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May 02, 2005

PBS: Fair, Balanced, and Funded

Jesse, incensed by PBS's new effort to imbue their network with that "fair and balanced" goodness, is offering cookie-making robots to anyone able to force the media into "screw balance" week. Sounds like a plan. But before getting to the baking AIBO's, it's worth looking a nit closer at the PBS situation.

Just like with Social Security, there is no crisis. NPR is not biased, PBS does not swing left. In an electorate where easy majorities believe their news channels want merely to gut punch some unlucky ideology, 55% believe PBS's programming is "fair and balanced", while 79% bestow the same dubious designation on NPR. Not only that, but public broadcasting has an 80% favorable rating and a majority consider PBS more trustworthy than ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and CNN. So while liberal gremlins with "PBS" tattooed on their chest surely dance around Brent Bozell's head, the rest of the country -- you know, the folks Congress is supposed to be legislating for -- have happily resisted the delusions.

None of that, of course, has stopped PBS Chairman Ken Tomlinson from trying to restore fairness and balance to a network that already has it. His attempts to overwhelm the station with Republican operatives, luminaries, and bigwigs constitutes a truly impressive effort to destroy PBS's independence, and the New York Times article describing his strategy really has to be read to be believed. But Ken doesn't seem evil, just opportunistic. According to buddies quoted in the article, he believes a rightward tilt is what's needed to receive funding for the station, and so that's what he's going to create.

It doesn't much matter that the public likes PBS as is, so long as the conservative movement continues to have nightmares where Moyers and Lehrer taunt Christ from Terry Schiavo's bedside, their puppets in the Senate are going to make life miserable for the station. And that, finally, is where we're at: the government application of an ideological litmus test that decides whether or not public broadcasting will be financially supported. The original aims of fairness, independence, and service to the population are no longer operative, it's a simple question of PBS's loyalty: are they conservatism's ally or enemy? And since conservatism, though not the public, currently considers them hostile, the station will replace its staffers with Republican operatives, change their programming, and twist a formula that Americans overwhelmingly appreciate to one that more closely mirrors the many stations they find less trustworthy and more biased than PBS. And maybe that's the end point, a complete collapse of credible media outlets, a world composed of nothing more than Foucault's competing discourses. Because hey -- when facts don't matter, supply side economics work, the weapons were found/moved to Syria, the Medicare drug benefit was cheap, Bush is saving Social Security, and the rest of the Republican agenda is sound and safe. And that's a fact.

May 2, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Idle question (and I honestly do not know the answer): Does Armed Services Radio carry Air America to balance off Rush Limbaugh?

Posted by: Ara Rubyan | May 2, 2005 12:26:11 PM

Ken Tomlinson is the Chair of CPB (corporation for public broadcasting) not PBS. The head of PBS is still Pat Mitchell until she leaves at the end of her contract this year. There is a difference between the two. Maybe re-read the NYTimes article on that bit today.

Posted by: kMC | May 2, 2005 12:48:56 PM

NPR is probably safer from conservative mau-mauing than PBS is. NPR has a well-defined aesthetic, and a core of listeners that identifies with the network. But PBS isn't nearly as well-branded. It's partly the channel your kids can watch without being bombarded by ads for toys and sugar cereal, part NewsHour/Washington Week In Review, part British imports like Antiques Roadshow. All these things are valuable in their own right, but PBS doesn't really add up to more than the sum of its parts. As a result, PBS doesn't really have the constituency that NPR does.

It's curious that the Republicans haven't killed CPB outright, as it is, from their standpoint, about as illegitimate a function of government as it is possible to imagine. But public broadcasting has an affluent demographic, which is most likely why they haven't succeeded (or even tried, really). But those affluent, educated people, even if they are conservative, don't want a government-sponsored Fox News because FNN insults their intelligence. So I don't see that happening; a chilling effect on the reporting on PBS/NPR is more likely. Indeed, the worst thing right now about public broadcasting is its urge to be inoffensive and to avoid contention, an endemic tendency which will only become worse under Republican commissars.

Posted by: ktheintz | May 2, 2005 2:43:11 PM

PBS (and NPR) need to develop an alternate funding source other than CPB, since CPB is soon to be firmly in the arms of the BushCo know-nothings.

The creationists/intelligent design folks just can't stand Nova and Nature (my two favorite PBS programs).

Frontline, Lehrer's News, and other political content also drives Conservatives nuts, because they don't toe the Repub party line.

Progressives should find ways to protect this resource, or make CPB go away, regardless of the effect on PBS/NPR. It would be far worse to have political control of PBS/NPR (and fear of being 'controversial') than nothing at all.

The current Nature series on the Deep Jungle has science revelations of the first order. Did you know about tool-making mammals and chimps that murder? The best popular exposition of natural selection and evolution that I've ever seen.

Science itself is under attack, on many fronts.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 2, 2005 3:29:38 PM

jim, those 2 are already like the BBC on the other side, why not spin them off also? makes sense, but god forbid there should be an actually balanced news network in this country.

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