary source of revenue is not the CPB or "listeners like you." It is corporate sponsorships. Public radio stations keep pushing the fine line separating "enhanced underwriting" from advertising. Not only is public radio filled with announcements stopping just short of a call to action, corporations or industry organizations sponsor "reporting" on their areas of interest.

This segment shows how poorly the media do in holding on to their vaunted principles when they are the subject. Somebody needs to take a real "fair and balanced" look at how public radio operates and is financed. I am disappointed that this week, OTM did not do so.

Public broadcasting's reaction to any suggestion of losing government funding shows (again) how addictive government money can be. People give a dollar to a mortgager, whether they can afford it or not - to get a tax deduction of less than 30 cents. And public broadcasting panics at the thought of cutting the cord of government money in fear of discovering it doesn't really need it.

What would public radio be like if instead of a closed and unelected board running things, stations were mutual corporations with boards elected by station members rather some elite fraternity which picks it own members?

Oct. 12 2012 02:04 PM
Gerry Kahn from Snottsdale Arizona

I started working at a Pacifica station in the 70's at the same time Carlin's 7 words were in front of the Supremes. There was a sense at the time that public broadcasting served an important public good. Since the Gingrich Revolution however public broadcasting has lost its relevance. Living in fear of defunding it is impossible to imagine any public broadcasting outlet stepping out to actually serve that same public good. Its time to cast off public broadcasting for its own good. Give it the independence it needs to do what it does best.

Oct. 11 2012 12:58 PM

The short answer is yes, but only if PBS is held accountable for discrimination in their hiring practices. I know for a FACT that if a person seeking a job at PBS gives the slightest indication that they are not biased in favor of democrat ideology - they are NEVER hired.

I favor Fed dollars filling in the gaps in PBS budget - but not at the expense of further enriching PBS bigot in chief Bill Moyers.

Oct. 10 2012 02:20 PM
Jon from Missouri

Marmiteluvr makes a good point, that by exempting them from taxes, we taxpayers subsidize religion to a far greater extent than we do public Broadcasting. I would also point out that we have, starting not long after the Revolution, thought it was a good idea to provide publicly funded education. Public Broadcasting helps fill that role.

While stations in major metropolitan centers, like WNYC, may only get a few percentage points of their overall funding from the CPB, for small stations in rural areas, such subsidies may account for up to a third of their operating budget. Eliminating that funding will eliminate those stations.

Perhaps that is what those who cry for the elimination of Pubic Broadcasting really want. An ignorant populace is more easily swayed, especially if they are forced to rely on such sources as the cable "news" shouters for their "facts".

Oct. 08 2012 03:46 PM

There is a bigger context here that I hope people begin to notice. One political party is pushing a narrative that says "government doesn't do (almost) anything well". That same party tries to pull funding from the best things government does (eg. public broadcasting). It is a gross violation of integrity to claim government doesn't work and then, when it does, try and sabotage it. This black and white, no middle ground narrative is incredibly easy to push but it is also incredibly harmful. This strategy really undermines the values our country was founded upon and the values that have made our country work in the past.

Oct. 08 2012 07:14 AM
Andrew M from Santa Rosa, CA

Something I continue to take issue with in your reporting is when you indulge one side and give no airtime to the other. This one is a case in point. No discussion with someone of the opposing view taken by the Cato Institute. What's the rationale for doing this? It can't be a good one.

By the way, he sounded like a raving lunatic and a very obnoxious person to be in the same room with, but it doesn't change the fact that it's not good journalism to present only one side.

Oct. 08 2012 02:55 AM
Michael from Sydney

One of the things not mentioned in the discussion is how podcasts have extended the reach of US public broadcasting all around the world.

I'm an Australian and have become a big consumer of US podcasts (On The Media, Backstory, Radiolab, This American Life, The Memory Palace, The Moth, The Truth etc) and can attest that my perception of the US has become much more positive as a result.

Given the state of the world, there is surely value in having a rounded view of the US available to people wherever they may be. I don't know how many international downloaders public radio programs have, but it might be worth considering as a component of what used to be called "soft power".

Oct. 08 2012 01:44 AM
Stacy Harris from Nashville, Tennessee

The relevant argument should be framed in terms of how it came to be that public broadcasting was established as a (partial) federally subsidized entity in the first place.

The evaluation process should begin with that justification. Has public broadcasting deviated from its original mission? If so, reconsideration may be in order. If not, is there any non-partisan reason why such a miniscule portion of the total federal budget, one which gives back in spades, is even up for discussion?

What IS troubling is that Mitt Romney's position on this issue seems to be one at which he arrived solely in an effort to jump on the conservative bandwagon as a populist means of convincing conservatives that he is one of them.

Stacy Harris
Publisher/Executive Editor/Media Critic
Stacy's Music Row Report

Oct. 08 2012 12:56 AM
Michael from Minnesota

I found that the premise of not funding organizations that everyone not agreeing with pretty humorous. By extension we should drastically reduce funding the military, as a majority of American realize that the Military Industrial Complex, MIC, is dramatically overfunded and is not meeting their needs. Additionally, since the Catholic Church has decided to get into politics, I sincerely believe that we should not be funding them through tax breaks for their paganistic desires of foistiing their belief structures upon the rest of us. This program inherently had so many unexamined contradictions, that to me it was a parody of itself. If we just adjusted our budget upon defunding the MIC, PBS would not be an issue. The real goal of the program was to pressure NPR to be compliant with the corporate agenda.

