The Advocate Comes Out In Favor Of Trillion-Dollar Deficits

Is that a misleading headline? You be the judge.

We can’t figure out how else to assess the paper’s editorial today which says that if the federal government should stop funding to the Corporation For Public Broadcasting it would destroy education in America.

Or something like that.

This newspaper is owned by a media company that also includes a commercial broadcast station. We believe in the promise of commercial television, but we also know that there are some forms of programming the marketplace cannot easily support. That’s why public broadcasting was born, and that’s why public television has continuing relevance in the 21st century.

Romney mentioned his personal affection for Big Bird, the beloved “Sesame Street” character that’s been a staple on PBS stations for years. But Sherrie Westin, a “Sesame Street” executive, said the show gets very little funding through PBS. Instead, the children’s show is supported mostly through corporate sponsorships, product sales and donations.

So, Big Bird might survive under Romney’s vision of public broadcasting. But other public television shows, such as “Frontline” and “Antiques Roadshow,” might not fare so well if federal support for PBS were reduced or eliminated.

Rural stations depend more heavily on PBS for support. Without federal funding, many of those stations would probably go off the air, diminishing the reach of public television’s educational programs. In a nation that desperately needs to expand educational opportunities for its citizens, public television is a vital source of knowledge. Gutting support for public television would save a negligible amount of money in the federal budget, but America would be much poorer if PBS weren’t around.

Naturally. We’re running a trillion-dollar federal deficit, and we’re borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend. The idea of cutting government subsidies to PBS is CRAZY.

The Advocate’s editors don’t subject PBS to the test Mitt Romney suggested; namely, whether it’s worth borrowing money from China to fund it.

They probably couldn’t come up with a comeback to that, so they just ignored it.

Public television was begun in an era when there were only three broadcast networks and a very limited range of programming. The rationale for PBS has been overtaken decades ago by the market – cable and satellite TV, on-demand video and the Internet allow for programming choices significantly beyond those available in the 1960’s.

What is it that PBS offers to the marketplace which can neither be supported through corporate sponsorships and private donations nor found elsewhere?

A quick look at today’s programming on the local PBS station in Baton Rouge …

Daniel’s play date with Miss Elaina goes awry.
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Sid learns about water.
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Pig and Frog race each other to Mystery Island.
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Grace’s canned-food drive draws the help of Melanie.
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Flynn becomes a hero when he puts out a fire.
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Daniel’s play date with Miss Elaina goes awry.
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The Super Readers learn all about Halloween.
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The kids meet a relative of Tank Triceratops.
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The kids meet a salmon named Sam, who’s on her way home.
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Marco plans a surprise party for his mother.
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Martha and Skits investigate a rash of peanut-butter thefts.
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Mr. Big’s assistant Leslie tries to carry out an evil plan.
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Chris and Martin help a lost lion return to its pride.
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Jessica and Danny compete in a charity bake sale.
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News from around the world are presented.
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A long-running weeknight business-news magazine.
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Covering national and international issues.
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Part 2 of 3 in Milwaukee includes 1772 needlework.
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A search for Mission Oak furniture.
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The story of Standing Bear, the influential Ponca chief.
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The Chitimacha people’s past and present are discussed.
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A search for Mission Oak furniture.
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No criticism is intended of PBS’ programming. There is some good stuff in there. But is there really all that much of a difference between Market Warriors and American Pickers? And while Charlie Rose’s show and the NewsHour do at times offer quality reporting and discussion of current events, are there not five cable news channels offering the same?

The Advocate’s critique of the cable networks is that they’re offering schlocky reality TV shows instead of informative and educational programming…

We’ve seen what happens when so-called “educational” commercial channels emerge to offer instruction in history or science. All too often, in the search for ratings, they resort to gimmicky “reality” shows and dubious assertions to appeal to the mass market.

The public television model, which depends on a mix of viewer contributions, corporate underwriting and modest government support, gives programmers the latitude they need to create shows in which education remains the primary goal.

If government has a role in supporting schools and universities, then it certainly has a role in supporting educational television, which is an effective and economical way to spread learning. We would also like to think that political conservatives, the most frequent critics of federal support for public TV, would have a natural sympathy with the wholesome, family-friendly programming that dominates public TV’s prime-time schedule.

And in the case of the History Channel that is without a doubt a good critique. We think Swamp People and Cajun Pawn Stars are hilarious, but they don’t exactly have anything to do with history – and as a collection of history buffs here at the Hayride we find it mind-boggling that they can’t come up with programming more commensurate with the stated mission of the channel.

That said, maybe the reason that the History Channel – not to mention The Learning Channel, which regardless of its name offers little outside of Honey Boo Boo and fashion tips for unattractive women – give the public what they do is that the higher-brow programming is already subsidized by the government. If you’re TLC, for example, and you want to do programming that actually uplifts people, it’s a bit hard to get a foothold when you find yourself competing against somebody who’s backed to the hilt by the feds. So you don’t even try to go there; you do the easy thing and you find some goofballs to make a reality show from.

The Advocate doesn’t mention that the schlocky reality TV they’re railing against is subsidized by the government as well – Swamp People and Cajun Pawn Stars are both getting film tax credits from the state of Louisiana. But those subsidies are state subsidies, and whatever their wisdom Louisiana at least manages to get somewhere near a balanced budget despite those freebies.

As for this canard about how political conservatives should like the “family-friendly” programming coming out of PBS – it turns out that there are cable networks who do manage to compete in the marketplace with such a message. And no tax dollars go toward those programs. What’s more, if the programming in those market-based networks becomes counterproductive or offensive, the viewers can respond accordingly.

When was the last time a PBS program which stunk got cancelled?

No, eliminating the $430 million that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting gets from the federal government won’t solve the federal budget problem. But it’s the ultimate in low-hanging fruit – we don’t suffer from a lack of media in this country, and the public doesn’t suffer from a lack of choices. There are 300 cable channels out there, and at any given time viewers can find something educational or informative on the tube.

What we do lack is money. And solving that problem is going to involve making deeper cuts than some subsidy for what is essentially an uncompetitive broadcast network in a cable TV age.

The fact that the Advocate can’t abide so small a sacrifice when we are teetering on the edge of a Greek-scale fiscal crisis tells you how unserious and committed to big government its editors really are.

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