It’s time to pull the plug on PBS

On March 10, this publication ran an editorial wherein the editors praised local PBS affiliate KNPB for running a controversial and uncensored documentary about U.S. troops in Iraq called A Company of Soldiers (

The editors praised KNPB for having the journalistic integrity to stand against what they called the “heavy and growing pressure from dogmatic conservatives and right-wing federal regulators to control its [PBS’s] content.”

One example cited was the recent flap over Buster, PBS’s animated rabbit of Postcards from Buster fame. Shortly after some conservative groups denounced it, an episode in which Buster visits two lesbian parents and meets their children in Vermont was pulled prior to airing.

In a letter to Pat Mitchell, PBS president, Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings wrote, “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode.”

Like clockwork, Spellings and the conservative groups were dismissed as “gay-bashers.” (Funny how “free speech” doesn’t work both ways.)

Spellings continued, “Two years ago the Senate Appropriations Committee raised questions about the accountability of funds appropriated for Ready-To-Learn programs.” (That would be the grant under which Buster is produced.)

Apparently, it was this veiled threat to pull the Education Department’s financing of Buster that caused PBS to relent. (Mind you, this should have led to another flap over why the DOE was funding Buster in the first place. And perhaps that should have led to yet another flap over whether the DOE’s bloated and flatulent existence is even necessary—but I digress.)

In any event, let’s be clear. People have every right to advance their opinions and agendas—but not at taxpayer expense.

Still, the New York Times displayed its own worries on the front page, namely that pressure from conservatives might threaten to send PBS careening off to the right of Fox News.

And yet the issue isn’t—or shouldn’t be—whether PBS’s journalistic integrity remains intact in the face of right-wing political pressure. It also isn’t—or shouldn’t be—whether the right-wing meanies want to control PBS. It is, quite frankly, all about whether PBS should be allowed to continue feasting at the public trough at all.

PBS was an abhorrent idea when it was created in 1969. The First Amendment right to a free press doesn’t apply to the federal government or to any government-sponsored media. Hence, the federal government has no business subsidizing the production and distribution of entertainment, let alone journalism.

If PBS’s mere existence weren’t bad enough, consider this. In fiscal year 2004, taxpayers got fleeced for more than $125 million for PBS, $139 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and yet another $135 million for the National Endowment for Humanities.

Still, PBS’s ratings lag at historic lows. Things are so bad, some PBS stations are now airing HBO films to attract viewers. How is that for an intelligent use of your tax dollars—HBO re-runs on public television?

According to Fox News, PBS executives have expressed rightful concerns that their future may be in serious jeopardy. In February, when addressing the station’s affiliates, PBS president Mitchell said, “We are dangerously close in our overall primetime number to falling below the relevance quotient. And if that happens, we will surely fall below any arguable need for government support, not to mention corporate or individual support.”

Let’s be honest. In today’s cable/satellite/internet world, PBS is a relic that’s ready for the scrapheap. If PBS can’t survive on its own merit without subsidies, it deserves euthanasia—and quickly.