PBS: ‘P’ is for ‘Publicly-Funded’…As In By Its Viewers

This “controversy” over Romney’s comments to cut PBS funding is amusing. Folks are acting as if the last days of Big Bird are upon us when all Romney was saying was that PBS’ market would have to fully support PBS programming under his stated scenario. If a nation-wide non-profit Christian music station like K-LOVE can fund itself via their market (21mm listeners/month) then PBS could find a way as well via theirs (144mm viewers/month).

And, yes, I was brought up on–and enjoyed–PBS programming (Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Reading Rainbow, 1-2-3 Contact, Mathnet); I was introduced to Jeremy Brett’s quintessential portrayal of Sherlock Holmes (which impacted my love of Doyle’s character, story in general, and my falling in love with England profoundly) as well as the genius of British TV/storycraft via Inspector Morse, Cadfael, many BBC adaptations of Victorian-era literature (e.g. Dickens, Austen); and I occasionally check in with NOVA (such as their upcoming episode “Secrets of the Viking Sword”) or (more often) Masterpiece when these have something of interest–OR whenever they feature a Celtic Woman concert. So it’s not like I do not appreciate the channel’s product. But being part of the free market isn’t a nightmare; accountability really does make a product better for its consumers.

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About Josh Radke

Josh is the co-founder of Grail Quest Books, also the official press of Middle-earth Network. When he's not working on a publishing project or advancing his screenwriting vocation, Josh is either rearing his little Dúnedan with his lovely wife Kasandra (affectionately known as "Faraith"), gaming on LOTRO or one of the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars tabletop games (preferably from Decipher or Fantasy Flight), or engaged with some other pastime (especially the official American one).
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15 Responses to PBS: ‘P’ is for ‘Publicly-Funded’…As In By Its Viewers

  1. Avatar of Matthew Matthew says:

    You do realize that “Public” also means the Government.

    As in “Public-Sector Job” means a “Government job.”

    And, the whole point of “Public TV” is that it is not beholden to “Private” interests.

    This is a problem that has come with the many endowments that have begun to support Public TV.

    Not to mention that Romney’s comments were wholly disingenuous, as far as his stated aims (which was budget reduction). This is sort of like cutting out bubble-gun when you are spending each night at Private resorts that charge $1,000 a plate for dinner.

    I could go on all night with similar analogies. The real reason that Romney (and most of the right) does not support PBS, or NPR, is that they tend to be heavily evidence-based, and heavily supported by Higher-Education, which has tended (since the late 70s) to show a rather large amount of evidence that the Right’s Policy Proposals are neither effective, nor would they accomplish the goals stated by most of those policies.

    The Right has taken this to be a “Liberal-Bias.”

    But it is not a Liberal Bias to point out that someone is wrong. It is just a statement that the evidence does not support that policy. It does not say that the evidence supports a different policy (although this has begun to be the case since the 1990s, when the Left Shifted to a more pragmatic policy platform).

    The right has been radicalizing since the mid-90s as well, with the policies of the Religious Right, and highly polarizing people like Ralph Reed, or Newt Gingritch, when they realized that the far-right base of the then GOP was going to disappear within 2 decades if something radical was not done. At this point, the Evangelical Community became the dominant political force in the GOP, and the GOP effectively became the Political Arm of Social and Religious Conservatives.

    But back to the point about PBS/NPR… If the Military can have a media channel funded by the government, then why cannot the government support a media channel for the education of the general populace… You know, the “public”… The People that are supposed to be “Protected and Defended.

    Protecting them and defending them against ignorance and stupidity is also a part of that.

