Since last month's widely-criticized firing of Juan
Williams, some conservatives have been itching to defund NPR as soon as
they gained a congressional majority in the midterms. True to form,
House Republicans have announced
that they are planning a floor vote aiming to sever the news organization
from the small amount of public funding that it currently enjoys. NPR,
these Republicans gleefully note, topped the list of the GOP's weekly "YouCut"
contest, in which the public can vote on spending cuts it would
like to see the House vote on. Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint and Eric Cantor
are among the heavyweights pressing
for the defunding, while a nationwide poll conducted last month suggests
that public is slightly opposed to the potential effort. In
light of the House movement, here's an overview of the most substantive
opinions on NPR since the Juan Williams firestorm
engulfed public debate.
- Defunding NPR Is A Waste of Time
For the GOP Conceding that, yes, he does listen to the "simply great
radio" of the "enemy broadcasts" The National Review's Jonah Goldberg
argues that NPR should be defunded, but "Republicans would be crazy to
make this a priority after the midterm elections." The organization has
spent years shoring up their "budgetary bunkers" and "busting them would
take an enormous amount of time and effort, with minuscule reward.
Indeed, Democrats would love it if Republicans allowed themselves to be
baited into what would essentially be a culture-war fight over public
radio (the last 'war on Big Bird' was a disaster for the GOP)."
- To Thrive It Needs to Kill Public Funding Mapping out a way forward, Slate's Jack Shafer
notes that NPR has been heading down this path for a while (it's why
they've shortened their name from National Public Radio to just NPR). By
now, he argues, NPR must be sick of being a political pawn and might
even enjoy being "liberated" from the burden of public funding. In order
for it to thrive, Shafer proposes this: "Kill those annoying
underwriter announcements and replace them with real advertisements for
real money. If the taint of pure commerce is too great for public radio
to tolerate (and I don't think it is), stations could go to work and
build an endowment on the back of the only real asset they have: their
spectrum, a scarce and valuable resource that they are rich with."
- NPR Isn't the Same As Fox News: That Distinction Matters In lieu of commenting on Juan Williams, Atlantic national correspondent James Fallows
pens an essay in defense of the organization and argues that it and Fox
News are not "two sides to the same coin." Fox News, he concedes, is
"unmatched" at applying "a unified political-cultural world view to the
unfolding events of the day." That is not NPR's mission. It is "one of
the few current inheritors of the tradition of the ambitious, first-rate
news organization" that actually gathers information. "NPR shows are
built around gathering and analyzing the news, rather than using it as a
springboard for opinions. And while of course the selection of stories
and analysts is subjective and can show a bias, in a serious news
organization the bias is something to be worked against rather than
embraced," he writes.
- A Rare Breed in Media Today: It Speaks To
Its Audience Like Adults NPR has a valuable, multiculturalist
perspective because it is one of the few outfits that "extended its
feelers to tap even the faintest faraway dot on the map with a moving
story to tell, navigating near-impossible terrain if necessary,"
observes Vanity Fair's James Wolcott.
While "blowhards" like Newt Gingrich have perpetually tried to take
down NPR, they've been unsuccessful. Here's Wolcott's theory on why: "In
the era of Sarah Palin Superstar, bashing NPR no longer gets the
primitive, tribal juices going on the right, not with such a bumper crop
of Muslims and illegal immigrants for Tea Party panderers to sink their
gums into. Mosques are so much easier to hobgoblinize—to borrow one of
the late William F. Buckley Jr.’s coinages—than the rest stop on the
dial bringing home Morning Edition."
- Republicans May Try, But
Defunding NPR Is Harder Than It Looks Conservatives new rallying cry is
looking a lot like their old ralling cry, notes Politico's Keach Hagey,
but NPR opponents may not realize that Congress doesn't directly fund
the organization: It funds the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
"which distributes money through a variety of channels, some of which
lead to NPR. But NPR only gets about 2 percent of its funding from the
CPB." If the GOP aims to "punish" NPR, defunding the CPB is an
"imprecise" way to do it. "NPR says that it gets only about 2 percent of
its annual budget, currently $161.8 million, from the CPB. However,
this does not count the 40 percent of its budget that comes from member
stations, who themselves get $90 million from the CPB, according to the
CPB," Hagey reports.
- The Critique of NPR Is the Same Argument Made
About All Media Namely, that their main news programs "managed to miss the biggest stories of
the last decade: the errors of going to war in Iraq and the endlessly
inflating economic bubble that eventually laid us low," figures Bill McKibben
in a lengthy, appreciative essay in The New York Review of Books.
At the same time, the best early coverage of the housing and financial bubble came Ira Glass's This American Life, he writes. So NPR's shows deserve "lavish praise," though they may have
aimed too much for political balance, losing the interest of some listeners who preferred left-leaning shows like Democracy Now or The Takeaway. Being in the
political center is "not a particularly interesting place to be," writes
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