Remember the controversy over funding public broadcasting? I know, it was an entire month ago, but make an effort. Remember how it was the signal culture-war issue in America? Remember how this was a matter of principle and how we simply could not afford such extras in a time of deep deficits? Remember how it was a matter of values and political bias and elitist snobs looking down at taxpayers? Remember that guy who did that thing with a camera? Remember how—as public-funding opponents and public-broadcasting defenders alike promised/warned—it was really different this time? (Kind of like it was last time?)
Yeah, so that kind of went away.
In the 2011 budget compromise reached at the end of last week, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was funded at $445 million for two years, roughly the level it was already at. For all the sound and fury and resolutions and promises to stand up to NPR, the net effect was more or less nothing (excepting some personnel changes at NPR). You might almost think that some politicians simply wanted a red-meat issue with which to whip up their bases.
In the end, there wasn’t even a plan—as had been talked about at the height of the controversy, even by ousted NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller—to gradually transition NPR, or all of public broadcasting, off federal funds. Which frankly, were someone to come up with a feasible plan, may have been better in the long run for public broadcasting itself—or at least for a fairly successful entity like national NPR, which doesn’t need the money badly enough to be worth the cost in being treated like a political football or firing people whenever someone says something mildly controversial.
But it’s not surprising. As I wrote before, the biggest damage from a cold-turkey cut of the money would have been local stations—local PBS stations in particular, in in rural, red-state markets in particular. I doubt even many hardline conservatives in Congress wanted to be on the receiving end of calls from working-class parents wanting to know why their kids couldn’t watch Arthur in the local station afterschool anymore.And anyway, $445 million? Peanuts for a public program that provides so many low-cost opportunities for demagoguery year after year!
In any case, you may just want to bookmark some of those news reports from the last month for the next time Congress is really totally defund public broadcasting. Although I’m sure it will be different next time.