A government $20 trillion in debt has just extended — not eliminated, as promised — funding for a public broadcaster that regularly infuriates and offends half the country.
The recently enacted Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 not only gave the Corporation for Public Broadcasting its regular $495 million sweetsop, Congress also threw in another $50 million to upgrade its “interconnection system.”
Yet again, it was a two-year “advance appropriation” for the CPB — a special arrangement designed “to provide a firewall of independence” from the government accountability that usually goes hand in hand with government funding.
Back in March, President Donald Trump had proposed zeroing out funding for the CPB. The headlines promptly blared that public broadcasting was “in a fight for its life.” CPB CEO Patricia Harrison proclaimed that the loss of federal funds would lead to “the collapse of the public media system.”
Having won a reprieve, could one expect CPB, which funds NPR and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), to use this time to become less biased? Hardly.
With Congress demonstrably incapable of cutting the umbilical cord of funding, why should the CPB bother to become more acceptable to the half of Americans who are conservative?
The people at CPB are of course very liberal, but they’re also smart. They know they can demagogue this issue to no end by accusing grownups of trying to stab Big Bird and Elmo in the heart. Historical reference: See “Romney, Mitt.”
After years of hearing from conservatives — including The Heritage Foundation — that it is both unfair and unwise for a broadcaster to depend even partially on funds extracted involuntarily from taxpayers, NPR and PBS have done nothing to moderate their impartiality.
At issue is not just the subject matter they choose to cover — for example, the prominence they give to the identity politics of groups formed on ethnic, racial and gender bases.
The real problem is the news and cultural programming of both, but especially NPR, exhibit the worldview of, say, MSNBC. Except that MSNBC is private; conservative taxpayers don’t have to support it financially.
NPR has so clearly stopped trying to mend its ways that three years ago it brazenly named former ACLU official Jarl Mohn, who has given some $217,000 to Democratic candidates and causes, as its latest CEO.
Their only defense now is simply to deny the bias exists. And it always works for the leadership at CPB.
They know that Congressmen like Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) will always be there for them.
Cole chairs the House subcommittee that oversees funding for the CPB. Although he hails from one of the reddest states in the Union, he dismissed the budget’s elimination of the CPB’s regular $445 million subsidy. “There is a strong constituency for public broadcasting in both the House and the Senate,” he insisted.
Cole’s posture, incidentally, was also at variance with that of OMB Director Rick Mulvaney, who until very recently was his House colleague.
At a March 16White House briefing, Mulvaney said of struggling hard-working Americans, “Can I really go to those folks, look them in the eye and say, look, I want to take money from you and I want to give it to the Corporation of Public Broadcasting? That is a really hard sell.” Indeed. But the folks on Capitol Hill are easy.
Even if NPR and PBS weren’t biased, there’s no reason for taxpayers to fund them. The government exists solely to guarantee our enumerated inalienable rights and to protect us from foreign enemies. Its intervention in the market only crowds out private philanthropy, which represents the lion’s share of its budget.
Unfortunately, there are always conservatives like Rep. Cole.
Mike Gonzalez is a senior fellow in international studies at The Heritage Foundation. Readers may write him at Heritage, 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002-4999.