Get Adobe Flash player

NPR better off without federal funding

If you are on Congressman Tom Graves’ mailing list, you may have recently received a four-page letter from his office asking you for financial support. Graves’ mission? To “end the liberals’ quest to keep the government gravy train pulling into the NPR station.”

“I never listen to NPR,” Graves continues in his shamelessly pandering correspondence. “As I travel across Georgia, I tune in to hear Glenn Beck or Rush, Hannity or catch the news or just relax to good ole country music. NPR is too snooty for me.”

Well, Congressman Graves, we’ll admit it: We enjoy listening to “snooty” NPR, just as we imagine many on your mailing list do also. We enjoy tuning to our local NPR affiliates WABE-Atlanta or WNGU-Dahlonega for shows like Morning Edition, A Prairie Home Companion and our favorite, Car Talk.

Graves is now supporting a bill that would prohibit federal funding for NPR and purchase of radio content: H.R. 1076, introduced on March 15 by Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican.

Congressman Graves (apparently “snooty” enough to conduct some campaign events at country clubs) is not solo in his push to stop government funding of NPR. Just before the release of an embarrassing undercover tape of NPR fundraising executive Ron Schiller blasting the TEA Party, and the subsequent resignation of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation), U.S. Senators Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced a bill touted as the “defund NPR” bill.

If either of these bills passes, lawmakers who support the legislation not only gain bragging rights for cuts to wasteful government spending, they also get to stick it to all of those insufferable “liberal” elitists who tune in.

Thus, NPR polluting its own mission in an ugly incident caught on a secret taping device also highlights the largest single problem with public broadcasting: as long as it is funded by taxpayer money, it remains beholden to politicians like Graves––politicians who smack it for a political hockey puck whenever it’s convenient for their platform. This is why we think H.R. 1076 could actually benefit NPR.

We don’t like the bill introduced by DeMint and Coburn because it doesn’t exactly “defund NPR,” it defunds the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. That entity awards grants to local television and radio stations who then use some of the money to purchase programming from NPR, PBS and other public broadcasting organizations.

Of the $430 million the federal government gave CPB last year, 75 percent must be spent on public television. The other $90 million goes to radio.

According to NPR’s website, in fiscal year 2008 their member radio stations received on average just 10 percent of working revenue from these CPB grants. Another 5.8 percent came from different federal, state and local government sources.

But According to NPR’s former CEO Schiller, public radio stations in more rural areas often receive much more in CPB funding––up to 60 percent of their operating money. So smaller public radio stations would unfortunately take the biggest hit if a defunding bill passes, while NPR is left barely touched.

In the damning undercover video, fundraising executive Schiller says NPR gets about 10 percent of its total revenues from the federal government. Schiller then goes on to say that in the long run NPR would be better off without federal funding. Without it, private donors who enjoy NPR would likely increase their donations, he says.

We agree. Cutting NPR’s subsidies would no doubt make their week-long fundraising drives that much more infuriating, but people who want the latest installment from Guy Noir, John Hockenberry or Kai Ryssdal would likely open their wallets and make up the shortfall.

We hate to agree with H.R. 1076 when career politicians like Graves support it. And though we don’t support it from the same agenda, we agree taxpayers should not have to pay for programming they don’t agree with or enjoy, even if subsidies for it are a fraction of a fraction of the massive federal budget.