Here’s a loaded question: Should the Federal Government fund public broadcasting?
Please, take a moment to answer —then continue reading...
So how did you do? Did you vote with your heart? Or perhaps you sided with your wallet? Did you make an informed decision based on multiple media sources, or were you swayed by your favorite talking head? Did you stand in solidarity with your Political ideology? Or maybe your decision was influenced by a perceived threat to your own personal situation, perhaps as an artist or as an employee of PBS itself? Have you listened first to the arguments of your opponents, or did you answer immediately after reading the question?
It’s OK, really. People do it all the time (including myself). That’s why I set out to try something different this time around.
In spite of my loyal support of PBS/NPR (of which I am a proud cardholding member), rather than give in to the biased rhetoric from both sides of the party line, I’ve decided to do some investigation of my own. As I researched this topic, I wondered if the people at PBS (a media organization who prides themselves on in-depth exploration of issues) would appreciate my objective search. I suspect there are people out there who would claim: “As a registered member of an established organization I have the duty to support PBS absolutely—no questions asked!”
I, however, am no lemming.
Ultimately, my goal is simple: to uncover the facts surrounding this debate and communicate my findings in a completely objective manner. Impossible you say (given my membership of PBS and apparent bias)? Well PBS claims they create balanced programming all the time (in spite of their own personal beliefs). So let’s test the theory out.
Note: In the end though, I suspect no matter which conclusion I arrive at (in favor of or against Government funding), I know I can’t win. If I side with the Republicans, the Democrats will label me a traitor. And if I side with the Democrats the Republicans will call me a lackey. But let’s try anyway.
To start, let’s do ourselves a huge favor by getting rid of the extreme opinions from both sides (most of which serve to incite rather than insight). Here's our first obnoxious candidate:
Representative David R. Obey (D-WI 7th) June 11, 2005
” I am afraid that you have been grossly misinformed about the way the "public" views PBS. I am part of that "public" and I am and have been very aware of the liberal bias in Public Broadcasting for quite some time. It seems that the only time PBS shows anything "decent" is during their fundraising time. After that is over they go back to showing mostly garbage. I, for one, would be glad to see PBS lose it's Federal Funding and for you to lose your job.”
Then there’s Sen. Jesse Helms. In response to the homoerotic photographs of the late Robert Mapplethorpe (which was partly funded by the NEA), Sen. Jesse Helms had this to say:
“I don’t even acknowledge that it’s art. I don’t even acknowledge that the fellow who did this was an artist. I think he was a jerk.”
Not so fast. Many of you Liberals out there are just as much to blame for provoking controversy as your adversary.
For example, here’s a Newsletter I received from my local NPR affiliate in San Francisco. The opening line says: “Last week, a severe cut of 45% of the budget for public broadcasting was proposed by the Appropriations subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives . The truth is (or rather a more accurate portrayal of this budget cut is) that KQED’s total budget has only been reduced 8% as a result of this proposed cut. Here, perception is everything. And although KQED was just trying to rally it’s troops as best it can, I personally feel the manipulation of these numbers is misleading to the average reader. At the least, they could have given a breakdown of their financials on their website.
Now that we’ve filtered out some of the loud noise, let’s get down to the facts. In keeping with the mantra “seek first to understand before being understood”, I’d like to give the floor to the right side of the discussion first. They actually have some compelling agruments:
Now for the rebuttal (which counters many of the issues described above):
These are just some of the issues being debated, and a person can tie themselves up in knots listening to the back-and-forth rhetoric from both sides. The left, for example, will make claims that the “Art Community” injects billions of dollars into our economy every year...to which the right counters by saying artists already get generous tax breaks to aid their efforts. I’ve also heard the right side attack CPB as a mismanaged bureaucracy (which to me is like the kettle calling the pot black). And no argument on this topic is complete without a least one conservative attacking the PBS program "Postcards From Buster" in which Buster, an animated rabbit, visited a family in Vermont headed by lesbians. This, I’m afraid, is a discussion all unto itself.
With all these many compelling arguments pulling in both directions, how does one make a decision? Should the Government support PBS? Which is right, which is wrong?
A friend once told me: “If you stand for nothing you fall for everything.” Struggling with the scales of justice (which, as a Libra is my zodiac sign) while feeling confident in my research, my gut instincts tells me this:
Yes, the Federal Government should continue funding PBS, as areas such as art, education, and creativity are absolutely vital to our compassion, humanity, and identity. So the next question becomes: How much money should the Government spend on PBS? Well, I’m personally not in charge of the budget (but I do feel the dollar value we spend on PBS should be higher than “zero”, which was the proposed amount from Congress for 2007 and 2008).
In spite of this valiant quest to uncover my personal beliefs though, in the end, this discovery has proven pointless. For the reality is such that—due to the ballooning costs of the War—there’s not one red penny to spare for this important expense. (And unfortunately I don’t believe in large deficits either, so something needs to give.) So the war rages on as people continue the debate: Do we want to spend our money on PBS or locating WMD’s? In 2008, America will have another chance to decide.
Don't worry folks, Big Bird is not going anywhere. But if these cuts do wind up hurting smaller PBS markets, what might the effects be on reduced public programming for these outlying areas?
To explore this question further, let’s first take a look at a rather inciteful bumper sticker I saw last weekend. Oh, if you haven’t seen this one yet, it’s a gem:
Mother of God, that’s a lot of Red!
Of course, it’s not that simple. Similar to the deceptive numbers KQED offered in their email earlier, this color chart employs more “smoke and mirrors” than David Copperfield. Obviously, the more densely populated cities are blue while the less populated rural areas are red. But this does raise an interesting point: What factors are contributing to the striking differences between ideology and urbanism? And is it silly of me to suggest that perhaps a little culture, art, and education from some PBS programming could help depolarize our Nation?
Ah, I confess: I can be a dreamer sometimes (especially when I allow the blue side of my muddled ideology get the better of me)!
Then there are the accusations by Conservatives regarding the “Liberal slant” of PBS, which are at best subjective. Few would argue that a person’s position on the ideology spectrum is often determined by the very position of the one actually making this judgment. It’s kind of like driving on the highway: “Anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot, while anyone who drives faster than you is an asshole.” So I ask: What speed are you driving?
In my case, it’s my father-in-law (a retired cop) who thinks I’m a free-wheeling hippie, while my closest friends (retired river guides) think I’m a red-blooded pig. No matter where you stand, you just can’t win. Ask PBS.
And finally, I’d just like to remind everyone (both Left and Right) that this budget cut—like so many other unfortunate realities of our present day—is in fact as temporary as the very administration that approved it. Where we go from here depends on the decisions set forth by the people of our beloved Democracy—fathers, farmers, jewelers, jugglers, hunters, hookers--they all get to decide our fate...whether you like it or not.