I remember the first time I tuned into NPR. It was several decades ago, and it was as though a tropical breeze was flowing from the radio. Real, serious news coverage -- and no commercials. Wow, what a refreshing change from most of commercial radio.
The network became a huge success.
Thirty-three million people listen each day to NPR affiliate stations, and some 27 million tune into at least one program distributed by National Public Radio.
NPR's long-form news shows -- that actually explore issues in all of their depth and complexity -- are very popular with huge segments of the American public. And they are available to everyone. The network is especially popular with baby boomers and Americans with higher levels of education. But it is has ardent fans in every part of the population and every section of the country. In fact, 99% of Americans have access to an NPR affiliate.
I would bet that the majority of cab drivers in America spend much of their time listening to NPR. And you can hear it coming out of barber shops, stores, homes and cars in pretty much every community.
The vast majority of its funding now comes from private donations, but the federally-financed Corporation for Public Broadcasting still provides a small portion of NPR's support -- and about 10% of the funding for 414 local public radio stations.
Yesterday, Republicans in the House passed a bill -- with no Democratic support -- to cut off funding for NPR altogether and to restrict local public radio stations from using federal funds from buying programing from NPR.
The Miami Herald quoted Patrick Butler, president of the Public Media Association that represents public television stations and NPR, as saying:
The only result would be the loss of thousands of jobs in this industry, the closing or severe restriction of hundreds of local stations serving small-town and rural America which depend on federal funds for 30 (percent) to 100 percent of their annual budgets, including program acquisition, and the loss of vital information for millions of Americans.
Why do the radical Republicans in the House hate NPR?
First, they hate any successful public sector -- non-corporate venture. It flies in the face of radical conservative belief that the "private sector" always does things better.
NPR was established by a public corporation to provide a vital service that was simply not being made available by privately-owned radio stations. Long-form, serious news coverage was considered "commercially unviable." Now it turns out that the public sector created one of the most popular -- and high caliber news organizations in the world.
Rather than reconsider their belief that the public sector can never do anything as well as private corporations, their first reaction is to kill the successful ventures that disprove rightwing ideological orthodoxy. Dyed in the wool right wing zealots still haven't gotten over the fact that the community-owed Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl this year.
Second, the Republicans hate the idea that NPR is drawing listeners from stations owned by corporations like Clear Channel. They are all about "competition" until private corporations have to compete with public sector ventures that can provide superior services for less money and don't have to pay millions in profits to satisfy their corporate task masters.
The Republicans were all about "competition" until private insurance companies were called upon to compete with a Public Health Insurance Option; then they did the bidding of their own corporate sponsors and prevented the public from having the right to choose.
But, you say, the private radio stations don't get "public subsidies." That's right, by setting up public radio, the people of America provided an option to listeners that relied upon a small number of tax dollars, so it would not have to be dependent on constant commercials -- and on the tyranny of the corporate bottom line.
NPR is all about maximizing the quality of the news coverage for its own sake. The founders of NPR bet that there was a huge audience for that kind of commercial-free, serious journalism that could enhance the level of knowledge and information available to everyday Americans. They were right.
At its heart, NPR is an educational institution. It was born out of the same philosophy that brought America public education for everyone. Thomas Jefferson and America's other founders believed in public education because it leads to a more highly-educated and prosperous country -- a more informed electorate and a more vital democracy. It was a decision that -- probably more than any other -- led America to become the most prosperous country on earth, and its longest-lasting democracy.
By providing serious, intelligent discussion of news and public affairs from every point of view, NPR does exactly the same thing. It massively contributes to our common well-being -- whether or not you choose to listen to it, you benefit by living in a more informed society -- and a more prosperous country.
The same right wing Republicans who want to privatize public schools, want to kill off NPR.
Third, Republicans want to kill NPR because it presents high quality, unbiased, factually accurate news. These qualities do not sit well with people who want the Rupert Murdoch's and Fox News's of the world to control what the public has the right to hear. They think unbiased news coverage is subversive.
Many of these Republicans don't believe that listeners -- particularly young listeners -- should be exposed to subversive subjects like science -- evolution and such. And they sure as heck don't want to give economists forums to release studies drawing uncomfortable conclusions such as the Moody Econometrics study by Marc Zandi that shows that the Republicans' budget plan would cost 700,000 Americans their jobs.
Many of these Republicans apparently believe that "fair and balanced" news actually sounds like Fox. When you're that far out in right field I guess you actually think that NPR has a "left" bias.
Fourth, the Republicans in the House wanted to attack NPR to throw some red meat to the Tea Party portion of its base.
What the heck, if you refuse to do anything about jobs -- the subject that most Americans really care about -- give them side-shows and circuses. Go after the "Chablis and brie" set that they characterize as the average NPR listener.
Trouble is, there are a world of people of every type, everywhere, that are devoted to NPR. The Republicans might think they are whipping up enthusiasm among their base by their attack on NPR. In fact they are once again ignoring one of the foremost rules of politics: you really make people mad when you take away something they value.
There are an awful lot of people out in Mountain Home, Arkansas and Killeen, Texas who listen to NPR. NPR listeners don't all live on the lower East Side of Manhattan or in Malibu. And the ones who would really suffer if the Republicans were successful are, as Patrick Butler pointed out, from small town America where there aren't as many donors to fuel those pledge-drives.
The Republican ploy to defund NPR may be just Jim Dandy with their Fox News-watching base. But with swing voters -- not so much. It will be one more tactic that blows up -- right in their faces.
Oh, about those jobs that the voters wanted last November. One more week has passed without the Republicans lifting a finger to create one job in America. Instead they busied themselves passing legislation to destroy several thousand more broadcasting jobs at the NPR affiliate near you.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.