October 28, 2012
They used to say that the country had a Daddy Party and a Mommy Party. This no longer applies, and is, in fact, patronizing ... to mommies. Anyone taking a stand on continuing government support for Big Bird is not maternal, but infantile. If mothers know one thing, it's when to push the reluctant fledgling off the nest.
And no, I don't charge infantilism because I think the yellow-feathered one childish. Big Bird's got a Zen of his own, and he edifies children by simplifying complex stuff — a difficult trick to turn, as any VP of communications can tell you.
No, the charge of infantilism is earned by demanding government support for an entity that clearly can stand (fly?) on its own, and do rather well. I'm no psychiatrist, but surely that must be a sign of arrested development.
Taxpayer support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has again become an issue after the former governor of Massachusetts mentioned it in his first debate with President Obama. But for some of us, this has been an issue for much, much longer.
The CPB doesn't need to be on the government dole. It's not just that there are far more deserving entities and individuals to whom our tax money should go. The CPB, which oversees both the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR), has a membership plan that amounts to a fantastic business model.
Let's look at the numbers:
The 2013 federal appropriations for the CPB were $445 million. PBS gets about $300 million of that; the radio stations get around $100 million. Defenders say that in the age of a $16 trillion debt, this is a "rounding error." Yes, folks, this is how Washington works. As Sen. Everett Dirksen once quipped, "a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money."
But those who call these funds paltry actually have a case to make. PBS says federal grants amount to about 12 percent of its revenues, while NPR says their take is about 10 percent.
Clearly, then, they can rely on the membership fees they raise from individuals, foundations and corporations. They do not need taxpayer money, which can go to much worthier places (like back to the taxpayer's pocket.)
There are also two other facts worth considering: Government subsidies taint domestic media outlets; and, in the case of public broadcasting, the bias that results is unsurprisingly pro-big government.
Vivian Schiller, former embattled CEO of NPR who was ousted in 2010 after many threats of defunding, earlier this year said this to Harvard's Niemanlab: "I think it is complicated when an independent news organization takes money from federal, state and local government. I think that's challenging for an independent news organization which covers those entities."
Then, finally, we get to the part of the bias. There's a reason, after all, why people are stumping for public broadcasting dressed as Big Bird and not, say, Bill Moyers or Nina Totenberg.
Moyers, who hosts a current affairs show on PBS, is a former LBJ speechwriter who turned hard-left after leaving the White House. He likes to compare American flag lapel pins to Mao's "Little Red Book," ignoring that one is a patriotic emblem showing love of country and the other a tribute to fear of government.
Then there's Totenberg, over at NPR, who will never live down the fact that she once wished AIDS on the grandchildren of Sen. Jesse Helms. No, Totenberg won't lead the pro-public-broadcasting effort.
Yes, the folks at public broadcasting say that it's impartial and that it's popular. Well, that helps to make my points. They're unwilling to heed widespread conservative complaints. And, yes, I agree that they're popular enough to do very well without our money. Membership is a great business model.
Big Bird will be able to spread his wings on his own.
Mike Gonzalez is vice president of communications for The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Denver Post.