Jim DeMint: Lavish PBS Salaries Means Taxpayer Help Isn't Needed

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Friday, Sen. Jim DeMint argued that if PBS, CPB, and Sesame Street can afford lavish salaries for their executives, then surely they have the money to survive as private, non-commercial broadcasters. (He doesn't even mention how people chipping in $25 to "save" shows like Sesame Street might feel misled if they saw the salary numbers.)

PBS President Paula Kerger even recorded a personal television appeal that told viewers exactly how to contact members of Congress in order to "let your representative know how you feel about the elimination of funding for public broadcasting." But if PBS can pay Ms. Kerger $632,233 in annual compensation—as reported on the 990 tax forms all nonprofits are required to file—surely it can operate without tax dollars.

The executives at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which distributes the taxpayer money allocated for public broadcasting to other stations, are also generously compensated. According to CPB's 2009 tax forms, President and CEO Patricia de Stacy Harrison received $298,884 in reportable compensation and another $70,630 in other compensation from the organization and related organizations that year. That's practically a pittance compared to Kevin Klose, president emeritus of NPR, who received more than $1.2 million in compensation, according to the tax forms the nonprofit filed in 2009.

Harrison was a wildly controversial choice when she was appointed to the CPB by President Bush in 2005, since she had been co-chair of the Republican National Commitee from 1997 to 2001. Once appointed, she quickly "went native," becoming a fierce protector of the subsidized liberal sandbox. DeMint continued:

Despite how accessible media has become to Americans over the years, funding for CPB has grown considerably. In 2001, the federal government appropriated $340 million for CPB. Last year it got $420 million. As Congress considers ways to close the $1.6 trillion deficit, cutting funding for the CPB has even been proposed by President Obama's bipartisan deficit reduction commission. Instead, Mr. Obama wants to increase CPB's funding to $451 million in his latest budget.

Meanwhile, highly successful, brand-name public programs like Sesame Street make millions on their own. "Sesame Street," for example, made more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales from 2003-2006. Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell received $956,513 in compensation in 2008. With earnings like that, Big Bird doesn't need the taxpayers to help him compete against the Nickleodeon cable channel's Dora the Explorer.

PS: The sad state of the National Lampoon brand is proven by an attempt by "humorist" Philip Rodney Moon to explore how terrible PBS will get if conservatives defund it, including a show called "Mr. Roger Ailes' Neighborhood."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis