The budget unveiled today by the White House features a lot of new spending ($300 billion worth) but also some cuts, including a plan to phase out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which provides money to PBS and National Public Radio. From the Hill:
“The Budget proposes to eliminate Federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) over a two year period,” according to the proposal.
“CPB grants represent a small share of the total funding for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR), which primarily rely on private donations to fund their operations,” it continues.
CNN reports CPB was well-prepared for this battle, having commissioned a new survey which it released today:
On Monday, the CPB and other beneficiaries of federal funds dutifully issued statements decrying the budget proposal and promoting the importance of public broadcasting.
At this point, public media advocates have a playbook for these predictable fights. They play up the educational and emergency broadcasting aspects of the medium.
PBS commissioned a new survey of the public and timed its release to coincide with the budget battle. The title of the survey: “Americans Rate PBS and its Member Stations Most Trusted Institution for the 15th Consecutive Year.”
I think we all know where this is going. Republicans suggest that in the age of the internet and endless cable TV options, we don’t need a publicly funded broadcast network. Progressives respond by trotting out Big Bird. Back in 2012 when Mitt Romney suggested he would cut funding for public broadcasting, the Obama campaign responded with this ad:
So here we go again. Over at Vanity Fair, they have a piece talking about the long history of Republicans trying to cut funding for the CPB, which speculates why they keep doing it (despite never being able to get it done).
Conservatives have long argued that the free market should fund PBS and the like, not taxpayers. But it’s also worth noting that funding for these entities makes up a measly portion of the national budget—.016 percent, as of last year. Cutting them, then, offers very little practical benefit.
So, why are Trump and the G.O.P. so bent on doing it, anyway? Most likely, it’s because PBS and its ilk are perfect targets for the right. They combine two of the G.O.P.’s favorite punching bags: the media and government spending.
Well, that’s part of it. VF misses that it’s the biased media most conservatives dislike. For a very long time, PBS and NPR have been using taxpayer money to fund a lot of left-leaning content. It wasn’t Big Bird and Mr. Rogers that conservatives objected to, it was the adult programming which took a reliably lefty view of most topics. Even then, conservatives didn’t mind hearing it so much as they minded being forced to pay for it.
I’d be willing to concede that CPB is a lot less important that it once was. There are so many more options now, not just cable channels but the internet and podcasts. It’s no longer just three liberal networks and one liberal PBS station on television. Still, that means there’s also less reason than ever for taxpayers to be asked to support this. If urban progressives want their own TV and radio stations, let them fund it themselves.
But we’ve had this debate so many times, I’d like to propose an alternative solution, one which I could actually see President Trump supporting. Let’s keep the CPB funding in place and then add another o.o16 percent to the budget to fund Fox News Channel or a rival network with similar content. I’m sure progressives won’t mind since 0.016 percent of the budget is too insignificant for anyone to worry about.