(inFOCUS Quarterly) – Early in the new Congress, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) plans to introduce legislation to defund public broadcasting. Specifically, to eliminate further outlays to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting like the $525 million legislators approved last March for fiscal 2024. That’s the federal spending year ending on Sept. 30, 2023.
Actually, CPB’s take totals $611.5 million. This adds $41 million for a Next Generation Warning System grant to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, $30.5 million for the Department of Education’s Ready to Learn program for “educational public media content for our nation’s youngest learners” and $20 million for infrastructure and interconnection.
CPB allots $377 million to public television stations. Another $126 million goes to public radio stations. National Public Radio long has engaged in verbal money laundering, claiming its “direct operating costs” rely on low single-digit percentage amounts of federal money. However, cash from CPB and programming and other fees paid to NPR by federal, state and local government-subsidized public stations cover an estimated 25 percent or more of NPR’s budget.
Lamborn thinks now is the time to defund public broadcasting. In 2021, he introduced two separate bills – one to remove the federal feeding trough for public broadcasting in general, the other specifically to cut NPR’s umbilical cord.
Of course, Lamborn has thought the time ripe to end federal largesse for public television and radio since 2010, and has introduced legislation to that effect in each new Congress since then. Republicans holding a 222-212 majority in the new House of Representatives, with a special election pending to fill one vacancy, the Colorado Republican might see his measure pass the lower chamber.
Democrats typically favor public broadcasting more than Republicans do, so approval by the Senate – 48 Democrats and three independents (Bernie Sanders [VT], Angus King [ME] and now Krysten Sinema [AZ]) who caucus with the Democrats – seems doubtful. Nevertheless, a House vote to defund public broadcasting would be a shot across public TV and radio’s bow. It could set the stage for adoption by the full Congress should the GOP keep its House majority and take the Senate in 2024.
There’s no reason Lamborn and any co-sponsors he recruits should desist from the struggle. Perseverance matters. Rome’s Cato the Elder ended every Senate speech, regardless of the subject, with “Carthago delenda est [Carthage must be destroyed]!” Eventually, it was.
Breaking the Law
CPB’s fiscal 2023 budget of $611 million amounts to just 0.11 percent of federal outlays totaling $5.8 trillion. But since Washington is running a $1.2 trillion deficit, cuts wherever found would seem to be in order.
However, there are at least two other reasons to eliminate appropriations for public broadcasting, NPR in particular:
It chronically violates the federal statute that governs public broadcasting.
It doesn’t need taxpayers’ money anyway.
The antecedents of contemporary public broadcasting were small. Supporters pushed the Telecommunications Act of 1967 largely as a means to enable what was called educational television to reach remote rural areas. Like most government-subsidized agencies, however, its self-justifications have grown in keeping with its budget. On congressional passage of CPB’s current allocation, Patricia Harrison president and chief operating officer, asserted:
Public media is a valued resource providing information and lifelong learning for millions of Americans in rural and urban communities through broadcasts and on the platforms of their choosing. … Americans listen to public radio’s local reporting and NPR’s national and international news and watch public television local public affairs shows and PBS’s nightly national news programs to get the trusted information they need to navigate our modern world. This funding allows the public media system to continue to provide fact-based journalism that informs and educates Americans.
In theory, anyway. It turns out government-subsidized “fact-based journalism” is in the eye and the ear of the recipients of those funds, not necessarily the viewer or listener.
The Telecommunications Act of 1967, as amended in 1992 requires of all CPB fund recipients “strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature.” Yet, neither NPR, PBS, nor CPB ever established procedures to monitor adherence to or violation of the objectivity and balance standard.
For decades, ombudsmen, inspector generals’ reports, and rare instances of congressional oversight have come and gone. But in introducing his 2021 NPR and CPB defunding proposals, Lamborn accused public radio and PBS of “forcing a socially progressive viewpoint on its audience.”
Self-Censoring the News
He noted, for example, that NPR had refused to cover the Hunter Biden laptop story. Highlighted by The New York Post, this was news that e-mails on the wayward presidential son’s forgotten laptop intimated a Biden family enrichment scheme via Ukraine and China, while Joe Biden was vice president.
