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Cue Sheet entry


Well, the wingnuts have again prevailed against the milquetoasts at NPR. As you’ve probably heard by now, the network’s head fundraiser, Ron Schiller, got punk’d by a notorious right-wing prankster and convicted felon named James O’Keefe who produces supposedly incriminating (but heavily edited) recordings of non-right-wing extremists saying shockingly non-right-wing-extremist things. In this case, Schiller was caught commenting (in private conversation to fake Muslims trying unsuccessfully to get him to take a $5 million donation) that Tea Partiers are gun-toting racists and that NPR would be “be better off in the long run without federal funding.” Now, Schiller is cleaning out his desk at NPR (his departure is supposedly unrelated to this non-scandal), and NPR has issued a typically craven statement that “We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for.”

The problem is, Schiller was essentially right. At least one branch of the Tea Party movement has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and, yes, in the long run, NPR would be better off without federal funding—not without the money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which right now is critical to the operations and programming of NPR, PBS and hundreds of member stations, but without the periodic political meddling that comes with that money.

The CPB, as intermediary between Congress and broadcasters, is supposed to be able to keep political interference at bay, but it has failed time after time. In 2003–05, the Bush Administration packed the CPB board not with mainstream conservatives, which would have been OK, but with wingnut lackeys headed by Kenneth Tomlinson. You can read that sad tale elsewhere, but before long, the organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting was describing the board as corrupt and Tomlinson ultimately had to quit in disgrace.

Then, of course, there are the periodic Congressional calls to eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting entirely, because PBS and NPR are supposedly too liberal. Apparently, not actively promoting the conservative agenda means you’re liberal, even if (like NPR, the New York Times and most other mainstream media outlets) you passively enable the conservative agenda by, for example, acquiescing to pressure not to apply the word “torture” to actual acts of torture endorsed by the Administration, and generally running scared every time some wingnut wags his finger.

So what to do? I see three options.

First, go ahead and let Congress defund the CPB. Not desirable, but ultimately survivable for most of the system. I think in the spots we were running a couple of weeks ago, people were saying that 14 percent of Arizona Public Media’s budget comes from federal sources. Losing that 14 percent would hurt badly, but I think enough outraged audience members, underwriters and other funding sources would come forward to make up the loss. Other stations might not be so lucky; a few could die, and network programming could take a serious hit.

Second, and far more desirable, get Congress out of the business of periodically reauthorizing funding for the CPB (and, for that matter, the National Endowment for the Arts, another favorite target of extremists). Simply create a true endowment—a one-time huge award of cash that could be carefully invested to produce an annual return that would fund ongoing operations. In the current economic and political climate, this has zero chance of happening, but it’s certainly worth considering when things loosen up.

Third, divert all CPB money to support nothing but technology, engineering and non-programming operations. If money is used solely for buying and reparing gear, paying engineers and paying the electric bill, no federal dollars will be supporting content and the wingnuts won’t have any legitimate complaints (as if their current complaints were legitimate). For individual stations, the transition could be a little bumpy, but if all their technical costs were being covered by the CPB, they could reassign the money they’re now feeding the transmitter to programming. That, it seems to me, is the quickest and easiest solution to the fabricated problem.

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About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.

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