Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Should NPR Be Taxpayer Subsidized?

National Public Radio found itself in the middle of a national firestorm when they fired Juan Williams last week, a well-known liberal commentator. He was fired for expressing a controversial opinion on the O’Reilly Factor on the Fox News Network, which NPR says violated their journalistic and broadcasting standards. However, it became a huge controversy because most of NPR’s other commentators do this very same thing on NPR and other mediums on a daily basis, and many of the most outrageous opinions expressed by some of these commentators have been brought to light repeatedly since this story broke. None were fired for doing so, and it has become an obvious double standard. It got worse when NPR CEO, Vivian Schiller went on national television and made callous and condescending remarks about why they fired Juan Williams, and questioned his sanity. It’s probably the first time in cable news history when conservative and liberal pundits got together on air and agreed wholeheartedly on anything, and both sides supported Juan Williams. But they were angry about William’s firing for different reasons.

Conservatives were outraged because they have long held that NPR is a thinly veiled far-left leaning news organization that receives nearly half a billion dollars a year in taxpayer money. They believe NPR has been unhappy about Juan Williams appearing on the Fox News Network for years, and this was an excuse to fire him. This is a fact that Juan Williams later confirmed. It wasn’t hard for conservative pundits to prove they had a point either. Of nineteen NPR commentators, eighteen are liberals, and one is a moderate. There isn’t one single conservative voice on the payroll of the taxpayer subsidized National Public Radio. And conservatives have been having a real field day with it right before a major election.

Liberals were outraged as well, and quickly came to Juan William’s defense. Jon Stewart, Whoppi Goldberg and even the Reverend Jesse Jackson have spoken out on the subject. Williams is a very well respected liberal and Democrat, he is extremely high profile, and he was able express his point of view to millions of listeners and viewers NPR doesn’t reach through his work on FOX News and other venues, and held his own against the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and many others. In fact, he’s so well respected by Bill O’Reilly, he’s hosted the O’Reilly Factor in his absence several times. Liberals lost a voice with Juan Williams that conservatives didn’t often agree with, but respected and listened to because of William’s personality and his ability to frame his arguments and make his points effectively and respectfully against very heavy hitters. Juan is one of the very few liberal commentators today that can make a conservative stop and admit he might just have a good point. They were also upset over NPR’s decision because it shined a bright light on the liberal media bias in a way that it hadn’t been exposed before.

But the question remains, should NPR be taxpayer subsidized, and if it is, shouldn’t it express the opinions of all the taxpayers that support it? In a country where 40% of Americans consider themselves conservative, and 20% liberal, shouldn’t NPR have a more fair and balanced staff of commentators to provide alternative viewpoints more in line with the viewpoints of all Americans that financially support it with their tax dollars?

And another question looms in the minds of many. Do we really need National Public Radio in today’s world, or has the internet, satellite radio, cable news, web news sites, and the blogosphere rendered it as obsolete as the Sony Walkman, which coincidentally, just went out of production this week?

There’s serious talk amongst Republicans to seek to defund NPR, and support is growing to do just that. Let NPR sink or swim on their own merits, without the taxpayer safety net, based on the quality of the programming they produce alone just like every other radio station and news outlet in America. If the product is something Americans want, they will continue to support it, and NPR will continue to thrive. If not, the American taxpayers just saved half a billion dollars a year on something that only represents the views of a small percentage of them.

I don’t agree with defunding NPR. I listen to public radio. They do a good job covering stories cable news and mainstream media don’t cover at all. I think at the very least their CEO should be canned without question, and I think if taxpayers are supporting it, in full or in part, its commentators should be a more representative voice of the American people. They should add conservative voices in the discourse. It would make the programming more interesting, and more people would listen. This is the very reason Air America failed—there was no diversity in the conversation. It was a collection of liberal commentators that all agreed with each other, took calls from liberals that also agreed with everything they said, and they all patted each other on the back every day, 24 hours a day, until it was so uninteresting advertisers stopped advertising, and even liberals quit listening. It folded up like a cheap umbrella.

Conversation is important—many voices coming together and talking. Our media has become too one-sided. I heard a conservative talk show personality say the other day that the worst thing that could happen to their industry is if the national media lost all their bias and started reporting both sides of the stories. According to him, the reason conservative talk radio is so popular is that it’s the only place conservatives can hear the other side of the story—and they tune in by the millions every day. Might be the reason Fox News dominates as their competitors face difficult choices due to poor ratings. This disconnect might also be the reason for what looks like is going to be a very good election for conservatives—two years after MSNBC declared conservatism dead.

Politicians in this election are about to learn a lesson NPR and the national media needs to learn too. You can’t simply ignore and disregard the fact that some people don’t agree with you. You only learn by listening to other voices. Many career politicians will go down next Tuesday, and if the media doesn’t learn soon, they’ll face the same judgment. When you’re in the public eye either serving the public or reporting the news to the public, you can’t just preach to the choir. You’ve got to reach the whole congregation. If we don’t learn that lesson, we’ll never be the post-partisan America we all thought we were heading towards just a couple years ago. We’ll always be divided, and nobody benefits from division.

Nobody.

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