Huffpost Media
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Rob Kall Headshot

The Potential Disastrous End of PBS/NPR is Over-rated

Posted: Updated:

The right is trying, in response to the firing of Juan WIlliams, to de-fund public broadcasting- NPR/PBS. Senator Jim De Mint has even introduced legislation to defund PBS/NPR.

I hope they succeed. They'd be doing the left a huge favor and, in the long run, would regret their loss of Public Broadcasting.

I'm sure many liberal readers will look at what I'm saying as anathema, even heresy. Surely, NPR is a national treasure, they may think.

Still, I stand by my belief that the end of NPR and PBS would be good for the left, for liberals and progressives. Here's why.

PBS and NPR have a huge budget that enables local public radio stations to not only compete, but often, rule and totally own the left wing part of the local spectrum. They make it commercially non-viable for liberal content out site of NPR to compete. My local NPR just ran a fund drive. They announced that they paid over a million dollars a year to central PBS/NPR. That could pay for a lot of local programming -- hosts, producers, researchers. But instead it goes to support the top down system PBS/NPR has created. PBS and NPR are part of the centralized, de-localized problem that also exists in much of the rest of the mainstream media.

PBS and NPR supply content that competes with start-up progressive radio operations. They totally kill the market in some places, including major metro areas. You might argue that NPR does not produce the kind of talk radio content that the right uses -- no Limbaughs or Hannitys or Becks. That's true. They suck up the same listener base another way.

NPR satisfies the inner academic, the liberal arts majors among us. PBS and NPR probably bore the hell out of the many right wingers who majored in business, or who never went to college at all. George Lakoff has told me that one of the big differences between liberals and conservatives is the kind of education they've received. PBS and NPR really are for the liberal elitists or, make that liberal arts elitists.

Lakoff told me, in an interview on my radio show,

The way people change is by activating your world view, you have to activate either a progressive or conservative world view through language. Consservatives have system of communication that does that all the time.


The progressives don't understand this. They wind up helping the conservatives, and here's how. They have truth squads -- will tell you the truth. When conservatives say something, they'll take the conservative position and they'll say "No."

It is not enough to just report the truth, it is essential to also propose a way or ways of seeing things that lead to positive change. The right has spent decades and billions investing in media and policy promotion operations which are naively called think tanks by the left, or camouflaged as think tanks by the right. Actually, congress appropriated over $400 million for PBS. That was a gift to the right, not the left. That money siphoned energy, listeners and resources from tougher, more policy advocating media and advocacy organizations. Yes, there are a handful of "progressive" think tanks and a few of them actually do policy advocacy as well (America's Future, Center for American Progress and Media Matters). But they are woefully underfunded compared to the media/advocacy infrastructure on the right.

That's right. Consider NPR/PBS as a component in the media/advocacy infrastructure on the left. Consider them to be the giant sucking gorilla that eats up so much more than any other media or organization. You might argue that at least they are funded by the government. Wouldn't it be nice if the left could set have up a huge government funded entity that by its existence, prevented the right wing echo chamber?

The mindset of truth and leadership that the left manifests goes all the way to the heads of the leading Democrats in congress. At the Progressive Media Summit meeting, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and others bemoaned how they wanted to lead and the Republicans wanted to stop things. It is important, even essential, to get the truth out there. But that is not enough, as the success of the right wing media machine has proven. Wanting to lead is good, but understanding that leadership requires toughness-- tough choices, tough actions-- has not seemed to make it into the heads of the leaders of the Democratic party or the left (are there even ANY real leaders of the left?) I left the Progressive summit meeting feeling that these Democratic leaders, though they wanted to make positive changes happen, thought that the Republicans were wrong for being so tough, so aggressive in standing up for their values by saying no. As Lakoff has said, too many times, the left needs to develop policies built on core values and then fight for them. Just randomly discussing the truth, exposing wrongs and injustices is not effective. It will not make change happen.

Change -- now that's a word that was used to get us, on the left, hot and bothered. It won't happen without smarter use of the media and that includes recognizing that NPR has long been a soporific that satisfied liberal intellect while leaving the generativity and power needs drastically under-supported. That's not PBS/NPR's fault. They're not bad guys or malevolent. But they have done unmeasurable damage (I'd say unintended, but I have this nagging fear that there ARE people who get the potency of NPR/PBS) in neutralizing effective progressive media.

I must confess, I'm not a big NPR fan. I don't want uber chit chat about a 1998 Honda from someone in Vermont. I get tired of hearing twenty minutes of reporting on a the latest Guatemalan woman who was discovered by a stringer or freelancer. Then, there are the quiz shows. Sorry, they don't cut it for me. There's nothing wrong with any of them, but, I see them as effectively competing for liberal listeners, keeping more substantive content from cutting it commercially. Government funded public media has cost liberals, Democrats, unions, progressives massively.

The likes of Jim DeMint and the tea partiers who are seeking to shut down Public Broadcasting may discover, though it may take a few years, that they created a much bigger monster than the tame, docile, mostly harmless little critter they killed. That could be very good for the left. We might actually find that the vacuum will be filled, by the free market, by an explosion of new programming that's been waiting to be discovered.