Oct. 07 2012 07:22 PM
Skip Dahlgren

You fail to point out that the major harm from defunding CPB would fall on the stations, which depend on that funding to remain on the air, not NPR, PBS, or the other producers. Of course, this is the true intent of those who want to defund CPB, since that will effectively silence NPR & PBS by silencing the stations that broadcast their programming.

Oct. 07 2012 06:43 PM
L W Calhoun from Atlanta

Taking government funding away from public broadcasting is an excellent idea, but the conservative politicos will never do it !

Only a small part of public broadcasting's budget comes from the government and some policical right-wingers use it as a means of extortion. Most of public broadcasting's funding comes from private foundations and the general public. If public broadcasting turns down government funding it would survive without the little bit from the government.

Which, is why the politicians won't let them turn down government funding. It's the only influence they have over public broadcasting.

Oct. 07 2012 03:11 PM
John Duncan Yoyo from NoVA

If they defund public broadcasting they should also remove all tax breaks for the conventional media.

Oct. 07 2012 02:43 PM
leo from chicago from Chicago

I love the 'libertarian' game. Gillespie claims to be neutral but he wants to create an environment where right-wing and corporate interests call all the shots. Happens every time. Just look at talk radio.

Biggest sign of the fraudster: 'But the Internet has changed everything' with the understanding that broadcast (and to a certain extent, cable) media no longer matter. Right! Tell that to the corporations funding billions of dollars of advertising every year.

Oct. 07 2012 01:48 PM
Matthew Graham from Union City, NJ

Funding for public broadcasting has been going in only 1 direction for a long time, down. Eventually it will go down to zero. Better to cut funding and give a big grant as a send off than to let it just slowly dwindle down to nothing.

And it seems notable that people are far more outraged by Romney's proposed cut for Big Bird than that for Jim Lehrer.

Oct. 07 2012 12:00 PM
Marmiteluvr from Philadelphia

Hummm....Mr.Gillespie we actually do pay for other people's religious beliefs: religious organizations don't pay taxes.

Oct. 07 2012 11:27 AM
Maurice Simmons from Portland, Oregon

Its a good thing Nick is NOT on the supereme court to reaffirm Citizens United. He would advocate a significant change in funding based on his "beliefs". The private media is not equally disbursed across the county or in every media market. Private media company areaccountable to the owners and the bottomline not the public. What Nick is advocating let those with the most money talk the loudest,most often, and to the most people. The most important function of government is what "THE PEOPLE" decide not by intellectual ideaology. I am a very strong supporter of NPR because it provides a balance point of view across the board. But more importantly, sources I can include in my owe research on issue important to me. Nick needs to take a REALLY look at the REALLY world.

Oct. 06 2012 11:01 PM
Sarah J LaBelle from Chicago

Nick Gillespie's argument is so fluffy. They criticize me, ow it hurts, so stop the federal funding.

He is perhaps naive in thinking that would end the criticism from the right -- no matter how much they love Big Bird.

Criticism now is so rigid, that is, said to toe a party line, more than to express a reasoned view on a particular topic. Guiding federal policy by that kind of remark seems silly to me.

Federal funding spreads the access across the nation (those rural NPR stations) and lessens at least a little the pressure to get ordinary commercial advertisers on NPR and PBS. While you worry about the federal funding, I worry about the commercial advertising. More federal funding, less commercial (corporations with a product to sell and a donation to NPR or PBS) ads, makes more sense to me.

At least in what I hear on NPR, it covers both sides. I hear every Romney stump speech and every Obama stump speech. Some nights I hear a lot of BBC world news, which manages to be even handed and occasionally witty covering the US election campaign.

If Gillespie in 2010 is the best argument for letting go of federal funding, then keep the federal funding and fight for it.

Oct. 06 2012 06:32 PM
Lily Keim from Florida

I am incensed that the best you could do with Mitt Romney's promise to defund NPR is to air a two-year old interview with a Nick Gillespie. In two years you couldn't come up with any well-reasoned rebuttal to his right wing talking points? Driving in my car, I could counter every one of the "reasons" he gave. It's not that hard! I'm disgusted with you as journalists that you couldn't do better.

In a society that has become dominated by corporate interests over the interests of the people, NPR stands as one of the lone beacons for the common good. That you didn't challenge the right wing's fallacious assertion that NPR leans left is spineless on your part. Haven't you figured out yet that in Right Wingland, where reason, science and facts don't count, "left leaning" only means that you look at more than their side of the story (although not in the case of today's show where you towed the right wing line).

Furthermore, don't tell me that the taxpayers aren't paying for other people's religions because we most definitely are. Every time the Catholic Church doesn't pay real estate, income, sales or other taxes and yet takes government grants, I as a taxpayer am paying for their religion even though I oppose almost everything the Catholic Church stands for. In fact, if we want the revenue to fund NPR, then let's take away the tax exemption of every church that participates in politics.

Even better, let's tax those 501 c 4 social-welfare-not-involved-in-politics SuperPacs. Heck, I bet Karl Rove's Crossroads for America's taxes alone could pick up the measly $444 million NPR tab.

Oct. 06 2012 02:49 PM
Peter Butts

I haven't been this angry with a radio story in a long time. Nick Gillespie wants to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in part because of the rich array of media outlets provided by the Internet. If that kind of thinking had prevailed in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, not only would there be no Sesame Street (PBS, NPR, etc.) but there could very well be no internet. Sure PBS and NPR would survive the small cuts involved in taking away the very few dollars the federal government provides NOW, but what about the next big thing that wouldn't exist without federal support in the early stages? The thing I find most frightening about the current conservative movement is the devastating effect it is having on our nation's infrastructure.

Oct. 06 2012 07:43 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.