After NPR's Williams Purge, WaPo Proposes 'Why Fox News Should Help Fund NPR'

Do NPR's actions in the Juan Williams firing underline how they deserve a massive new infusion of public money? The Washington Post's Sunday Outlook section clearly wanted a provocative take on NPR's firing of Juan Williams. They found it in their former managing editor, Steve Coll, with an article headlined “Why Fox News should help fund NPR.”

Coll tried to claim the “teachable moment” out of the Fox-pundit purge wasn't that NPR arrogantly and dramatically tilts its taxpayer-subidized news and talk programs to the left. It was that NPR is allegedly “a calm, nonpartisan center in American democracy.” They made an unfortunate “time-pressured” call to fire Williams, who he claimed was NPR's “most visible right-leaning voice.” Earth to Mr. Coll: If liberal Juan Williams is your “right-leaning voice,” you might be an Obama-loving left-wing sandbox.

Coll threw his bizarre label into this passage:

The Williams firing looks like a classic of the genre because it was carried out in a way guaranteed to obscure whatever merit the decision had. The precipitous speed with which NPR dispatched its most visible right-leaning voice and the defensive tone the network's leaders used to explain themselves made it entirely fair to question whether the network acted from ideological bias.

Earth to the Washington Post: when Republicans are angry and on the verge of taking over at least one house of Congress, there's probably not a more ridiculously tin-eared time to demand more taxes for public broadcasting. But there it was, in Coll's first two paragraphs:

The Williams imbroglio is teachable, but its lessons actually point in the opposite direction: America's public media system, including NPR, requires more funding, not less. In particular, the funding should come from commercial broadcasters that profit from their licensed use of scarce public airwaves - and that would include News Corp., the parent of Fox News.

In this time of niche publications and cable networks that thrive on ideological anger, we should be seeking to strengthen NPR's role as a convener of the public square, a demagogue-free zone where all political and social groups - including conservatives and others opposed to federal funding of public media - should be welcome on equal terms.

Coll's “communications reform” argument seems to have made absolutely no attempt to engage the public broadcasting the way it has actually performed in rejecting objectivity throughout the last four decades – that is “should be welcome” to all, but it's irrelevant that it never has been. Coll didn't feel burdened to respond to examples of NPR demagogues. He just barreled ahead with his utopian socialist visions.

Like any out-of-touch liberal, Coll insisted “NPR is the most effective nonprofit media organization in the country because of the excellence of its international and national reporting. Like all successful journalistic and cultural institutions, though, it must continually challenge its own complacency.”

Coll didn't suggest an example of bias as how it needed to challenge its complacency. He suggested an Alec Baldwin “Saturday Night Live” skit on “Schwedde balls” as evidence of NPR's “tendencies toward self-isolation.” That was just a goofy skit about a cooking show, and it shouldn't be cited by a “scholar” like Coll as any kind of analysis of the content of NPR's journalism.

Who will monitor the content of public broadcasting to ensure taxpayers are granted a “calm, nonpartisan center” for their investment? The persistent answer since the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 is “No one.” The Congress is supposed to be banned from questioning or monitoring the content. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting refuses to monitor content. Nobody in public broadcasting does – unless, of course, they want to kill a program on moderate Islam after they refused to fire a conservative, since conservatism and journalistic credibility are apparently exact opposites.

Coll demonstrated that he wants zero accountability for the content of public broadcasting: “Financial incentives to improve the CPB should be accompanied by stronger firewalls to protect the system's independence from politicians.” Liberals use the word “firewall” as a euphemism for “bias with impunity.”

The actual “reform” agenda Coll presented is an ancient, socialist one – one that inspired the liberals in the Sixties. America should tax its broadcasters (or its television set makers) to pay for public broadcasting. Would Coll support taxing The Washington Post and other national newspapers so we could have a taxpayer-funded national newspaper? Or would that feel like unfair competition? It depends on whose ox is being gored. Coll falls back on the socialist argument that we should really be spending 87 dollars a head on government-funded “nonpartisan journalism.”

The [pubcasting] system has achieved this penetration despite being comparatively starved of government-mandated investment. The United States spends about $1.40 per capita, or $420 million a year, on public and nonprofit media through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Britain spends about $87 per capita, according to an analysis by the [ahem, radical-left] advocacy and policy group Free Press. Canada, one of the most miserly industrialized democracies in this area, spends about $27 per capita.  

One satisfying result of the expected Republican takeover of at least one house of Congress is that all the liberal think tanks with sugar-plum visions of journalism subsidies in their heads will probably be politically unfeasible in the new year's rush to restrain federal spending.

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