  2. Avatar of kylie kylie says:

    I honestly have no idea what this is about because I don’t follow your politics (sorry, its really complicated Josh, you’re going to have to explain it to me someday–in ‘small’ words) but that ‘P’ in that graphic is really, really creeping me out…its like, a face…that is watching me…creepy… ^^;

  3. Avatar of Kinni Kinni says:

    The Corporation for Public Broadcasting takes up .012% of the yearly budget, removing it wouldn’t even be a mosquito bite to any deficit. On the other hand, the tax breaks Romney has publicly promised, via the re-patriation tax holiday and the elimination of the estate tax, to just one of his biggest campaign donors, Sheldon Adelson, is large enough to fund CPB for the next twenty five years. PBS itself, which is only part of CPB, would be funded for almost another five hundred years. That is a massive discrepancy that frankly just is not justified in a declaration of cutting for the sake of balancing the budget. I’m not even going to into the accusatory ‘de-fund because of liberal bia’ or ‘they provide well supported facts we don’t like’ part other then mentioning them, as the only on the record evidence of that is a quote from a Fox VP, but even with that aside, attempting to justify multiple budget pitfalls to rich friends 25 times bigger than a beneficial program you want to cut under an artificial pretense fails even the most simple of logic tests.

  4. Avatar of Rinon Rinon says:

    PBS is probably my favorite channel, and I love many of their shows.
    Having said that, I object to PBS on constitutional grounds. I’m not opposed to the kinds of shows they broadcast, and I agree that they’re not a big drain on the budget – I just don’t see where the federal government gets the authority to be in the television business.

  5. Avatar of Josh Radke Josh Radke says:

    I hear this %/fraction quoted often enough lately. That translates to $444.1 million in the Oct2012-Sep2013 budget. Just sayin’.

    The premise of my post is based on redundancy, not politics or religion. What is it that PBS provides these days that isn’t already being done by the Discovery channels (which includes TLC, Science, Animal Planet), A&E and their History Channel, NatGeo Channel, Home & Garden TV, etc. that must require taxpayer funding?

    The CPB was created in 1967 at a time when there were only three channels available on television and there was a perceived need for in-depth, investigative programming focused on culture, science, and history. There are dozens of channels that provide this kind of programming now. PBS has taken excellent advantage of internet technology to make available tons of full episodes of its programs on its websites at no charge. So its accessibility is second-to-none; indeed the quality of their programming is a result of their remaining competitive is because of the free market. That’s great news and a testament to those running the company!

    They have 121 million viewers a month, a first-class high-tech commercial website, a programming line-up full of legacy and better than most of the channels named (at least they don’t need to lean on the paranormal & UFOs giving us the pyramids!), and other successful commercial operations (e.g. PBS stores, sales of its programs on disc media and iTunes, streaming of its programming on Netflix)… And somehow they can’t make the decisions needed to go the rest of the way from 84% “not-federally funded” to 100%? I think they are selling themselves short and being held back by the oversight constraints that come with taxpayer monies. PBS could not only excel as a full fledged member of the free market, it could be the standard bearer in its industry in revenue and ratings.

    As an aside: The “if we can fund the military with ‘X’ then we can fund ‘Y’” premise is a non-starter. One of the U.S. government’s primary Constitutional responsibilities is to national defense and whatever it takes to ensure this is carried out. It’s all over the preamble and Articles I and II. On the contrary, there is nothing in the Constitution that makes it a stated responsibility of the federal government to educate its citizens.

    • Avatar of Kinni Kinni says:

      First, did you really just draw a comparison between PBS and the same networks that brought us Honey BooBoo and Ancient Aliens? I learn a million times more relevant pieces of history in an hour of Ken Burns then I do in a whole day of trying to figure out how History Channel still is about its namesake. Therein lies the heart of the problem and why PBS and CPB in general cannot try and follow the same model as channels like that. For Discovery Channel, TLC, and History Channel it is no longer about informing and educating, it is about profit and ratings. They will cater to whatever programming draws in viewership no matter how asinine the subject matter. Their profit is based on those ratings because it is those ratings that dictate how much of a cut they get from the ad revenue as well as who chooses to advertise on their network.

      CPB, while accepting donations from corporate donors like GE, is not reliant upon those donations nor are they required to adhere to limitations on what they can and cannot say about certain topics the donors may have a stake in. On top of this, they must state in programs like the News Hour if a corporation featured in a story is in fact a donor and have all such donors named; thus if there is a bias to the story on their part, it is known. Stations like NBC and Fox do not have to do this; companies can throw money at them (or in the case of NBC and GE, be owned by them) and skew information with all the bias they like without having their connection known.

