Friday, October 12, 2012

Big Bird Isn't the Public's Enemy

He's big, he's yellow, and despite his age, he's still quite popular.

He's Big Bird, and if Mitt Romney gets his way, his neighborhood on Sesame Street is about to be gentrified.  Instead of subsidized housing, it's going to be free market rates.  Conservatives think that's a good thing.

But is it?

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

America's venerable Public Broadcasting Corporation has been in the crosshairs before by right-wingers looking to make a public spectacle out of slashing our government's budget.  Stop funding PBS, the mantra has gone, and look at how much of our debt will disappear!  If the liberal-leaning PBS can't survive on its own, it isn't as good as its boosters claim it is anyway.

Such bluster plays well to the portion of America's populace that likes to politicize things at the expense of their own morality.  Think about it:  PBS doesn't feature cuss words or sexually suggestive programming during prime time, but plenty of public television's conservative naysayers enjoy their Desperate Housewives, Office, Modern Family, Glee, and Married With Children episodes in all of their raunchy glory on the commercial networks.

Fox, NBC, ABC, and CBS claim that they need to air such morally vapid shows because they couldn't survive financially if they didn't.  But what makes conservatives think PBS couldn't survive on its own?  And if it could, would they be happier if PBS began featuring as much skin and perversion as the regular networks?  Sure, it's great PR for talk radio's blowhards and right wing political wonks to spin a story of waste when it comes to public broadcasting, but when you compare the level of programming on PBS to the lowest common denominator of perversity elsewhere on the TV dial, aren't we taxpayers getting a pretty good return on our investment?

Do you realize we're subsidizing PBS at $222.5 million per year?  The horror!  75% of that money goes to PBS on TV, and 25% to PBS on the radio (think NPR).  Granted, that's a lot of money, except when compared to our federal budget, which is $3.8 trillion.  PBS costs each of us Americans about $1.35 per year in taxes - a heavy burden that Romney claims isn't worth all of the education, art, science, and community programming that PBS broadcasts 24/7.

Brought To You Today By the Letters P, O, L, I, T, I, C, S

One of the consistent reasons conservatives like to hold PBS as a prime example of what's wrong with our federal budget stems from the common complaint that public broadcasting has a liberal bias.  And yes, when it does show a bias, it's hardly towards the right of anything.  For example, it's hard to deny that their science shows pretend the theory of Evolution is irrefutable fact.  Many conservatives also bristle at the urban legends about Bert and Ernie being gay lovers, which they're not, or the network's other childhood shows pushing a socialist agenda on our impressionable children - a claim conservative parents make with a straight face, while letting their kids consume all sorts of hedonistic carnality on other channels.  And while it's true that PBS's venerable talk show hosts Charlie Rose, who always tries to outdo his sophisticated guests in pomposity, and Bill Moyers, with his pious religious fuzziness, tend to advance blatantly liberal biases in their shows, theirs still doesn't sink to the vitriolic rhetoric of right-wing radio's partisan stars that conservatives consume for free.

If conservatives really want to see unabashed liberal propaganda on PBS, however, just go ahead and pull its taxpayer subsidies, and watch what happens.  With its undisputed reputation as a bastion of creative programming, PBS will undoubtedly have no problem wooing left-wing sponsors and limousine liberals to swoop in as angel investors and replace that public funding.  And then who'll be in complete control of one of the most ubiquitous childrens learning channels on the planet?

Right now, with PBS receiving public subsidies, the American people can complain to their elected officials whenever they perceive it to be crossing some ideological line.  The political curse conservatives consider PBS to be is actually an effective way they can hold public broadcasting's feet to the fire of bipartisan equity.  $222 million per year is just enough money to make PBS executives take conservatives seriously when it comes to questionable programming content.  If the George Soros'es, Bill Gates'es, Al Gore's and Oprah Winfrey's of America get to replace taxpayers and underwrite PBS unilaterally, what voice will conservatives have when it comes to what PBS puts on the air?

Isn't having that voice worth $1.35 per year to you?

Not that PBS is just itching to dive into the deep end of liberal bias.  If their directors really wanted to abdicate any semblance of moderate neutrality, instead of running panicked pledge drives, they'd be lobbying Congress for going solo.  Right-wingers may feel threatened by folks at PBS who share different viewpoints, but compared with what could happen if it went completely private, the money we spend to help keep it "public" isn't the real threat here.

The real threat is the unknown:  who takes over the money wagon at PBS if Romney pulls the plug on taxpayer subsidies?  Right now, Romney and everybody else who thinks "firing Big Bird" is a good idea need to be grateful that PBS is content to fight for its relatively paltry quarter-billion dollars every year.

