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A Times Editorial

Posturing, NPR and the budget

In today's economy, it's a valid question whether this country should be directly funding National Public Radio or any other journalism. Yet the House's decision last week to block the modest amount of federal money allocated to NPR was not in the spirit of objectively weighing ways to reduce the deficit. The Senate is not likely to go along with the cuts, and the posturing has more to do with Republicans lashing out at NPR in a fit of political pique.

For years Republicans have been aiming to sharply reduce or eliminate federal subsidies dedicated to public broadcasting, most notably NPR, citing what they view as a liberal bias. It certainly didn't help that embarrassing gaffes committed by NPR executives provided more ammunition for the critics.

NPR's CEO, Vivian Schiller, resigned and its chief fundraiser, Ronald Schiller (no relation), was fired in the wake of the release of a heavily doctored and highly edited video in which Ronald Schiller makes disparaging comments accusing tea party activists of racism. He also suggested NPR would be better off without federal funding even if it meant some public radio stations might be forced off the air. So much for affiliate relations.

It mattered little that the offending recordings were selectively distorted by conservative activist James O'Keefe to cast NPR in the most negative light. O'Keefe was also the source of manipulated video recordings that led to the demise of the community organizing group ACORN in 2009. But the situation only worsened when a second damaging audio tape emerged with another NPR fundraiser, Betsy Liley, telling a potential donor it might be possible to shield a contribution from IRS scrutiny. That would be both stupid and illegal.

On a national level, only about 2 percent of NPR's funding comes from the federal government, mostly in the form of grants. Local public broadcasting stations would face much more dire financial straits. Tampa's WUSF Public Media, which operates WUSF-FM 89.7 and WUSF-Ch. 16, receives about $1.8 million in federal money, roughly 20 percent of its budget.

Some 37 million Americans each week tune into NPR, which offers culturally valuable news and entertainment programming that few other outlets provide. The wisdom of providing federal funding for public broadcasting is a legitimate issue, but it needs to be addressed in a manner more thoughtful than partisan rants on the House floor. The self-inflicted wounds by a few nattering NPR executives, unethically obtained and edited, should not be the driving force behind decisions affecting the future of public broadcasting.

Posturing, NPR and the budget 03/20/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 20, 2011 8:12pm]
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