According to Richard Cohen ["Radio We All Need," op-ed, Aug. 5], we "all" need programming such as that offered by National Public Radio offers -- and so George Will is wrong to argue for the end of public funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ["Who Needs Public Broadcasting?" op-ed, Aug. 1]. I share Mr. Cohen's admiration for radio shows such as "All Things Considered," but let's see if I understand his arguments:
Some 29 million people (about 10 percent of the country) listen to NPR. This helps bind the nation and makes us one community. (What does it do for the 90 percent who aren't listening?)
If things were left to conservatives and the markets, we would be listening solely to Howard Stern and similar trash. (Are these the same markets that created A & E, Bravo, Discovery, the Learning Channel, etc.?)
Without public funding, no for-profit entity would bother producing quality programming, because there would be no market to sustain it. (But if so few people care about quality, why should the rest of the great unwashed pay for the cultural education of an elite minority? Wouldn't it be more democratic to have public funding for Jerry Springer, because more people watch him?)
Let's be realistic. First of all, NPR has a high-quality product, and it could do just fine competing for private funds. We also might see more competitive quality radio if for-profit stations were not at a financial disadvantage compared with NPR.
Unlike Mr. Cohen, I believe that enough people appreciate quality programming of all kinds that there will be plenty for me to watch on TV. But if my neighbor wants to watch the WWF, I won't complain -- as long as he doesn't ask me to pay for it.
Richard Cohen is right to say society needs public broadcasting. But neither he nor George Will asks the crucial question: Does today's public broadcasting really serve the public?
As defined by the Carnegie Commission in 1967, public broadcasting's mandate is to "provide a voice for groups in the community that may otherwise be unheard" and to "help us see America whole, in all its diversity." Subsidized public broadcasting is meant to create a democratic forum for debate, supported by taxpayers of every political stripe and not beholden to advertisers.
But public broadcasting has not fulfilled its mandate. Cuts in federal funding have driven PBS to rely on underwriting from corporate and conservative sources. As a new study by Vassar Prof. William Hoynes (and released by FAIR) shows, public broadcasting now represents the concerns of business, government and conservative interests far better than those of the public.
FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting)
Richard Cohen's piece defending PBS misses a point that is always overlooked. The question is not whether PBS and NPR present interesting work that is not presented elsewhere. They do. Neither is it whether network news has been dumbed down to entertainment. It has. Rather, the question is whether people should be compelled under the force of law to contribute, through their tax dollars, to stations that present and support political views and moral beliefs very different from their own.
I listen to NPR and watch PBS regularly, and I agree with the overall viewpoint they strike, but many people do not. Should they have to subsidize media outlets that serve mainly the educated elites of society? It would be disingenuous to claim that that is not their target audience. Mr. Cohen may like the fact that his government subsidizes programs he approves of, but is it really fair to make the rest of the viewers -- those who prefer dumbed-down choices -- to contribute? I don't think so.