The Right Reason to De-Fund Public Broadcasting

There’s a right reason and a wrong reason to support Gov. Bob McDonnell in his proposal to eliminate state funding for public broadcasting. According to today’s Times-Dispatch, McDonnell seeks to cut $4.2 million over the next two years.

The wrong reason is that public broadcasting is “biased” and “liberal.” That’s the justification that Rep. Eric Cantor, R-7th, who is leading the effort to eliminate federal funding, gave in a recent radio interview. The implication of Cantor’s remarks was that if NPR and PBS were more conservative, federal funding would be less objectionable. Wow, think about that. The government-funding-is-OK-as-long-as-it-serves-conservative-ends was the basis of George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” and look where that got us in the fight to tame spending and deficits.

The right reason is the one that McDonnell cited in the Times-Dispatch: “Television and radio broadcasts are not core functions of government.” It’s that simple. When federal, state and local governments face the greatest financial strains since the Great Depression, with worse to come, there is no justification whatsoever for government funding of news or entertainment. Government’s role should be restricted to undertaking important functions that the private sector cannot fulfill itself. In the realm of news and entertainment media, that is demonstrably not the case, more so than ever now that the Internet has inspired an unprecedented proliferation of news, opinion and programming sources.

For the record, I’m an NPR fan. I’m a conservative, and I agree that a bias does exist, although it’s more subtle than many fellow conservatives seem to think. I find that NPR, which I listen to several times a week, has excellent programming. While some of its stories may have a liberal slant, they are far more nuanced than the sound-bite versions of the equally slanted news aired by private-sector broadcast news. I listen to NPR in order to hear the thoughtful, well-informed liberal view of an issue as opposed to, say, the dishonest, cartoon-character version peddled by the likes of Ed Schultz or Keith Olbermann. Bottom line: NPR contributes to the marketplace of ideas, as opposed to the marketplace of venom and bile.

(Other than the news, I watch very little TV, so I have no informed opinion on the nature of PBS programming.)

If the state defunded NPR, as it should, and if the Richmond NPR radio station were faced with cutting programming, I’d gladly chip in a few bucks during the annual telethons. My wife already does. That’s the proper way for the public to support media programming. The people who enjoy NPR and PBS are the ones who should pay for the privilege.

Read Norm Leahy’s spin on the issue on his new blog at The Score. Like me, he argues that broadcasting is not a core government function, nor even a peripheral one — not that NPR is “too liberal.”

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