      This also applies to the government’s involvement. Unlike CPR (canadian) and the BBC, which are entirely government funded, CPB is run as an independent company and allowed to determine for itself what material to feature. Generally each local affiliate, such as WPR here in Wisconsin, gets to determine some of its own programming independent of the national network as well. On top of that, public membership is often the party used most in determining the nature of the programming as well; PBS here shows doctor who because many of us here without BBCA want some venue to see episodes, so the network began airing them based on that feedback.

      All in all I have no issues with knowing my tax dollars are going to a network that provides me with information well supported and documented, who can provide me with that support, and willingly provides me with any and all biases it may have regarding that information. Cable news, TLC, Discovery, and History Channel do not provide this. I will take my tax dollars paying for Jim Lehrer over fox and friends, Bill Moyers over Bill Maher, Nova over Top Gear, Masterpiece Theater over Hatfields and McCoys, Nature over Animal Planet, and Antiques Roadshow over Pawn Stars ANY day.

      • Avatar of Josh Radke Josh Radke says:

        “Therein lies the heart of the problem and why PBS and CPB in general cannot try and follow the same model as channels like that.”

        I never stated or suggested that PBS follow the specific programming or business models of their competitors–quite the contrary actually.

        I am making the point that 1) the basic program content offered and the goals of that content are already just like the channels listed who do not receive federal funds and exist/survive just fine (even despite some pretty outlandish content on some of them, which I praised PBS for not including in their programs);

        2) PBS can (likely) do everything exactly as they are doing already without federal funding that could be best used elsewhere;

        and 3) the knee-jerk drama all over the ‘net that Big Bird would be out of a job is hyperbole of the most ludicrous sort. I would be shocked if PBS closed its doors based on losing its 15%-20% in federal funding over (let’s say) a 3-year phase out period. I would be happy to support/sponsor certain programs if Grail Quest Books ever got to that point financially.

        • Avatar of Kinni Kinni says:

          I do agree that PBS/CPB would not die if they lost public funding, as I do believe they would have to adopt a format like what you imply here. What bothers me is what that would mean for the nature of the content. Right now the public funding acts as security, it keeps them balanced as they do not have to yield to private interests too much, nor be dictated by the feds as it is not the entirety of their funding. It is a service much like roads and power lines, and thus far the funding format it uses has managed to provide high quality product that, as matthew has pointed out far more eloquently then I, is superior to any equivalent found in the private sector. If maintaining such a model requires me to pay more, so be it. I don’t gawk at the prospect of higher taxes, so long as that tax money is put to use for a quality service. If a presidential candidate desires to take away part of what contributes to that quality service on the pretense of handing it over and then-some to a rich friend claiming a repeatedly debunked premise that he’ll use it to create jobs; I refuse to give that man my vote. It would be put to far better use maintaining that quality programming that many people enjoy. To quote Pinchot; “the greatest good, for the greatest number of people, for the longest time.”

          • Avatar of Josh Radke Josh Radke says:

            None of what you love about PBS has to change in the free market, Kinni. That’s what being in the free market is all about! :D The companies that provide services and products are beholden to its consumers. If you and millions of others would want PBS to maintain how their company and content is run then you do so by supporting them with your dollars–or witholding those dollars until they comply to your satisfaction.

            And this charge that a presidential candidtae (Romney I presume?) plans on defunding something like PBS to benefit rich friends… I’m not sure where this comes from; I didn’t hear him say it (again, I’m presuming you mean Romney here, but let me know if you have someone else in mind).

            Yet we do know that the incumbent President of the United States gave tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded loans (totaling $400 million) to rich friends in the “green energy” industry–companies (at least four as of this summer) that have gone bankrupt and are/have been investigated for ethics violations (along with the elected official connected to these companies). This is all documented stuff with clear paper trails through regular (under-reported) media sources and government records.

            So if one is going to assume to be true the behavior of a POTUS candidate, then one should also consider what another POTUS candidate is on the public record to have actually done.

    • Avatar of Matthew Matthew says:

      PBS does a LOT that is not done by these other channels.

      The Discovery Channel, for instance, has very poor science, and no basic education programming for pre-schoolers (Seasame Street, Reading Rainbow, etc.).

