Belaboring the Obvious

Friday, June 09, 2006

Heretical As It May Seem...

... the latest Repuglican call for cuts in funding to public broadcasting are a bit of a yawner.

NPR and PBS simply aren't what they once were. For a brief period in the early `70s, PBS was determined to be the "in your face" broadcasting network. It broadcast, daily, the Watergate hearings, when there was no widespread C-Span coverage, and helped expose the lies and corruption which were at the core of the Nixon White House.

But, in the early `80s, this edgy attitude toward the government hand that it bit changed. NPR, in particular, desperate for listeners, got laid back and social, and was determined not to offend anyone. It wanted approval, not truth.

Today, that is evident almost any day of the week. Cokie Roberts gives occasional snark about how government really works, as long as the commentary includes a jab at how clueless the Democrats are when they try to challenge the way things really work. Juan Williams throws nerf balls at the likes of Cheney and Rumsfeld and then swallows the balls hit back at him with all the facility of the Fox commentator that he is in real life. Linda Wertheimer regularly embarrasses almost everyone with her depiction of the seats of power in hushed, all too respectful terms.

Jim Lehrer happily updates the news on the News Hour moments after an extended commercial for Archer-Daniels-Midland. ADM promotes itself--and the News Hour promotes it, by extension--as a corporate force for good in the world. In fact, ADM is a corporate criminal, convicted for extensive and longstanding international price-fixing. Its funding of politicians to continue subsidization of its ethanol operations--despite the environmental degradation implicit in its use of coal power to produce ethanol--has been very near egregious.

NPR takes WalMart money and, in turn, lets it advertise itself on NPR as a wonderful institution.

Here's the plain, simple truth. Public broadcasting is no longer free and non-commercial. Its dependency on corporate money is extensive and burgeoning. It is no longer what it once was. It has become, for practical purposes, a commercial network, and anyone who thinks that doesn't affect its content is a moron. It is now (and has been for more than two decades) afraid to challenge and expose a government that controls its pursestrings, even though that government should have been relentlessly challenged because of its threats to deny funding for a supposedly independent broadcaster.

Instead, public broadcasting slowly began a process of accommodation with the conservative elements in government (precisely the ones determined to cut off public broadcasting's funding) which also had the effect of inviting in corporate "partners" in the public broadcasting process. By the early `80s, PBS was derisively known as the "Petroleum Broadcasting Service" because of its dominant "sponsors."

Nothing controversial, no investigative reporting. When some news event demanded coverage, public broadcasting retreated to the safe, he said-she said routine which effectively avoided any objective truth from being revealed. This tendency has gotten much worse during the Bush years, because the Bushies have fought hard to put Repuglican political hacks on the boards of all public broadcasting institutions, and to instruct them to push those institutions ever rightward. As a result, assholes with transparent agendas such as Kenneth Tomlinson immediately sought to push programming toward the right once they were installed, even at risk of ethics violations.

Virtually no one in government has said, in almost thirty years, that public broadcasting should be isolated from commercial and governmental interference, and should be adequately funded as one of the watchdogs on government.

The free press is institutionalized in the First Amendment. One would think that with that sort of Constitutional mandate, NPR and PBS would, indeed, be free and independent, and that the government, required as it was to uphold the Constitutional mandate of a free press, would make public broadcasting free from outside influence, either corporate or government, in bulletproof fashion.

Not a chance. This is the land of the spree and the home of the knave.

People will fight for funding of public broadcasting because they think, if they do not, Sesame Street will get the ax. What good comes from a system that teaches kids the alphabet through a network which will eventually teach them, as they grow up, that a fascist oligarchy borne of cronyism and corruption is necessary and desirable and will present them with a version of the news which meets corporate and authoritarian government approval?

Pravda on the Potomac was not what public broadcasting was intended to be, and yet, that is what it has become. Has NPR or PBS broken a story recently, on its own, that has showed the corrupt underbelly of this latest administration for what it is? I can't think of a single one. The reason for that is simple--for all its several hundred million dollar government budget and its additional corporate subsidies, nowhere does it have a Washington-based investigative journalism team devoted to keeping track of what the government is doing in our name (occasional subsidized Frontline episodes notwithstanding). Knight-Ridder had one. NPR and PBS do not. Doesn't that say something about what public broadcasting is now, compared to what it was intended to be at its inception?

Oscar the Grouch would be pissed.


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