Tahlequah Daily Press

October 10, 2012

Attack on PBS an assault on Fourth Estate


TAHLEQUAH — It’s a shame many who aspire to an upper-tier public office, or who already hold one, are determined to eliminate funding for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System. Polls show mainstream Americans don’t approve of the politically-charged efforts to dismantle them.

Despite a general consensus that Mitt Romney bested President Barack Obama in last week’s debate, pundits have had a field day with Romney’s comment that he’d kick PBS to the curb as part of his budget-trimming plan. Oddly, other than “Obamacare,’ PBS was the only specific target Romney mentioned. That cut wouldn’t even constitute a blip on the budget radar – not when compared to the trillions of dollars funneled to the energy industry, the military, and countless other entities, departments, divisions and pet projects.

But politicians these days are ignoring public opinion, and concentrating on the whims of core partisans and financial supporters.

This would seem an unwise gambit, but with a polarized electorate increasingly willing to sacrifice principles for party plank, nonsensical behavior is paying off at the polls.

If politicians were listening to the public, they would be raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, since polls show a sizable majority favors that action. Obama supports it, too, but it’s not scoring him any points. Many conservative voters who agree with him on that accord find plenty to criticize elsewhere.

A respect for public opinion would also give politicians pause before aiming the knife at Amtrak. Some folks refuse to acknowledge there are a few cases – like highways and the military – where an infusion of taxpayer funds can benefit us all. Prohibitively high fuel costs for driving, coupled with poorly managed airlines that give customers substandard service in exchange for higher ticket prices, have boosted Amtrak ridership to consecutive records for the past 11 months.

Even in Oklahoma, one of the most conservative states, support for funding PBS is strong. A recent online poll conducted by the Daily Press drew 182 responses. Although we received calls from two people who said they’d been asked by friends to log on and vote for killing PBS, we assume supporters were making calls as well.

Fifty-one people said government funding for public broadcasting should be eliminated. Another 25 said it should be trimmed, but not eliminated. Sixty-nine people said government funding should be increased according to inflation, and perhaps surprisingly, 30 people supported substantial funding increases for public broadcasting. Seven were undecided.

The poll suggests over 68 percent of our readers don’t want funding for public broadcasting totally eliminated. Obama most assuredly doesn’t enjoy the support of 68 percent of our readers, so we infer Romney isn’t listening to some of his own supporters.

As we’ve said before, NPR has been able to maintain an even keel for the very reason it is often under attack: because it relies partly on “government” support, rather than being solely beholden to a private corporation and its investors, who have their own agenda – namely, making profits. Some who claim NPR and PBS offer “liberal” programming may either be ignorant or spectacular fibbers, but it’s more likely they lean so far to the right that any programming not in lockstep with their own belief system is viewed as biased.

There are also ultra-liberals who dislike NPR because it always allows their conservative nemeses air time. Public broadcasting’s strenuous efforts to allow equal time to diverse opinions has no merit for such rigid people.

An attack on public broadcasting can be viewed as an assault on the Fourth Estate. Without real journalism – not to be confused with the drivel from posers on the Internet and certain one-sided TV and radio pundits – the public cannot stay abreast of what’s happening in the world around them. This would be good news for any politicians bent on serving themselves rather than voters.

Those who oppose the legitimate and objective media, either public or private, also oppose open government, and democracy itself. A media entity that answers mainly to “the public” has no reason to interest itself in anything but the truth. And that’s what scares some people.