Sunday, March 13, 2011


I've read a bunch of pieces about privatizing NPR/PBS. This one by Matt Welch is the best of the lot.

Like Matt, I enjoy NPR and I do so on two levels. First, I find their coverage of music and culture more broadly to be quite good. I enjoy the interviews with musicians and other artists, as well as the classical music (during the day) and the jazz (during the evening) that one of the local public radio stations broadcasts. Second, I enjoy the news part of NPR for the same reason that I enjoy watching Fox News in the morning when I am in hotels: I like to deconstruct how they craft and present the news both to further their ideological ends and to pander to the egos of their consumers. Both NPR and Fox are really good at this!

I am quite confident that both NPR and PBS will persist without federal funding. And I am genuinely puzzled that people on the left think it is a good idea to have the federal government fund cultural amenities for the well-off (thus moving money, on average, up rather than down the income distribution) or that it is a good idea, in a free society, to have government-run media organizations at all.

I am disappointed in those who make arguments along the lines that Sesame Street will disappear if federal funding goes away. This is obviously false given the strong demand for Sesame Street; even if PBS did go away, and I do not think there is much chance of this, the more successful shows such as Sesame Street would quickly find homes elsewhere. So, those making arguments like this either are really, really lost when it comes to basic economics (not entirely implausible in this context) or simply lying.

Finally, this post gives me a chance to tell my very favorite NPR story ever. This was back when I was in college and the right was referring to NPR as the "Voice of Nicaragua". I was in a used bookstore on Capitol Hill in Seattle - long since closed sad to say - and they had NPR on in the background. It was Sunday evening and they were reading letters from listeners. The letter that has stayed with me all these years criticized NPR for their coverage of some Soviet news event the week before, arguing that they had been "too hard on Stalin."

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