      The content of the news on PBS is fundamentally different than other channels. It is fundamentally lacking in any ideological bias, as it’s history is one of examining the underlying ideological assumptions of a policy matter, rather than engaging in ideological propaganda (which most other news sources have begun to do).

      And, “Protection of the Citizens” includes protection from ignorance.

      A Republican Democracy does not work without an educated populace.

      Maybe some reading of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, or Thomas Paine will remind you of this:

      “Convinced that the people are the only safe depositories of their own liberty, and that they are not safe unless enlightened to a certain degree, I have looked on our present state of liberty as a short-lived possession unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree.”

      And this was by far the only comment of this sort regarding education.

      That aside, do you really want to live in a nation where the vast majority of the population is not sufficiently educated?

      An uneducated population is more likely to support demagoguery and cast votes for a leader who does not have the best interests of the population in mind. This is why most Democracies that have been forced on populations in the 20th and 21st centuries have not turned out well.

      Questioning the “Role of Government” is all well and good, but it is important to have consistent views that provide real Protection for the population, and the Military is just one venue of protection.

      The ability to communicate is another form of protection, and the ability to communicate is contingent upon being educated enough to know how to communicate, and to be able to investigate the most effective means of communication.

      $441million is an insignificant amount for the Federal Government, and the return on that investment is not having to pay later, for far more expensive education and services for an uneducated population.

      Imagine the cost to the government for a population where 5% of the adult population could not read.

      This would require more staffing in courts, at post-offices, in prisons, and…. At the Ballot Box, where the government would have to provide either ballots that did not require reading (hard to do when you have ballots with complex legislation), or they would have to provide non-partisan readers to instruct the illiterate in both what was on the ballot, and how to actually cast a vote.

      Then there is the statistics on crime. Uneducated populations tend to be more criminal, with these people often dropping out of school, due to a lack of preparation, and then falling into elements that harm the rest of the population.

      Remember what I said about Protecting the citizens?

      What is less expensive? Teaching a five to seven year-old the alphabet, when they have no access to pre-school, or combatting crime and then housing the criminals in a prison for decades at a time, having to pay tens to hundreds of billions each year, rather than a few hundred-million?

      From Incarceration in the USA:

      “In California in 2009, it cost an average of $47,102 a year to incarcerate an inmate in state prison”


      “2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2010 … Additionally, 4,933,667 adults at year-end 2009 were on probation or on parole. In total, 7,225,800 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2009 — about 3.1% of adults in the U.S. resident population. ”

      So, doing the math, with a cost of around 30,000 – 40,0000 per year, that is $68Billion to $90Billion a year on the costs of Prisons.

      Unfortunately, I don’t have time to find the costs of Juvenile Incarceration, but the costs are probably far more than the $441Million for PBS.

      So, if your goal is “Protecting the citizens of the USA,” then Education tends to be a far more cost-effective way of doing this than militaristic interventions (or Para-military, which includes the police and prison system).

      You might also want to do a quick comparison of the programming on PBS/NPR and that of the For-Profit Cable Channels you are attempting to equate to PBS/NPR:

      Alphabetical PBS Program listing
      Alphabetical History Channel Program Listing
      Alphabetical TLC Program Listing

      The other channels you list don’t have much better quality programing either (Cajun Pawn Stars??? for instance, on the History Channel, or “Long Island Medium” on TLC).

      And, again if your concern is your tax dollars, I have already outlined the comparative costs of an ignorant population versus an adequately educated population.

      There are other areas that are far more relevant and less destructive to the societal structure of the USA than removing PBS from Public Funding.

      If you are just a Cultural Conservative who opposes PBS because you think it advances a Liberal Agenda, then just come out and say so.

      The Opposition to PBS is largely an ideological opposition, as NBC (among others) has pointed out in the following article:

      Why Mitt Romney Can’t Fire Big Bird

      From Business Insider:
      This is the moment when Conservatives Fell Head over Heals in Love with Mitt Romney

      And that is by far from all of the materials pointing out that his opposition is not an economic one, but an ideological one.

      The evidence does not support an economic opposition to PBS when you consider all of the benefits that the channel(s) bring to the USA.

