Krauthammer Asks Totenberg: 'Why Does NPR Have to Live on the Tit of the State?'

After the public shaming of NPR this week, Nina Totenberg was given the option of taking a day off from PBS's "Inside Washington" so that she wouldn't have to face the music concerning the so-called "news organization" she works for.

Demonstrating admirable spunk, Totenberg showed up to "defend the product" her radio station produces only to have Charles Krauthammer say in the midst of a lengthy discussion about the issue, "If the product is so superior, why does it have to live on the tit of the state?" (video of entire segment follows with transcript and commentary):

GORDON PETERSON, HOST: Nina, fasten your seat belt. NPR's bumpy ride just ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON SCHILLER, NPR: It is very clear that we would be better off in the long run without federal funding. NPR would definitely survive and most of the stations would survive.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PETERSON: That is Ron Schiller, formerly NPR’s head of fundraising, caught in a sting at a Washington restaurant by people posing as members of a fake Muslim group. They said they were potential NPR donors which is why it was there. Some members of Congress are ready to take Schiller up on the offer, by the way, and cut off funding. Schiller also had some very unpleasant things to say about the Republican Party, the Tea Party, said they were racist, some are Jews. After the story broke, NPR’s President and CEO Vivian Schiller, no relation, resigned . Now I offered Nina the chance to take the week off. She declined. She wants to defend her company. So, you’re on.

NINA TOTENBERG, NPR: I can’t defend the executives, the top executives, and I can’t necessarily even defend the board, but I can defend the product. There is a reason that we are the only news organization, other than Fox, with a growing audience. It is because of our product which is straight-shooting, factual, and spends an enormous amount of money gathering news from all over the country and the world. Judge us by our product. The people in the newsroom were probably more mortified than Charles or anybody in the Tea Party, or any, any anybody else. I mean, we were just horrified, and not by the political incorrectness of what he said, but by the fact that he even thought this way.

PETERSON: Well, this plays right into the belief that you’re a bunch of lefties.

TOTENBERG: I know it does, but it’s not true. [Laughter]

Was that nervous laughter by Totenberg or a subconscious admission of guilt? Regardless, Krauthammer wasn't buying any of it:

PETERSON: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Well, all I would say, I mean I don’t want to rehash all the grounds, it obviously is a liberal organization. Obviously what you're getting is a taste of what people say to each other internally. Everybody knows that. But I have no objection to liberal news organizations. I read the New York Times. The difference between NPR growing, Fox growing, is that Fox is not holding out a tin cup for taxpayer money. I want NPR to thrive, but not on my dime.

PETERSON: Colby?

Prepare to be shocked, for Washington Post columnist Colby King actually agreed with Krauthammer:

COLBY KING, WASHINGTON POST: I think NPR ought to take that initiative and say we do not want the subsidy.

PETERSON: Wouldn’t that kill some of the stations?

TOTENBERG: It would kill a lot of stations.

And therein lies the truth. Supporters of NPR claim on the one hand it would do fine without the public's money, but folks inside the organization know that not to be the case. King seemed to know it as well:

KING: Yeah, then this is a test of public support…

KRAUTHAMMER: We got a market in the country. We have thousands of stations.

KING: …and whether the public will step forward. And let's go back to that performance we saw on TV. I mean, it was disgusting, and it was disgusting because he was pandering. He was pandering to get some bucks, and he would say anything to get five million bucks. That’s the despicable thing.

PETERSON: Mark?

Now watch PBS's Mark Shields make the absurd case that people in rural areas would be uninformed without NPR:

MARK SHIELDS, PBS: There are 934 public radio stations. A lot of them are in very remote and rural areas and their only source of the kind of information we are talking about. I mean, really, that factual, worldwide, great reporting, and they do not have a lot of deep-pocketed patrons like the upper west side of Manhattan.

PETERSON: What about those rural stations, Charles?

Not surprisingly, Krauthammer was once again not buying this liberal nonsense:

KRAUTHAMMER: I am deeply moved, but I would make two points. Number one, I’m not sure why a steelworker in Pittsburgh has to subsidize that. And number two, in a world of a thousand radio stations, a thousand TV stations, internet, satellite, and everything, if they are going to miss out on “Car Talk,” there will be other ways of getting it. It isn’t as if we are living in a country as we once were with three network news stations and nothing else, which was a reason why we had PBS in the first place. We are now flooded with…

TOTENBERG: With bad information.

