Debate: Should CPB be funded?

It’ll be a short debate — a half hour or less — but an important one on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

Participating in the broadcast:

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). He supports federal funding for public broadcasting.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO). He thinks it should be eliminated.

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, who will provide context of the role of public broadcasting in the media landscape.

1:08 p.m. – Lamborn: “When we get to the reality of actual programs getting reduced, people get uncomfortable. Everyone will have something in this budget where they’re not going to be happy. We have to share this with Americans to get our house in order.

Conan says it’s a small drop in the bucket. Lamborn says if we used that approach, nothing would ever get done.

“Zero seems like a lot, too,” Conan replied.

1:09 p.m. – Lamborn: “I’m fan of public broadcasting. There are a number of programs that have a lot of quality. It would be an adjustment, honestly, but I do think the future is bright for public broadcasting should it become private broadcasting. Because of the quality, there will be a way forward. It’ll mean scrambling and finding new sources of revenue, but I really do think there is a bright future for public broadcasting.”

1:11 p.m. – Conan asks if government should be involved if there isn’t a market in the private sector for arts programming. “If there isn’t a market in the private sector, should it exist?” Lamborn replies.

1:12 p.m. – Conan asks, “Don’t Republicans believe funding CPB is funding the enemy?”

“I don’t know what people are thinking,” Lamborn replies. “My bill was in existence before Juan Williams’ firing took place. ”

Caller (Oswego NY): – “This is taking information away from Americans when you should be more involved in providing information.”

“No one is talking about eliminating CPB or NPR,” Lamborn says. “We’re just talking about not having the taxpayers pay for it. The taxpayer can’t keep paying for everything. This cannot continue.”

Caller (Philadelphia): “Maybe it is time to cut it. I’d never object to advertising on public TV or public radio. If they need the funding, by all means do it. I would give more if I knew the government was cutting it.”

Are the votes there. “Last night at midnight, we beat back the main challenge — an amendment to eliminate the reduction of funding,” Lamborn says. “That was defeated. We had a back-and-forth at midnight.”

(Lamborn cut loose)

Enter Tom Rosenstiel.

1:17 p.m. – There are only 31 all-news commercial radio stations left in the U.S. There’s really not any street reporting still taking place in commercial radio. On public radio, there was 31% — in a study — of the stories on public radio involving international news. On commercial radio, it was 4%.

1:20 p.m. – Rep. Earl Blumenauer. “They wouldn’t allow my amendments to come to a vote. They disallowed it on a technicality even though Republicans have routinely waived points of order for their things.”

1:21 p.m. – Blumenauer says his idea was to steer subsidies to major oil companies to public broadcasting. He says it’s an ideological reason for cutting. “We’ve seen this movie before,” he said. “It has long been an agenda. What’s different is up to now we’ve had a core of Republican supporters who’ve said, ‘this is crazy.'”

1:23 p.m. – Why not just sell advertising? “It’s not commercially viable? It costs 11 times to serve Burns, Oregon as it does the Portland area.”

If local listeners won’t support it, why should taxpayers, an e-mailer asks.

“The money is a small amount,” Blumenauer says. “And it is highly leveraged. All of this educational content we revere, you look at the commercial stations, they’re not producing commercial-free entertainment. The stuff is made to sell things to kids, not to educate them.”

1:25 p.m. Conan asks if poor people are losing heating assistance, shouldn’t public broadcasting be on the table, too? “It is on the table,” Blumenauer says. “But for less than half a cent a day, this is part of the essential infrastructure of the nation. We need it if we’re going to educate and inform them. The real money is going to be defense, and social services. That’s where the money is. Tying up the argument over a half a cent a day is a terrible mistake.”

Blumenauer is cut loose.

1:27 p.m. – Rosenstiel says there is more news on commercial TV than before. “There’s more foreign news on PBS,” he says. “Cable news on television tends to take one or two stories of the week and double it. The biggest story is talked about even more. So you have a very narrow range of subjects on cable TV and it’s typically something with an ideological edge. Lindsay Lohan should get less coverage on cable news because there’s no ideological divide.

Emailer: “One of my concerns is that CPB is a distraction. It’s a feel-good moment. If Congress made major cuts and then said “we had to cut CPB,” I’d feel it was genuine. But to start with CPB?

Another emailer: “We all have to give up something to balance the budget.”

1:29 P.M. – What would happen if 50% CPB were cut? “It would hurt NPR less than local markets,” Rosenstiel says. “NPR, which is the political target here, is going to survive. If this is a political fight, there’ll be a lot of collateral damage at the local level.”

Caller from New Hampshire says funding for public broadcasting is being zeroed out there.

“Lots of things are being cut,” Rosenstiel. “Gradually public broadcasting has moved away from state funds. It does two things different: Because you’re not tied to commercial audiences, you operate more on a long-term strategy. In the ’90s as commercial audiences shrank, the programming became more tabloid and crime was the top subject even though crime was going down. None of that staunched the loss of audience. Public broadcasting has seen its audience grow because they stuck with it. Radio… NPR has seen an enormous growth because it’s doing things that can’t be found anywhere else.”

1:35 p.m. – Conan notes there are several places to get multiple public broadcasting stations. Rosenstiel says the stations end up targeting, becoming all news or all music.

1:36 p.m. Caller:”We have to fund the things that are important. Social Security and Medicaid are the important thing. I listen to public radio every day, it’s just not a priority right now. ”

That concludes the segment. Audio will be posted later. Comments open below.

  • I can’t read into his heart, but it sounds like the perceived liberal bias of NPR Is just the cherry on the sundae of his goal of eliminating funding for the CPB.

  • Nathan

    I enjoy NPR and MPR, but I question the notion that certain media organizations should be subsidized in order to compete with other organizations.

    The fact that people choose to contribute to Public Radio indicates how important it is to them. If voluntary contributions aren’t sufficient, though, perhaps some air time needs to be alloted for commercials. Advertising makes any station less desirable, but NPR’s rivals don’t have the option of compulsory funding, and neither should NPR.

    NPR reflects the community to the extent that it is voluntarily supported by the community.

  • Ashley

    I think it’s also important that people know that there are other changes tied up with NPR funding. The propsal that calls to close endowments for the CPB also calls to:

    * Abolish the Agency for International Development.

    * Eliminate AmeriCorps and other national-service programs.

    * End Department of Energy grants to help low-income people weatherize their homes.

  • Drae

    Regarding the final caller – the problems with funding Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are hardly going to be made up by defunding the CPB. This cut is spit in the ocean, and all of the spit in the ocean cuts proposed in Washington, if combined, will still not be enough to balance the budget, reduce the deficit or reduce the national debt, but hey – they can go home to run for re-election and say they cut something! Never mind the true problem has been ignored yet again.

  • Rich

    Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Defense spending are the top 4 in the budget (interest on the debt comes in @ 5). As Drae notes, everything else is political pandering. Go big or go home.

  • Bunch of rednecks who aren’t at all appreciative of where they are and how priviledged they all are. What losers. hope they win the wooden spoon.