So Clinton is obviously a flawed messenger on this subject. But Trump's hostility toward the media is well-documented. His tirades against the "dishonest" press have included a vague-but-ominous proposal to "open up" libel laws.
It is not unreasonable, then, to wonder about the fate of public broadcasting under a Trump administration. The GOP Republican nominee has not specifically called for defunding PBS and NPR, but the idea has long been popular among Republicans, as Politico explained in 2010:
Republicans have been trying to strip government subsidies from public broadcasting almost since the inception of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1967.Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's efforts in the mid-1990s to "zero out" funds for public broadcasting may have been the most memorable battle, but Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon went after the subsidies during their administrations too. President George W. Bush tried to cut funds to public broadcasting every year he was in office.
In 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney memorably invoked Big Bird during a general-election debate televised on PBS, telling moderator Jim Lehrer that he would cut off federal funding.
"I'm sorry, Jim," Romney said. "I'm going to the stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too."
In other words, nixing subsidies to PBS and NPR would be among the least extreme acts of aggression Trump could take against the media. So when PBS chief executive Paula Kerger sat for an interview that airs Sunday on the "Open Mind" public TV show, host Alexander Heffner asked about her level of concern. Heffner shared a transcript of the exchange with The Fix in advance of the telecast.
HEFFNER: You’re not worried that, if a more autocratic government took over, there would be a denial of ... the public airwaves and that you and I and our jobs would be in jeopardy here?KERGER: Look. I think the thing that you have to remember about public television is that — a few things. One is, and I think most people think we’re like the networks, we’re just the nonprofit version of the networks, and we’re not. We were created, PBS, by stations. So we’re the reverse of the network models. So across this country there are 179 separate licensees that were created by the communities in which those stations operate. I spend a lot of time on the road. I visit a lot of stations and am in communities where the public station is the last remaining locally owned and operated broadcaster in those communities.Communities treasure their public stations, and it’s individual philanthropy in those communities that actually makes public television work. We get about 15 percent — that’s one-five percent — of our funding, in aggregate, from the federal government. That actually goes to our stations, not to me, and and that really enables public broadcasting to be seen in communities that may not have the economic means to sustain it. States like Alaska for example, where 50 percent of the funding to maintain that infrastructure comes from the federal government.But I think that when I talk about public broadcasting, it is that bond with the public and the trust the public places in us that has enabled us to be strong and I think regardless of what happens in Washington will continue to enable us to be a strong organization.
Kerger isn't exactly sounding an alarm here. She certainly wouldn't be thrilled to lose 15 percent of the PBS budget, in the event of a total cutoff, but her point is that the taxpayers who support public broadcasting mostly do so through donations, not taxes.
NPR is in a similar position. It reports that about 16 percent of its member stations' revenue comes directly from governments or from the federally-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
So even if federal funding dried up, most public broadcasters' primary revenue sources would continue to flow -- cutting them off wouldn't mean pulling the plug altogether.