aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Thursday, June 02, 2005
NPR should kiss off government funding
Since the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act more than 35 years ago, Americans have relied on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR), and other public broadcasting outlets to provide quality programs and independent journalism free from political or commercial pressure.
I’m generally inclined to agree with Media Matters’ goals, and most certainly agree that action must be taken to address the blatant political pressures that have been stepped up recently. Where I disagree is in the rose colored tint of that first sentence.
CPB, PBS and NPR are now and always have been subject to both political and commercial pressure. Annual Congressional budget reviews have inherent political pressure and reliance on corporate underwriting means commercial pressure.
We have no publicly funded public media in this country. CPB was initially tolerated because it took some of the pressure off broadcasters to produce public interest programming. As the public interest requirement has eroded, so too has the annual congressional appropriation.
Public broadcasting cannot be truly “public” because it must rely on contributions, corporations, and foundation grants which encourage a tendency to appeal to affluent audiences, appease corporate contributors and present non-controversial fare. Those few exceptions have proven enough to bring on this most recent Right Wing attack. But this is nothing new.
Political conservatives have been targeting PBS for more than 20 years with a steady stream of public relations campaigns carefully designed to rein in what remains of public television’s independence. Conservative charges in this week’s New York Times story “Republican Chairman Exerts Pressure on PBS, Alleging Biases” are eerily similar to those reported in the 1992 Times story “Conservatives Call for PBS To Go Private or Go Dark” and the 1986 Times story “Accused of Bias, PBS Plans a Policy Review.”
Contrary to the claims of conservative critics, scholarly research on PBS shows that public television is not a haven for alternative perspectives, but is looking more and more like its commercial counterparts. Public television’s public affairs programs include a remarkably narrow range of sources and experts. It is particularly noteworthy that stories about the economy are organized around the views and activities of corporate actors and investors. Indeed, concerns of the corporate and investment communities are the principal frame for most economic coverage on public television, making the perspectives and experiences of citizens, workers, and consumers seem tangential to the real economic news.
These valid criticisms are overlooked or ignored, while claims of liberal bias and an impression that government funding accounts for the lion’s share of public broadcasting’s budget are pervasive.
So let’s call their bluff.
A recent Boston Phoenix article detailed the failings of network news, both broadcast and cable, and declared definitively that the present belongs to NPR:
EVERY WEEK, somewhere between 23 million and 29 million Americans tune in to National Public Radio. In the apples-and-oranges world of television and radio ratings, it’s hard to know precisely how to compare TV’s daily numbers with radio’s weekly audiences. But there seems to be little question that NPR is now the second-largest broadcast news source in the United States, still trailing the network newscasts, but catching up rapidly - and far ahead of the cable news shows upon which media critics regularly dump barrels of ink.
NPR’s audience has at least doubled in the past decade. The only radio program with a larger audience than NPR’s two drive-time newscasts - Morning Edition and All Things Considered - is Rush Limbaugh’s talk show. The NPR audience tends more toward middle age than youth; in the past year or so, for instance, I’ve heard Lyle Lovett and, just last week, John Prine come on ATC to plug their latest CDs. But that’s still a lot younger than the network news audience. And whereas the television news audience is shrinking because it defies cultural trends, the public-radio audience is growing along with those trends.
A look at the numbers is revealing: NPR got only between 1 percent and 2 percent of its 2004 budget of $369 million from CPB. (PBS got 24% of its budget, approximately $80 million, from CPB and federal grants.)
Compare that to Howard Stern’s $100 million a year contract with Sirius.
NPR should keep its tax exempt status and operate as non-profit entity, but kiss off its government support. And they should do it loudly and proudly on the principle of breaking free of government meddling.
The partisan in me thinks that this will be a broadly popular move, a poke in the Tomlinson eye. It could even sway public opinion enough to reign in his efforts at PBS.
It could, too, start the dominoes falling and bring down the whole Public Broadcasting structure as it is now. That would be a shame. But a groveling handmaiden of political power is worse.
The Pentagon won’t tell
On Wednesday the army delayed release of May recruitment numbers:
...this information must be reasonably scrutinized and explained to the public, which deserves the fullest insight into military performance in this important area,” [Pentagon spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen] Krenke said.
An Army sergeant who was wounded in Iraq wants a chance to remain in the military as an openly gay soldier, a desire that’s bringing him into conflict with the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Sgt. Robert Stout, 23, says he has not encountered trouble from fellow soldiers and would like to stay if not for the policy that permits gay men and women to serve only if they keep their sexual orientation a secret.
And 79 percent of respondents said gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military, up from 57 percent in a 2000 Opinion Dynamics Poll. In the early 1990s, when President Clinton first raised the issue, support for gays in the military was even lower. Large majorities of Republicans, regular churchgoers, and people with negative attitudes toward gays think gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.
Wal-Mart’s health care critics
At the rally at the state Capitol in Atlanta, organizers displayed a 3-foot-by-6-foot mock Wal-Mart customer receipt, showing Georgia spends an estimated $13 million a year on health care coverage for the children of Wal-Mart employees.
It’s based on a Georgia Department of Community Health survey, showing 10,261 of the 166,000 children covered by Georgia’s PeachCare for Kids health insurance in September 2002 had a parent working for Wal-Mart Stores - far more than the state’s other large employers.
Christianity Today looked at the benefits issue last month and concluded that “the facts don’t always justify the rants directed against the company:”
Detractors point out that Wal-Mart covers only 48 percent of its employees. But according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, in the retail sector overall only 45 percent of workers receive health coverage from their own employer...Health-care premiums for U.S. employer plans increased 11.2 percent in 2004, the fourth consecutive year of double-digit increases. Wal-Mart’s coverage seems to reflect a company facing spiraling health-care costs for more than 1.5 million employees.
Still, it’s reasonable to target the giant company. The fact that the entire retail sector is as bad or worse doesn’t mean there is no problem. Rather, it means Wal-Mart is in a position to do something even more meaningful both in the area of employee benefits and in spiraling health-care costs.