Will Republicans Fight to Defund 'Public Broadcasting'?

Once again, Republicans are talking about defunding public broadcasting. If history is a good indicator, don't bet on it happening. But do insist that they do so.

"I think the U.S. Congress should investigate NPR and consider cutting off their money," said former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich Thursday.

Consider? Merely consider?

Back when Gingrich was Speaker and in a perfect position to focus public attention on the idea of cutting taxpayers free from the burden of subsidizing NPR and the rest of the "public broadcasting" empire, Congress never gave this any truly serious consideration. 

Remember those Republican congressional investigations prodding to get to the bottom of the "public broadcasting" sham? Me neither.

A Friday Human Events article, headlined "GOP Ready to Probe NPR's Federal Funds," reported,

... an aide to Rep. Joe Barton (R.-Tex.), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which authorizes the money for CPB, said that, "it is very likely that this will be a priority for Mr. Barton in the next Congress, should voters trust Republicans with their vote in November."

How likely?

In 26 years in Congress, several of them as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, Joe Barton -- like Newt Gingrich, a very competent and effective conservative -- has never make it a top priority to defund "public broadcasting." But then, neither has any other leading Republican.

Sure, conservative Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado has a bill to terminate down the road government funding going to the quasi-governmental Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which passes out taxpayer dollars to PBS and NPR. But have you heard many -- any? -- Republican candidates touting, or even mentioning, this legislation? Try finding any mention of this idea in the much-hyped Pledge to America. And no, defunding "public broadcasting" wasn't mentioned in the Contract With America, either.

Suddenly, from some Republican leaders we are once again hearing talk of threatening to bring a halt to taxpayer subsidization of "public broadcasting." Such threats erupt every now and then, then fade away. It's been going on for many years.

Triggering the latest Republican resurrection of the old threat to take action to defund is the news coverage surrounding National Public Radio's (NPR) maladroit firing of one of its star journalists, Juan Williams, and what this incident reveals about the CPB-PBS-NPR troika.

They are making it pretty easy for the general public to spot their agenda and their arrogance and phoniness. And so, for now at least, the issue of the wisdom of pouring tens of millions of taxpayers' dollars into "public broadcasting" every year is front-and-center.

And once again, some Republicans leaders are stepping forward and saying we should "consider" ending this practice and hinting that Republicans might.

But why, back when Republicans controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, did they do nothing to change the abuse of coercing taxpayers into paying for such subsidization of an ongoing left-wing propaganda operation that enriched so many on the Left?

You will find as good an explanation as any from the Left itself, in a book by a media writer for the leftist Village Voice so enamored of "public broadcasting's" benefits for the Left that he argues that it needs to devote less airtime and money to children's programing and more to what many of us would call propaganda. Consider this passage from Made Possible By...: The Death of Public Broadcasting in the United States, by James Ledbetter (Verso, 1997):

CPB -- publicly on notice to trim expenses and under Gingrich-led scrutiny for encouraging public television viewers to contact their representatives -- decided that a wise way to silence right-wing criticism would be to give them money.  CPB issued a $100,000 consulting contract with GOP representative-turned-lobbyist Vin Weber, a close personal friend of Speaker Gingrich and a cofounder of Gingrich's Conservative Opportunity Society.

Mind you, it is illegal for CPB to lobby Congress.

"We didn't hire him to be a lobbyist," claimed CPB President Richard Carlson. "He was hired to give us strategic advice."

Sure. As a Republican member of the CPB board, Vic Gold, put it: "I have been in this town 35 years and I know lobbying when I see it. This was lobbying."

Now consider another passage from that same book: "Weber's strategic duties appear to have consisted solely of a dinner with Gingrich."

The late Bob Novak did a column in July 2005 exposing a good example of the sort of mendacious maneuvers so common in the world of "public broadcasting."

As Novak reported, Senator Arlen Specter, at that time a Republican, was chairing a rare Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing about public television when he was handed questions prepared for him by the subcommittee staff director Bettilou Taylor, who had maneuvered having the hearing and having only one person to be questioned by Specter.

That person was Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, former editor-in-chief of Reader's Digest, who had come out of retirement to accept an appointment from President Clinton to serve on the CPB board and had become its chairman.

Tomlinson, who would later face a vicious smear campaign orchestrated by the Left for daring to question and challenge questionable PBS practices, was grilled by Specter, reading from Taylor-prepared questions, about supposedly wasting taxpayer dollars on such matters as spending $15,000 on a study to measure political bias on Bill Moyers' show and $10,000 to counter lobbying efforts to stack the PBS board with persons from stations benefiting from its grants. 

