PBS GOP plan: Don't hold your breath.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Feb. 10 2011 3:03 PM

GOP PBS NPR DOA?

The nine stages of not eliminating public broadcasting's subsidy.

Harold Rogers.

The new chairman of the House appropriations committee, Harold Rogers, R-Ky., has proposed zeroing out the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds public television and radio. This is far from the most troublesome of the GOP's proposed budget cuts (among other things, the plan also calls for zeroing out Americorps and family-planning funds, and it slashes the Environmental Protection Agency's budget), but it's getting big headlines because everybody has a television and a radio and nobody wants to see Scott Simon's children go hungry. In singling out CPB, Rogers and other House Republicans are initiating a familiar Washington ritual: the nine stages of not eliminating government broadcast funds.

Stage 1. Scream and yell about an unacceptably liberal gesture by NPR or PBS. In this case that was the baseless firing of Juan Williams. In years past, it was PBS giving aid and comfort to Bill Moyers, Frontline, and Stanley Karnow.

Stage 2. Threaten to eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which collects and distributes federal funds to public broadcasters. (See Gingrich, Newt, 1995.)

Stage 3.   Introduce legislation to eliminate CPB. (See Crane, Phil, 1997.)

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Stage 4. Discover CPB's annual appropriation looms pretty small (currently $445 million) in a federal government whose annual spending is in the trillions.

Stage 5. Discover that CPB, in a time-tested Washington trick, gives most of its money to local stations, which in turn give money to the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio. This (legal) money-laundering scheme makes congressional districts around the country consciously dependent on and loyal to CPB.

Stage 6. Discover that NPR and PBS have developed a deep interest not merely in your conservative political views but in your entire Weltanschauung and put you on the air all the time.

Stage 7. Discover that most public broadcasting officials, no matter what their politics, would rather die than be identified publicly with liberalism and will strangle overtly left-leaning content long before you hear about it. (See Allen, Woody, squelched Nixon parody, 1972.)

Stage 8. Discover that despite their terror of anything that might be labeled left-wing propaganda, public broadcasters will, after remarkably little bullying, gladly broadcast more right-wing propaganda than even Grover Norquist can tolerate.

Stage 9. Decide you have bigger fish to fry, and make your peace with public broadcasting. They're not such bad folks after all!

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Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

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