The Right on Public Broadcasting
There's been a lot of NPR-bashing on the right these days after the government-supported radio network fired Juan Williams while its top executive publicly cast aspersions on his mental health in a wildly inappropriate fashion. Even my friend and longtime colleague Seth Lipsky piled on over the weekend.
But it's worth remembering that NPR has had its share of defenders and fans on the right.
Glenn Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law professor known as Instapundit, conveyed praise for a Robert Siegel piece on the Dallas Tea Party, and wrote: "People on the right don't like NPR, but as I've noted before, their reporting is generally pretty good." The "before" reference was an Instapundit item praising NPR's coverage of the Fort Hood attack: "they do good work, though they'd benefit from more diversity. They're certainly playing this straighter, and less PC, than a lot of media outlets."
National Review's Jonah Goldberg: "It's got flaws, but I think it's actually very well done and close readers will note I listen to it a lot."
Author Amity Shlaes (Seth Lipsky's wife, and also a friend and former colleague of mine): "I love NPR. I am an occasional commentator on Minnesota's Public Radio Show Marketplace."
Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot defended his paper's $4.1 million contract with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (this is television, not radio, but a related issue) by saying he thought that the battle over ending the subsidy to public television had been fought and lost and that as long as public television is going to exist, it might as well have a diversity of opinions.
Personally, I have to confess to ambivalence about the whole thing. I refer to the network as National Palestinian Radio and find a lot of the news coverage so grating that as a general matter I ask my wife to turn it off ("Can you please turn off the National Palestinian Radio?") if she has it on when I arrive in the house.
Yet the radio station I have on most often in the car is a public radio station, WBGO, which has really great jazz programming. When I am in Massachusetts I tune in to WICN, another jazz station. When I was managing editor of the New York Sun, the New York talk radio host who had me on the most often and who gave the free market arguments and ideas I was advocating the most fair hearing was Brian Lehrer of WNYC, who I think is the best interviewer operating on either television or radio. And when my biography of Samuel Adams came out, public radio programs in Connecticut and Texas had me on for long stretches of time and asked intelligent questions.
Just because something is good or desirable doesn't mean it should get taxpayer funding. And there's plenty of lousy stuff on public television and radio, too (as there is on private television and radio, but at least we aren't taxed to pay for it).
I guess it's a good example of how the federal budget grows. No one wants to cut something they benefit from, even though funding it may be inconsistent with their principles. If it were up to me I'd probably defund NPR's news operations but leave the jazz music and the author interviews alone, because my personal net gain from those programs is greater than the tax dollars I pay in that flow to them. The problem is, if everyone approached the whole federal budget that way, trying to get out more than they pay in, we'd wind up with a $3.8 trillion budget with a $1.3 trillion annual deficit. And who knows, if federally funded jazz programming and author interviews receded, maybe privately funded ones would rise to replace them.
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