Public TV: Swing right or die

The reason for the popularity of conservative talk radio is simple: It came with a ready-made audience—namely, people commuting to and from their jobs. Like any business, conservative talk radio not only survives but also thrives because it appeals to a specific audience.

Not so with the aberration that is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. A full 15 percent of its budget (which supports both the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio) comes directly from the taxpayers—courtesy of the federal government.

Responding to allegations that PBS and NPR have a distinctly liberal bias, The New York Times reported that CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson tapped a White House staffer to write guidelines for CPB’s newly created ombudsman office. The Times also sniffingly reported that last year two Republican lobbyists were each paid $15,000 in an arrangement that was withheld from the CPB board.

In addition, and also unbeknownst to the CPB board, Tomlinson paid right-wing political consultant Fred Mann $14,170 to monitor the PBS program Now and track its guests’ political leanings as either conservative or liberal and pro-Bush or anti-Bush. (Any guesses as to the results?) Accordingly, any potential shift of PBS or NPR to the political right is regarded with disdain by the Times.

Slightly less resistant to any shift was columnist Peggy Noonan. In a recent column for The Wall Street Journal, she noted that PBS—despite being “the TV funhouse of the Democratic Party"—at its best—"does the kind of work that no other network in America does or will do.”

Still, it needs “rules and conditions,” Noonan said. She went so far as to suggest that PBS should air only dramatic works older than 50 years—in other words, those in the public domain—and that it stop reporting on current affairs, “with which PBS, alas, cannot be trusted.”

“Nobody needs another Bill Moyers show,” wrote Noonan.

Bill Moyers, for the uninitiated, is about as unbiased as Dan “I was duped by forged memos” Rather. Still, Moyers retired from the Now program six months ago.

Apparently, the majority of viewers still like what they see on PBS. Attempts by a U.S. House of Representatives committee to cut funds for public broadcasting were met with an outcry that resulted in the House voting 284-140 to restore $100 million in funding.

And according to the Center for Digital Democracy, a poll conducted two years ago and surveying 1,008 adults showed that public broadcasting had an 80 percent “favorable” rating. Only 10 percent of those polled had an “unfavorable” opinion of PBS and NPR.

It’s as Bill O’Reilly wrote in his July 7 column, “If PBS is politically balanced as Bill Moyers says it is, why, then, are only liberal Americans objecting to impending changes at the network? I mean, every far-left crank in town is in a frenzy over a couple of Republicans moving into management positions. After decades of liberal leadership, isn’t it fair to give some conservatives a shot? After all, the tax dollars of right-wing Americans also pour into the Public Broadcasting trough. So, hey, let’s be fair about things.

“Of course, there is a chance that the conservatives will not be fair, and will turn Elmo into a contributor to Tom DeLay’s travel fund.”

In the end however, I don’t care what political bent or bias PBS or NPR takes. The real question is could the CPB survive on its own without being funded with taxpayer money?

Perhaps we should we find out.