But NPR’s executive managing editor for news, Terence Samuel, declared coverage “would be a waste of time.” Kelly McBride, the network’s “public editor,” tried to justify the decision to censor by raising doubts about the laptop story that already had been dispelled. Nevertheless, the “socially progressive” network was early – and repeatedly – on the trail of former President Donald Trump’s alleged violations of the constitution’s emoluments clause.
Republicans weren’t always alone in hearing NPR’s objectivity and balance violations. In 2003, during anti-Israel Palestinian terrorism marking the second intifada, 11 House Democrats, led by Reps. Eliot Engel (NY) and Brad Sherman (CA) wrote the network’s then-president, Kevin Klose:
[F]or many years, National Public Radio programs have presented a view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is too often biased against Israel. … [D]espite concerns raised over the years by listeners, members of NPR affiliate stations, and members of Congress, NPR coverage of the Middle East – to our ears and the ears of many of our constituents – still exhibits a slanted perspective on the conflict.
(Disclosure: This writer, then Washington director of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis, helped provide examples for the Engel-Sherman letter.)
In corporate damage-control, NPR then hired two public relations firms and sent Klose on a speaking tour to Jewish audiences. But as to anti-Israel bias, nothing has changed. According to the Boston-based, 65,000-member CAMERA, November’s Israeli elections that resulted in the likelihood of Benjamin Netanyahu returning as prime minister with a government including right-wing and Jewish religious parties sparked repeated NPR coverage. Network correspondents expressed “concern” and “foreboding” over Israel’s future and its relations with the United States.
“NPR stories routinely depict Palestinians as victims of a rapacious and violent Jewish regime without agency of their own,” and the December 6 “All Things Considered” broadcast and “Consider This” podcast were no different, wrote CAMERA analyst Ricki Hollander. “Host Juana Summers began with ‘the most combustible place on earth,’ which she identified as ‘the al-Aqsa Mosque compound,’ using Palestinian Authority-mandated terminology to describe the site. With no mention that this is Judaism’s holiest site” – long and widely recognized as the Temple Mount – and by referring to it exclusively in Arabic terms, “the implication is that the Muslim claim to the site supersedes the Jewish one,” Hollander noted.
Correspondent Daniel Estrin then added, “whenever we’ve seen that Palestinians perceive Israelis are encroaching on this site, we’ve seen violence, and that violence spreads.” Concluded Hollander, “it’s ironic that this segment was broadcast at the same time NPR fundraisers were promoting the network as an ‘unbiased’ source of news.”
Such two-dimensional, pro-Palestinian coverage of Arab-Israeli news is unchanged since before the second intifada. What has changed is pro-Israel congressional Democrats’ reluctance to challenge their party’s anti-Zionist left, the attitudes of which echo on National Public Radio.
In a straitened market in which a commercial news outlet like CNN (Cable News Network) recently laid off 200 employees, NPR’s news operations could survive without CPB’s – that is, without taxpayers’ – money. In 2003, the estate of Joan Kroc – widow of McDonald’s Corp. founder Ray Kroc – left NPR more than $200 million.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation periodically gift the network, as in 2016, with $4 million to support its investigative and international reporting. Then there was the scandal – quickly forgotten – of NPR taking $100,000 from the pro-Iran nuclear deal Ploughshares Foundation for coverage of … the Iran nuclear deal.
NPR’s ombudsman at the time sanitized the transaction without explaining why a partisan like Ploughshares repeatedly found the network worth subsidizing.
In addition, the Ford, Wallace, Knight, and Bill and Melinda Gates foundations have dumped tens of millions into NPR. So have corporate backers from State Farm Insurance to Holland America Cruise Line.
As to the original justification for public, then “educational” broadcasting, the problem for viewers and listeners in the digital, Internetted age – even those in rural areas – may be a surplus of media to sort through, not too few. If Rep. Lamborn’s crusade eventually proves successful, it will not only have nicked the federal budget behemoth, it also will have upheld the law. Objectivity and balance, that is, the real journalism NPR pretends to dispense, demand it.