Yes, yes, yes, that's a lot of money!  But to put it in context, this past winter, NBC grossed $245 million just in advertisements during the Super Bowl.  And you still don't think we're getting our money's worth out of PBS?

There is value in us helping to pay Big Bird's rent.  Especially since we might not be able to afford the alternative.


  1. I don't think that PBS is in any way meant to be the Silver Bullet to single handedly solve debt and budget problems. its an example of something that adds up. you dismiss it as "only a quarter of a billion", but how many more times, on how many more issues will you also say the same thing - after a while all those "it's only..." eventually add up, don't they? After all, to slightly modify the Senator's quote "A (quarter) billion here, a (quarter) billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money." So, did you really take this debate issue to be only about PBS and trying to kill something just because of bias? or was it maybe just a vehicle for a little slanted journalism, a little mis direction, a little mis information to mislead others who may otherwise be rationally sympathetic to the concept on the big picture scale? A little yellow journalism here, a little yellow journalism there, pretty soon, you're talking real deception. In light of your sometimes (personal) moral posts / sometimes Biblical posts, would you still contend that you presented this topic for criticism in an entirely truethful way, that would in no way possibly favor eliciting maybe more of an emotional response more in line with you views?

    1. "Yellow journalism?" Because we're talking about a big, yellow bird? :-)

      Seriously - and I do mean seriously - I would encourage you to actually READ my essay. Don't skim it with your Limbaughsian glasses on. I acknowledge that a quarter billion dollars isn't an insubstantial sum. But my main point is that right now, taxpayers have the right to be judge & jury on PBS' content. Take us out of the funding picture, and PBS will be free to do whatever it wants.

      It's kinda like the National Endowment for the Arts. Now that the public has awoken to its role as protector of decency whenever tax dollars sponsor arts projects, how many crucifix-in-urine travesties have you heard about?

      We have to learn how to think long-term on these issues, as well as bare-bone economically. Especially as our society grows more relativistic. Taxpayers playing cop can be a good thing.

    2. Limbaughsian glasses on ?

    3. Sorry - "Limbaughsian" is a term I've coined to describe partisan vitriol typical of what Rush Limbaugh espouses. If he really was such an expert on conservative politics, why doesn't he run for office himself? His opinions aren't any more credible than anybody else's, including mine, but they're far more destructive than mine.

      Saying people read with "Limbaughsian glasses" is like saying "rose-colored glasses." Only Rush fans aren't optimistic, they're out for "liberal" blood.

    4. oh ok. so basically anyone who has an opinion different than yours, only has that opinion because Rush Limbaugh told them what to believe and they only believe it because he told them to. obviously, all free thinkers and people able to decide for themselves and have an informed opinion would naturally logically always arrive at the same opinions you have. so therefore a differing opinion is invalid because Rush brainwashed them into that opinion. So Rush is Vitriolific and hateful, but your comment towards me, suggesting i only see things through his eyes as he leads me and categorising me that way just because i didnt have same opinion as you is not at all vitriol or un called for. because obviously, like you said today, your model for attitudes and behavior is modeled after Christ - and he probably hates Rush too - right? Thanks for clearing that all up for me. and for accusing me of only skimming the article and accusion me of only being able to think through someone elses glasses - all things that aren't true and you didnt really converse with me to discover if those were true - because like you said yesterday, you want a job as a journalist and obviously facts and fair treatment of people you don't like have no real place in journalism today, right?
      So, just for introspection, do you think you read things through someone elses glasses, or could someone else at least accuse you of similar and you'd accept it fits? probably not though, because you're actually smart and logical and rational so naturally you will obviously arrive at the obvious common sense conclusions on every matter. in fact, thats probably how you know that the only possible conclusion there is for anyone who disagrees with you and ponders their questions to you must be reading through those glasses and thats why the accusation is acceptable - because its just so logical. i get it now.
      just for the record, your name-calling, labeling, and branding me did actually nothing to change my mind or alter my thinking, so what elevates you above the norm to the point where you could hopfully find work in the field you want? maybe thats why no one has hired you yet - you have way too much competition out there with so many who act the same way. what if you tried something novel, and eschewed the current journalistic norm - maybe that would put you into a smaller crowd and increase the chance of recognition for hire? I wish you well in your job search.

    5. I'm sorry you've taken all of this so personally; that was not my intention at all. I don't even know who you are.

      Maybe I should be flattered that you're so insulted, but instead, your own vitriol saddens me. Since we're obviously not accomplishing anything productive, I suggest we just call it a day.

      I'm at least thankful you've taken the time to read my blog.


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