The Washington Post published an op-ed on Sunday headlined "NPR and PBS don't need tax money anymore." Manhattan Institute vice president Howard Husock is uniquely qualified on the topic: he's a former producer for Boston PBS superstation WGBH and now serves on the board of directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Some of Husock's argument is familiar, especially the change in the media landscape since the emergence of a public broadcasting system in the "Great Society" Sixties. What's eye-opening is how PBS and NPR sell themselves to underwriters as having an audience loaded with wealthier and more educated customers:
All this might matter less if it were clear that public media was a preferred choice of a broad cross-section of the American public. Doing so was part of the original mission. Instead, public media today looks far too much like a niche programming service for a left-leaning, upmarket urban constituency.
Of the top 10 most popular NPR affiliates, only one (Atlanta) is found in the South or Southwest. The major, “producing stations” of television programming — locals that provide the lion’s share of content broadcast on smaller affiliates — are based in liberal bastions Boston, New York and Washington. NPR, in data expected to appeal to financial underwriters, boasts that some 58 percent of NPR listeners are college graduates, and that its listeners are “74 percent more likely to earn more than $100,000.” (One NPR slide deck boasts that its programming reaches “cultural connoisseurs” likely to drink four glasses of wine per week.) The appeal makes a virtue of its elite demographics, noting NPR “attracts an audience most notably distinguished by its educational excellence and professional success.” In 2014, Pew Research found that “The clear majority of audience (67 percent) is left-of-center.” Nothing wrong with that, of course, unless your statutory mandate is to reach and inform the American citizenry broadly.
Husock argues that if PBS and NPR want to maintain taxpayer subsidies, "they must start appealing to more than blue-state America. They should revisit and expand the meaning of diversity to include more ideological and geographic perspectives, and be required to report regularly to Congress as to viewership and listenership in states and major metro areas across the country."
But the public broadcasters have heard this message since the early 1990s and display the confidence that with all of its natural advantages -- stations in every congressional district and the power to use their own airwaves, websites, and social-media accounts to lobby for its own interests -- this budget proposal will lose just like every other effort to turn off the spigot. Not only that, they will continue to fight any effort to monitor or question the tilt of its programming. That's why the Zero Option is best, to create a "post-subsidy" system, as Husock writes, a system that stops stealing money from conservatives to kick them in the posterior with leftist programming.