Politics / Rights · February 9, 2007

Bush wants to hear Big Bird’s Swan Song

I got a quick notice from my friend Sumi (from the WickedEye’s Quotient blog) about something that was buried in the Fiscal Year 2008 Budget of the United States Government. Once again the GOP is trying to put the axe to both National Public Radio and to the Public Broadcasting Service.

Okay, I know the image of these stations is, to much of the conservative population, one of a continual telethon punctuated by left-leaning commentary. But from my own experience with NPR most of their commentary is more moderate than you would think – and is sorely needed in America where the right-wing is so huge that the country is only able to fly in circles.

This is not the first attack on public broadcasting by President Bush and his cronies. They’ve been upset with Public Broadcasting because they tend to speak the truth, and are not easily intimidated.

You may recall that President Bush appointed Kenneth Tomlinson as Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting back in 2003. Tomlinson, who is a close friend of Karl Rove, set about thanking the president for his appointment by starting a crusade to rid Public Broadcasting of what he perceived to be “liberal bias”. Tomlinson resigned as Chairman in 2005 over findings of ethics violations by the CPB Inspector General.

Bush then appointed Cheryl Halpern as Chairwoman. Halpern is a Republican critic of NPR and has called it “anti-Israel”. During her confirmation she suggested that public broadcasting journalists that editorialize should be punished. Halpern supports her ideology with her money, and has donated approximately 300 thousand dollars to Republican campaigns. However, compared to Tomlinson she is a voice of reason.

Previous attacks against Public broadcasting include:

In 1995 Newt Gingrich (R-Ga) had tried to “zero out” funding for Public Broadcasting.

In 2005 a Republican-dominated House subcommittee panel voted to eliminate all federal funding for Public Broadcasting by 2007, apparently in response to Tomlinson and to Bush administration criticism of the PBS show “Postcards from Buster.”

Telethons actually raise only local monies for local stations. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is funded almost entirely by Federal appropriations. Traditionally a part of the CPB appropriations have been earmarked for advanced funding in order to support long term projects and programming that require commitments of several years.

The new budget will remove advance earmarked funding, including $50 million that was already appropriated by Congress for 2008. But it goes further than that. According to the 2008 budget: (p. 1046)

The Administration proposes that the Corporation receive appropriations like other programs that receive Federal assistance. Therefore, a 2009 funding request for the Corporation will be proposed in the 2009 President’s Budget.

That’s right, no more advanced budget at all. This was recommended along with a decrease in the “Ready to Learn” project. “Ready to Learn” requires earmarked funding to continue operating – and removal would mean the end of the project. Programs that are part of the “Ready to Learn” project include “Sesame Street”, “Dragontales”, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “Arthur”.

Republican legislators in the past have been quick to point out that cuts to Public Broadcasting have been necessary in order to fund healthcare and education. In 2006 House Representative Ralph Regula (R-Oh) said:

We’ve got to keep our priorities straight. You’re going to choose between giving a little more money to handicapped children versus providing appropriations for public broadcasting.

Sorry. I don’t believe that their “priorities” are actually that high-minded. NPR and PBS have been traditionally open minded and accepting about things that right-wing Republican conservatives can’t stand. Horrible things like treating children with AIDS and children of same-sex parents as if they were (gasp!) human! Conservatives have problems with programs that don’t meet their agenda, programs that fairly explore science, religion, cosmology, nature and global warming without exposing a Christian worldview.

The President has assigned two different cronies to Captain the good ship Public Broadcasting who yell “Abandon Ship” while he takes shots at it broadside, all while Republicans assure us that it won’t sink.

I don’t buy it. And if you feel as I do, go to MoveOn.org and give your support. Or write to your congress-critters.