Sunday, March 13, 2011
Forget the recent scandals involving National Public Radio. Go back to the days before NPR chief exec Vivian Schiller resigned, before a conservative prankster videotaped NPR fundraisers disparaging tea party participants as "seriously racist, racist people" -- to even before NPR fired senior news analyst Juan Williams after he said on Fox News that he got "nervous" flying with passengers in Muslim garb.
Banish from your mind the recent controversies involving NPR's perceived or (I believe) real liberal bias. Even then, fiscal conservatives in Congress had called for cuts in federal funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., introduced a bill to end taxpayer subsidies to the CPB -- $420 million last year -- back in June 2010 to reduce the federal debt.
"If we can't eliminate or at least seriously reduce the funding for a nonessential government program that has outlived its original purpose," Lamborn told me Thursday, "then I fear that we're not serious about our future.
It's true that he is a conservative and that NPR has done things that didn't sit right with him, Lamborn continued. But, he said, his prime motivator was "the spending."
The chairs of the bipartisan fiscal commission named by President Obama -- Republican Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles -- targeted CPB, which provides 10 percent to 15 percent of funding that goes to local public broadcasting TV and radio stations, for elimination. They made no charge of bias, just the fact that CPB's funding level is "the highest it has ever been" and that its elimination should save taxpayers just under $500 million in 2015.
NPR boosters scoff at this measly sum. This year's budget will spend $3.8 trillion, they argue; CPB is a drop in the bucket. But Washington has to eliminate programs in order to reach the Simpson-Bowles goal of reducing domestic spending by $100 billion over 10 years.
Obama hardly helps his claim of wanting to cut the deficit when he himself wants to raise CPB's take to $451 million next year. White House spokesman Jay Carney says that the president understands the need to make "tough choices." But the administration won't even yank this, the Grey Poupon of federal subsidies.
I understand that if Washington pulls the plug, rural public broadcasting affiliates will be hit hardest. ?If Washington eliminates the CPB subsidy, then viewers and listeners will be asked to pony up. There may be added pressure on liberal benefactors, such as liberal billionaire George Soros, to provide seed money to send to the locals. And if that fails, some affiliates may have to consolidate with others -- which would be painful, as "tough choices" usually are.
Lamborn believes that if Congress eliminates CPB funding -- the Senate just voted down a House bill that included the CPB cut -- then stations may have to change their business model, but "they still have every opportunity to continue on in the private sector and prosper, and I believe they would."
If they want to save a few bucks, public broadcasting execs might want to look at top salaries. According to the Washington Post, NPR President Vivian Schiller's salary was $450,000 last year -- plus a $112,500 bonus. PBS President Paula Kerger's compensation exceeded $630,000 in 2009. When you think about those poor rural stations scrimping on federal crumbs, those tony salaries almost make you want to cry.
Now it turns out, even some NPR biggies don't think the broadcaster should get federal funds.
Now, I am no fan of the smarmy tactics of conservative prankster James O'Keefe, the guy who pretended he was a pimp in order to discredit ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. If I ever shake his hand by mistake, I'll wash it right away.
But just as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has to live with comments he made on the phone to a left-leaning liar, NPR now has to live with O'Keefe's tapes. While trying to land a $5 million donation from the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center Trust, now-former NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller (no relation to the president) said NPR would be " in the long run ... better off without federal funding."
He also said, "In my personal opinion, liberals today might be more educated, fair and balanced than conservatives." I am sure he meant that, too.
Lamborn tells me that the O'Keefe videos increase the likelihood that Washington will cut the CPB cord because the videos show "the disarray at NPR."
That may be a polite way of saying that the tapes make NPR execs look like complete frauds -- the same way they looked when they very publicly fired Juan Williams. Vivian Schiller said the move had nothing to do with Williams' regular appearances on the right-leaning Fox News. Apparently, she believes the American public is stupid. Could that be because, until very recently, the American public very generously subsidized her perch?
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See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders
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