Panicky NY Times Sees 'Deep Fear' Among Liberal NEA Fans Under Trump Budget

March 18th, 2017 7:37 PM

President Trump’s first proposed budget resulted in a patchwork of short, dire stories dominated two pages of the print edition Friday. The headlines provide the tone for the ideologically loaded stories: “Researchers Bristle at Extent of Cuts” at the National Institute of Health and Department of Energy. Meanwhile, the Department of Housing and Urban Development was “‘Hurt and Upset’ Over Potential Losses,” and “States Would Lose Help in Emergencies” because of cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Let’s focus on perceived Trump attacks on two liberal playpens in particular: public broadcasting, and the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Michael Grynbaum and Ben Sisario milked the budget scenario for all the drama it had in “Public Broadcasters Fear a ‘Collapse.’

Public radio and television broadcasters are girding for battle after the Trump administration proposed a drastic cutback that they have long dreaded: the defunding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The potential elimination of about $445 million in annual funding, which helps local TV and radio stations subscribe to NPR and Public Broadcasting Service programming, could be devastating for affiliates in smaller markets that already operate on a shoestring budget.

Patricia Harrison, the corporation’s president, warned in a statement on Thursday that the Trump budget proposal, if enacted, could cause “the collapse of the public media system itself.”

But the power players in public broadcasting -- big-city staples like WNYC in New York City - would be well-equipped to weather any cuts. Major stations typically receive only a sliver of their annual budget from the federal government, thanks to listener contributions and corporate underwriters. Podcasts and other digital offshoots have also become significant sources of revenue.

Rural affiliates, however, rely more heavily on congressional largess, which can make up as much as 35 percent of their budgets. Mark Vogelzang, president of Maine Public, called the Trump proposal “the most serious threat to our federal funding” since he started in public broadcasting 37 years ago.

The reporters eventually, briefly, addressed why conservatives might want to do such an awful thing.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting supports about 1,500 stations that carry a range of educational, journalistic and arts-related programming. The corporation dates to the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. Its funding, while a minuscule part of the federal budget, has been under regular peril since the 1970s from conservative lawmakers, who often denounce what they view as the liberal bent of public media.

New reporter Sopan Deb focused on the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities in “Call for Elimination Sets Off a Struggle.

A deep fear came to pass for many artists, museums, and cultural organizations nationwide early Thursday morning when President Trump, in his first federal budget plan, proposed eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

President Trump also proposed scrapping the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a key revenue source for PBS and National Public Radio stations, as well as the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

It was the first time a president has called for ending the endowments. They were created in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation declaring that any “advanced civilization” must fully value the arts, the humanities, and cultural activity.

While the combined annual budgets of both endowments -- about $300 million -- are a tiny fraction of the $1.1 trillion of total annual discretionary spending, grants from these agencies have been deeply valued financial lifelines and highly coveted honors for artists, musicians, writers and scholars for decades.

Deb eventually skimmed over why conservatives aren’t fans of the politicized NEA, while hammering home what a pittance the arts endowment divvies out (while still contradictorily stressing its vital importance to American culture).

While some Republicans have voiced support for the endowments, the arts endowment in particular has been a target of conservatives for decades.

After political battles over the endowments in the late 1980s and 1990s, both agencies created programs and provided grants to more artists and scholars in politically conservative parts of the country, like a rural arts initiative that benefited states like Alabama and North Dakota. Yet endowment money still flowed strongly to liberal-leaning states and cities: New York City arts groups are the largest recipient of federal arts grants.

Some advocates for the arts endowment, which doles out far less money as a percentage than many other governments around the world, have said that its importance is less about the money and more about the message that it sends about the importance of culture in the United States.

On Saturday, Deb teamed up with veteran reporter Michael Cooper for Saturday’s front of the Arts section piece bolstering GOP support for the federal art programs in “Republicans Defending Arts Grants.” The Times nabbed an unusual interview with the “firebrand” Buchanan:

At first blush it’s like a dream come true for conservatives: Donald J. Trump has become the first president to formally propose eliminating federal programs for the arts and humanities, which have long been in the cross hairs of Republicans, and the threat is all the more real because the party also controls Congress.

“The lord has been good to me late in life, my friend,” Patrick J. Buchanan, the conservative firebrand, said in an interview this week about the president’s assault on the National Endowment for the Arts, which Mr. Buchanan railed against during his insurgent run for president in 1992.

But even with one-party control in Washington, the fates of the arts endowment and the National Endowment for the Humanities are far from sealed.

Several key Republican lawmakers are expressing support for the programs, which, since their near-death experiences during the culture wars of a generation ago, have taken pains to counter accusations of coastal elitism by making sure to distribute their grants widely across all 50 states.

The story featured a graph that tried to de-emphasize the total amount of outlay (while also trying to claim it’s vital and irreplaceable?): “Most states receive less than $1 per person in grants from the N.E.A. each year.”

And the contours of the political battle itself have changed since those earlier fights in the 1980s and ’90s. The arguments then were over ideology, taste, free speech and the size of government; today they are about economic investment, federal priorities and how people feel about Mr. Trump remaking America to his liking.

The Times quoted “warm words” from both Senate and House moderate Republicans, and noted limited reforms made in the 1990s, and quoted Buchanan’s colorful comments:

Even some opponents of the endowments concede that they have a fight on their hands. Mr. Buchanan -- who once described the arts agency as “the upholstered playpen of the arts and crafts auxiliary of the Eastern liberal establishment” -- said that he gave President Trump credit for trying to eliminate it, but that its demise was far from assured.