      • Avatar of Josh Radke Josh Radke says:

        You are correct, Matthew, that the Founders placed an exceptionally high value on education–to the point that they spoke well of states that made it a crime if a school were not in every town. (See John Adams statements on schools in Massachusetts.) This practice made America a shining jewel as it surpassed Europe in literacy, oration, and intellect into the 19th century.

        So it should be telling that, with their deep love and support of an educated American citizenry, they still made no mandate for the federal government to get involved when they wrote the Constitution.

        Why… Because they clearly felt the states and local communities should handle this role in educating its residents, and were already doing so admirably.

        And that is what I have been saying and supporting on this issue. I have not made any negative remark about the vital importance of education and its role in a successful republic. You will find no bigger supporter of good teachers and quality education.

        But what I have said is that there is no defined Constitutional role in education for the federal government because clearly our Founders–by looking at their writings–preferred that education continue to be an issue handled at the state and local level.

        And I maintain that PBS provides no service or content that is so vital as to warrant millions of dollars in taxpayer funds. I have not said that PBS does not have good content nor that its presentation of said content is inferior to its competitors. Indeed I have praised many of their programs, even if said programs are not always in agreement with my religious beliefs and political ideology, and stated how their programming had good influences on my own life.

        And if one wants to quote the Founders one needs to go all the way. You draw a connection between uneducated/under-educated society and crime. But it is not a lack of education nearly as much as it’s something missing entirely from the education.

        George Washington said the following in his Farewell Address:

        “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens….And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

        Consider Article III of the Northwest Ordinance passed by Congress of the Confederation just two months before the U.S. Constitution was approved by its Convention (basically the Third Continental Congress, and the last Congress before the Constitution was ratified by the states in September 1788):

        “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

        And guess what has ceased to be taught by public schools against the exhortations of our Founders: religion (where we learn about charity, the importance of family, and where we fit in in the universe; notice the lack of a specific faith) and morality (of the old-school absolute ‘right/wrong’ variety–none of this ‘shades of grey’ poodoo); and of knowledge it is at best selective in the post-modern political and cultural landscape.

        So if there is a failure of education to American citizens that is leading to a break-down it is not because a channel like PBS is un-funded/under-funded/over-funded by the federal government, or inaccessible. It is because we are missing or have compromised at least 70% of our basic curriculum which our Founders told us was vital to a safe and exceptional republic.

  6. Avatar of theviking theviking says:

    Oh dear…
    This is one of those things where everyone has a certain point that is valid. Josh is right, PBS could survive on the free market just fine precisely because it isn’t those other shows.
    And of course Matthew and Kinni are right in that it is a very small small part of the budget. But there are a lot of things that individually aren’t much. After all, the left talks about the defense budget and right about entitlements but those huge blocks are made of smaller pieces. No one wants to see the whole thing go away and everyone has their untouchable pieces of the pie and pieces they could do without. Real discussion needs to take place over where the priorities should lie.
    Does PBS deserve to be on the chopping block? That’s debatable. I’m not sure of the bias or lack thereof in most of the content (save for some very obvious new age relativism is some kids’ cartoon involving a talking sloth) so I can’t say much there. Financially, it doesn’t mean much by itself. Constitutionally, I favor narrow interpretations simply because it helps keep us from overstepping any bounds, so on those grounds I’d favor the government getting out of the TV business. Does PBS do good things? Probably. Is education important? Of course. But it’s my job to ensure my kids know how to read, the government just provides tools to help. But if those tools go away it’s still my job. If a couple small tools get taken out of the box, I don’t think juvenile delinquency is suddenly going to go through the roof or something.
    Of course, all that goes to say, I don’t much care about PBS one way or another. If it get defunded, fine. If something else does, fine. Something likely will get cut, the only question is what and how deep.
    Alright, I am totally off my soapbox. Now, can’t we all just get along? ;)

    • Avatar of Josh Radke Josh Radke says:

      We’re getting along… I think, lol. It’s called “discourse”–it’s fun and healthy! C.S. Lewis and Tolkien would approve I think :D (Especially since Tolkien was notorious for being the instigator of flaming debates, lol!)

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