Classic liberal elitism. Krauthammer accurately points out the extraordinary abundance of news sources available to Americans all across the fruited plain and someone working for NPR says it's all bad except what her radio station provides.

Once again, Krauthammer wasn't buying it:

KRAUTHAMMER: With bad, of course, and NPR is of course good information, which is why I suppose I should subsidize it, right?

TOTENBERG: The reason is, Charles, that in an era when newspapers are disappearing in droves and almost daily, and where actually commercial forces, both in television and radio, have driven out - you know, there is a reason NPR has more foreign bureaus than any other broadcasting organization I think in this country, with the possible exception of CNN. More foreign bureaus. There’s a reason that a big story like BP, NPR was the organization that actually broke the BP story that the Obama administration was not telling us the truth about the amount of the leak. I mean, there, we do the job that news organizations used to do, and really don’t any more. They’re, they’re, they’re covering Charlie Sheen.

Indeed they are, but a Lexis Nexis search identified at least seventeen NPR reports so far this month involving Sheen. So Totenberg shouldn't point fingers:

KING: I think the market comes into the picture as well when you talk about those stations out there, those smaller stations. If there is a legitimate demand for this product, if there’s a legitimate demand for this product, they will find a way to get it. Or you market it. That is what you do. You don’t, you don’t subsidize it.

PETERSON: If the British can do it, why can’t the Americans? The BBC?

SHIELDS: It’s an institution that has great personnel working, and on the air, producing, reporting, and it has had a stewardship that has been singularly counterproductive, ineffective, and harmful to National Public Radio.

Pay particular attention to Krauthammer's response:

KRAUTHAMMER: If the product is so superior, why does it have to live on the tit of the state? The, the, the, the tone with which you defended is exactly reflective of what we heard in that, this kind of liberal arrogance.

Exactly. We peons don't understand how fabulous NPR is, and we should support it with our tax dollars for our own good regardless if we don't know why it's good for us!

TOTENBERG: It has nothing to do with, it has to do with spending money.

KRAUTHAMMER: …we give you good news. Well then spend your own money. Every other organization from Fox on down and up spends its own. Why do you have access to the taxpayer?

PETERSON: Mark?

Shields clearly came armed for this discussion with every liberal talking point concerning NPR. His next popular canard involved children:

SHIELDS: To sell products to children.

TOTENBERG: Right.

SHIELDS: Not to have Sesame Street on, not to teach kids.

KRAUTHAMMER: Sesame Street will not have a market? It’s not going to have a market?

Do Shields, Totenberg, and their ilk actually believe there'd be no children's programing in this country without NPR and PBS? Are they at all aware of the plethora of cable stations now available that are exclusively for children?

Apparently not:

SHIELDS: Excuse me for speaking while you are interrupting, Charles. But I’d just like to make the point that if you watch children's television, it is mind-numbing in the commercialization of it to try and sell kids.

KING: Well, I was a, I was a, I was on the board of directors of a public television station for a number of years, and I’d say they do good work, but it is the kind of work that ought to be supported by the market, by the people who watch it, not by the taxpayer. I’m saying this as almost speaking against interest, but that’s the way I see it.

TOTENBERG: I would just like to point out that every other, as newspapers fold around the country, people are pointing to NPR as the business model that worked, the one that could produce meaningful news.

Krauthammer again was ready for this inanity:

KRAUTHAMMER: Yeah, if you’re subsidized it works. Of course.

TOTENBERG: It is, you know, you have to some…

KRAUTHAMMER: That’s news?

TOTENBERG: …in an area where there are not enough people to support it, you have to have a subsidy.

KING: And it’s only part of the market, a tiny part.

PETERSON: I’m personally a big fan of NPR’s Supreme Court correspondent myself.

TOTENBERG: Me, too.

PETERSON: I like Big Bird, too. Last word. Thanks, see you next week.

All in all a fabulous discussion that gave viewers both sides of this issue while deliciously exposing the hypocrisy inherent in the liberal viewpoint of this radio network and PBS.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.