FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS: NPR

March 15, 2011

The hardest thing a parent can say to their 24 year old son who refuses to leave home and get an apartment somewhere is "It's time to cut the strings." Harder still is telling a 44 year old mooch, living off of the public dole that it's "time to sink or swim."

Well, it is time NPR. You are 44 years old and act like five. It's time to sink or swim.

I have had the privilege of working at NPR affiliated radio stations in the past for a total of thirteen years. I remember hearing the words of my bosses about how important it is to vote for the man or woman who best represents the interests of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. I remember in 1980, my boss at WBJC in Baltimore (Kenneth Stein, of Dark Shadows fame) all but said that it is vitally important that each and every employee go to the polls and vote for Jimmy Carter.  "Our survival and your paycheck depend on it!"

Yeah, Right!! Well Ronald Reagan did cut into NPR's and CPB's budget but WBJC and nearly 250 other public radio and television stations chugged along.

That was 1980. Now fast forward another 31 years and find an even stronger push toward letting public radio sink or swim. Admittedly NPR states that of their 43 news commentators, pundits, and analysts that there are NO conservative voices. Does that not qualify in the area of not being in "the public interest"? Or, do the powers that be at NPR and CPB think that there is no interest among conservatives? True, very few, if any, conservatives listen or support NPR. I wonder why?

Forget the recent scandals involving National Public Radio. Go back to the days before NPR chief exec Vivian Schiller resigned, before a conservative prankster videotaped NPR fundraisers disparaging tea party participants as "seriously racist, racist people" -- to even before NPR fired senior news analyst Juan Williams after he said on Fox News that he got "nervous" flying with passengers in Muslim garb.

Banish from your mind the recent controversies involving NPR's perceived or (I believe) real liberal bias. Even then, fiscal conservatives in Congress had called for cuts in federal funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., introduced a bill to end taxpayer subsidies to the CPB -- $420 million last year -- back in June 2010 to reduce the federal debt.

"If we can't eliminate or at least seriously reduce the funding for a nonessential government program that has outlived its original purpose," Lamborn told reporters Thursday, "then I fear that we're not serious about our future.

It's true that he is a conservative and that NPR has done things that didn't sit right with him, Lamborn continued. But, he said, his prime motivator was "the spending."

The chairs of the bipartisan fiscal commission named by President Obama -- Republican Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles -- targeted CPB, which provides 10 percent to 15 percent of funding that goes to local public broadcasting TV and radio stations, for elimination. They made no charge of bias, just the fact that CPB's funding level is "the highest it has ever been" and that its elimination should save taxpayers just under $500 million in 2015.

NPR boosters scoff at this measly sum. This year's budget will spend $3.8 trillion, they argue; CPB is a drop in the bucket. But Washington has to eliminate programs in order to reach the Simpson-Bowles goal of reducing domestic spending by $100 billion over 10 years.

Obama hardly helps his claim of wanting to cut the deficit when he himself wants to raise CPB's take to $451 million next year. White House spokesman Jay Carney says that the president understands the need to make "tough choices." But the administration won't even yank this, the Grey Poupon of federal subsidies.

I understand that if Washington pulls the plug, rural public broadcasting affiliates will be hit hardest. ?If Washington eliminates the CPB subsidy, then viewers and listeners will be asked to pony up. There may be added pressure on liberal benefactors, such as liberal billionaire George Soros, to provide seed money to send to the locals. And if that fails, some affiliates may have to consolidate with others -- which would be painful, as "tough choices" usually are.

Lamborn believes that if Congress eliminates CPB funding -- the Senate just voted down a House bill that included the CPB cut -- then stations may have to change their business model, but "they still have every opportunity to continue on in the private sector and prosper, and I believe they would."

If they want to save a few bucks, public broadcasting execs might want to look at top salaries. According to the Washington Post, NPR President Vivian Schiller's salary was $450,000 last year -- plus a $112,500 bonus. PBS President Paula Kerger's compensation exceeded $630,000 in 2009. When you think about those poor rural stations scrimping on federal crumbs, those tony salaries almost make you want to cry.

Now it turns out, even some NPR biggies don't think the broadcaster should get federal funds.

Now, I am no fan of the smarmy tactics of conservative prankster James O'Keefe, the guy who pretended he was a pimp in order to discredit ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. If I ever shake his hand by mistake, I'll wash it right away.

But just as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has to live with comments he made on the phone to a left-leaning liar, NPR now has to live with O'Keefe's tapes. While trying to land a $5 million donation from the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center Trust, now-former NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller (no relation to the president) said NPR would be " in the long run ... better off without federal funding."

He also said, "In my personal opinion, liberals today might be more educated, fair and balanced than conservatives." I am sure he meant that, too.

Lamborn tells me that the O'Keefe videos increase the likelihood that Washington will cut the CPB cord because the videos show "the disarray at NPR."

That may be a polite way of saying that the tapes make NPR execs look like complete frauds -- the same way they looked when they very publicly fired Juan Williams. Vivian Schiller said the move had nothing to do with Williams' regular appearances on the right-leaning Fox News. Apparently, she believes the American public is stupid. Could that be because, until very recently, the American public very generously subsidized her perch?


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