Never mind that the law requires that so-called "public broadcasting" desist from liberal partisan political advocacy or give equal time to opposing viewpoints and that it is generally not considered a good idea to invite foxes to guard chicken coops.

Specter, with Taylor pushing him on, chastised Tomlinson about "the propriety of the expenditures," especially when "public broadcasting" has to operate "on a very tight budget."

What both Specter and Taylor neglected to disclose was that what Taylor was doing smacked of a clear conflict of interest. Taylor's household was the recipient of some extra $60,000 a year paid to her husband, Domenic Ruscio, for lobbying on behalf the Association of Public Television Stations to help them achieve the fox-guarding-the-chicken-coop plan that Tomlinson rightly thought to be a very bad idea -- and here she was, in effect, helping that lobbying effort that helped pay her household bills.

During the period in which this was going on, a prominent Republican lobbyist, Charlie Black, was roaming Capitol Hill, working to get the Republican-controlled House to vote for a Democratic-sponsored measure to restore some $100 million in cuts back into the coffers of PBS -- which it did by a vote of 284-140. Black's lobbying firm was being paid $180,000 a year from "public broadcasting" funds under a four-year contract that predated Tomlinson. Handling that account for Black's lobbying firm was the wife of the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Specter said not a word about this. Perhaps because the staffer with an axe to grind for her husband's "public broadcasting" client did not prepare such questions for him, he did not question the propriety of CPB's granting $180,000 to a lobbying firm for work handled by the spouse of a Member of Congress when it is illegal for CPB to lobby Congress, nor did he whine in the slightest about CPB's spending these particular, much larger, sums from its "very tight budget."

There is a lesson here: we need to follow the money and be on the alert for attempts by "public broadcasting" to buy off persons who should be working to defund it.

Once anything even resembling an effort to defund gets underway, what we will hear is what we always hear -- and it's always nonsense.

"They're killing Big Bird." Come on. If there is a market for things like "Big Bird" -- and there is -- he'll be on television. Nowadays -- have you noticed? -- there are hundreds of television channels.

And by the way, how come the folks who say they worry so much that there might not be enough public funds supporting "public broadcasting" programming for children never suggest leaving political programing to others and devoting the money they save by doing this to fund children's shows?

We will hear that the amount of taxpayer dollars "public broadcasting" receives is just a fraction of its budget and -- come on, you crazy right-wingers -- an even tinier fraction of overall federal spending. Yes -- so what? Justifying wasting a lot of money on the grounds that it is possible to waste even more is not a smart thing to argue. The real question is: Is it a good idea for us to have the government subsidizing news and political broadcasting at all? Of course not.

You would think that Republicans will see an opportunity to rally public support for taking the sort of action they have long said, or at least hinted, that they would like to take, and that at long last, a new Congress will come to launch a fight to defund "public broadcasting." If history is a good indicator, don't bet on it. Issues have a way of fading, and politicians like to see ones they view as difficult disappear.

It's long past time for conservatives to insist that Republicans do more than just talk about "considering" defunding "public broadcasting. We need to insist at long last on action.

And we need to insist that they do it right.

Defunding should be just the first step.

Doing things right necessitates facing up to the fact that there is no sensible reason for continuing to have the tax code reward people with a tax write-off for donating money to this left-wing propaganda operation that goes by the misnomer of "public broadcasting." The CPB-PBS-NPR troika is not a charity -- far, far from it -- and does not merit being viewed as such by the U.S. tax code. 

While it is true that NBC, CBS, ABC, and CNN frequently offend me just as much as "public broadcasting" does, there's a big and very important difference: They don't do so using any of my tax money or while being a vehicle for enabling tax breaks to people with whose politics I disagree. And that's the way it should be.

Republicans are asking us to put them back in control of Congress to end excessive government intrusion into our lives and bring a halt to out-of-control wasteful spending.

What they do -- or don't do -- about misusing taxpayers' money for unnecessary subsidization of "public broadcasting" left-wing political propaganda will tell us if they are serious about trying to do right by the country.

Fred J. Eckert is a former conservative Republican congressman from New York and twice served as a U.S. Ambassador under President Reagan, who called him "a good friend and valuable advisor...a man of great experience and wisdom -- one of a kind." 

See also: Comparing Jews to Nazis Meets NPR's 'Editorial Standards and Practices'
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