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Trump's budget aside, NPR and PBS should not get public subsidies

March 23, 2017, at NY Daily News

By John R. Lott, Jr.


Whatever original purpose public broadcasting had back in 1969, President Trump is right: The reason for its existence is long gone. With more than 900 cable networks in 2014, it is hard to argue that there is an unmet need for broadcasting. It is especially hard to argue when public broadcasting is costing the federal government nearly a half billion dollars every year.

In the face of serious attempts to cut subsidies in 1995 and 2005, the rallying cry to protect government funding was "Save Big Bird!" Of course, Sesame Street is now on HBO anyway.

Back when the Public Broadcasting Service was started in 1969, there were really only three television networks: ABC, CBS and NBC. Today, about 90% of households get cable, Netflix, Hulu or streaming services such as DirecTV. Some of the people who don't have TV do so out of choice.

And with 6,414 commercial radio stations already in the U.S. in 1970, the need for starting National Public Radio that year was never quite so obvious.

But public broadcasting isn't going down without a fight. Hyperbole is in plentiful supply. When Trump's budget cuts were revealed last Thursday, the dire predictions immediately followed. It heralded "the collapse of the public media system itself and the end of this essential national service," said Corporation for Public Broadcasting CEO Patricia Harrison. Right now, PBS has no problem financing polls showing that the vast majority of Americans believe in funding for their organization.

But if people really value the CPB, it should be able to survive without the 15% of its budget that comes from federal funding. But of course, that doesn't count the over $400 million in subsidies that it got from state governments in 2012 nor the other additional support received from public universities. New York, facing a $3.5 billion deficit, still provided over $34 million.

The real question here is why we should subsidize the viewing and listening choices of wealthy, white liberals. How would Democrats feel about subsidies for Rush Limbaugh's radio show?

A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found NPR and PBS to be among the most trusted news source of people who identify as consistently liberal. Fewer consistent conservatives trusted NPR than trusted MSNBC (3% versus 7%). The percentage who trust PBS is just one percentage point higher than for MSNBC.

It isn't too surprising then that NPR and PBS are the most listened to news sources for those on the left and one that doesn't even show up on the same list for conservatives.

As the most listened to news source of those on the left, NPR's large listenership can't be denied. "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" had average weekly audiences of 13.5 million and 13.3 million in 2016. These two flagship programs essentially tie Rush Limbaugh's 13.3 million weekly listeners. Sean Hannity's radio show pulls in 12.5 million.

NPR listeners are 80% more likely than the average American to make over $100,000 a year. They are also 152% more likely to have a college degree. Why should relatively poorer Americans be subsidizing wealthier ones?

Just 5% of NPR listeners are black and just 6% are Hispanics. Why should blacks and Hispanics subsidize whites?

Is it any wonder that an organization which relies on public funding is not an advocate of small government? Tax cuts, they must surely fear, will cause a reduction in their subsidies.

There is a reason why conservatives so distrust NPR. I have done thousands of radio interviews, but nothing compares to my consistent experience with NPR.

They would interview me for hours, repeating the same question over and over in the hope of getting a more acceptable answer. When that didn't work, they would selectively edit what I said to completely change the meaning.

In 2001, I finally stopped agreeing to pre-taped interviews with NPR.

In 2016, I did another interview with an NPR show under the pretext that it was a live interview. But they misled me. It was taped. In what finally appeared, first, they held a long discussion with gun-control advocates.

Then, after calling me controversial, they briefly used selected unrelated segments from my interview. Finally, they let the gun-control advocates criticize my points without being challenged. My criticisms and counterarguments were left on the cutting room floor.

If government subsidies ever went to a program that benefited wealthy white conservatives, liberals would be the first to call for its termination. But government shouldn't be giving liberals' primary news source nearly a billion dollars a year any more than they should be helping conservatives.

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