K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research
Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific
Research Institute and has been widely published on topics
including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform,
and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]
San Diego heiress bequeaths taxpayer-funded NPR a windfall…
[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 11/20/03
Joan Kroc, the
heir to the McDonalds fortune who died last month in San Diego,
left $200 million to National Public Radio. The gift, reportedly
the largest of its kind in American history, is nearly twice
NPR's annual budget of $103 million. It provides the opportunity
to ponder the concept of public broadcasting, a classic misnomer.
The notion that NPR
somehow evenly represents the views of the American public
will rightly be greeted with derision by any
fair-minded person who has ever listened to "All Things
Considered" or "Morning Edition." In story selection,
reporting, and commentary, NPR stands in left field, near the
An NPR announcer cued
in a recent "Talk of the Nation" show
on the subject of evil by raising the specter of "Hitler,
Stalin, and Hiroshima." In the world of NPR, the United
States is the moral equivalent of genocidal dictatorships. But
NPR is different in a more important way.
The federal government takes money from taxpayers and gives
it to NPR. Fox, CBS, CNN, NBC, ABC, and other networks do not
get government money. NPR apologists say the government money,
about $1 million last year, amounts to less than one percent
of its annual budget. But the principle is more important than
the amount. The proper role of government does not include dishing
out subsidies for radio and television outlets, especially when
they can get by without it.
NPR and PBS are into broadcasting and merchandising, the peddling
of videos, cassettes, and the like. The proceeds from these commercials,
however, are not plowed directly back into operating expenses
but go to the for-profit subsidiaries of the producer.
There is huge profit
in many items, especially those based on the children's shows
with singing dinosaurs. But behind the "public" image,
the producers don't like to talk about it. Journalists seeking
to know the profits of Bill Moyers or Children's Television Workshop,
if they can get a hearing at all, will be told that such information
is "proprietary." In other words, the same public that
funds the network that made the items profitable has no right
There is nothing wrong
with profit, but in this case the non-profit network takes
taxpayer money and advertises itself as "public," like
a park anybody can access. The proceeds, especially from the
children's toys, could easily replace the government subsidies.
But NPR and PBS keep coming back for more, and this amounts to
the middle-class and poor subsidizing the wealthy.
NPR bosses said they weren't sure what to do with the $200 million
gift, but that should be easy. NRP should stop taking government
money. Since that is unlikely, the government, at all levels,
should stop giving it to them. The case is especially strong
since the gift of $200 million from the $1.7 billion estate of
Joan Kroc, who also gave more than $90 million to the Salvation
Army, $50 million to the University of San Diego, and $50 million
to Notre Dame University.
NPR and PBS should compete in the media marketplace. If members
of the public choose to give money to either network, they will
have ample opportunity during pledge week.
2003 Pacific Research Institute