Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Abolish PBS

George Will asserts that "public television is a preposterous relic" and should be abolished; its government subsidies should be cut, perhaps then we can find out if it can make it on its own, in a universe of some 500 channels. I agree with Will and would love to hear a serious argument in favor of keeping it.

Discussions - 25 Comments

Oh come now, Peter. Don’t you know that you have a duty to pay for liberal pablum like PBS’s Now (which is now blissfully without Bill Moyers)?

I’d love to see PBS stripped of all its subsidies. As initially conceived, it was supposed to present a non-partisan view of the real world. Unfortunately, the ’journalists’ who presented the view were not ’non-partisan’.

I’d also like to see subsidies removed for NEA, NEH, and, especially, NPR. After NPR received more than $200 million from Joan Kroc, why do they even need public money?

Of course, there are always organizations lining up for their tax funded handouts. The general welfare clause found in the Constitution has been stretched beyond all recognition. .

I love the hypocrisy of artists who decry government control and censorship and then feed greedily at the public trough for public money for their art. That art which is good will secure all the funding it needs. I prefer to allow those who patronize such art to fund it allow the federal government to fight wars, make foreign policy, and regulate interstate commerce.

Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, Reading Rainbow...all programs presented without commercial interruption and in a wholesome, moral way. Helped me learn Spanish at age 4, tie my shoes, enjoy a good book, use my imagination and treat my peers with respect. You can’t have these shows on most of the 500 channels out there; the formats for commercial television create a need to break a show up into pieces. Masterpiece Theater, local orchestra concerts and nature shows...programs to help broaden appreciation for many things you can’t find in today’s CNN/FoxNews/MTV culture. Sure, there’s Disney and Animal Planet and so on and so on...but where will regional programming go? Where will commercial-free educational shows go?

I can’t say that much else of the public television programming is either non-partisan or necessary, but where can you get the style of programs that foster the unique learning and entertaining ideas? Of course there are answers, but why can’t we get commercial-free TV? There’s commercial-free radio! (and they have many news and information stations from all ends of the political spectrum, thankfully!)

And the good news is, folks, public radio and TV are also funded by generous individuals who enjoy the programming. Thus the 200 million. It’s not all from my tax dollar (thank God). Who are we to decide where people can spend their money? Plus, funding has been cut here and there lately, and in time public TV and radio could be weaned off of tax dollars and we could see how long it survives. Problem is, they do provide a number of high quality programs for education and such that they may no longer have the budget to provide. What then? Goodbye "Nature" with no commercials, hello "Dangerous Croc Stories" brought to you by Mcdoodles and Widget Wonder Mahoozits. I need to go to the kitchen...Oh, good, a commercial. Talk to ya’ll later. ;o)

I have DVD’s and programming on demand at home that provides for hours of commercial free entertainment for the children.

The best part is I get to choose where and when and this technology is only in the fetal stage.

Television helped you learn to tie your shoes, enjoy a good book, and treat your peers!!! No offense, man, but where were you parents?!? Television is an almost Satanic evil for two reasons. First, the medium itself is stultifying, luring the mind into a thoughtless and largely accepting stupor in a way that books and music cannot and do not. Television is a psychic pacifier of terrifying power, destructive of concentration, attention span, and ultimately independent thought and morality. Second, the vast majority of TV’s content, espeially when considering advertising along with the programming, spans from mindless and degrading to evil and dehumanizing. The government subsidies to PBS constitute an endorsement of this evil which is offensive for both of the reasons TV itself is evil. First, PBS is teaching NOTHING that cannot and should not be taught by parents and teachers who are actually interacting with tots as humans, rather than shushing them with a distraction. In fact, if it were not for TV, kids would probably already know the stuff TV claims to be teaching them. In addition they would likely be more fit, less aggressive, have better attention spans, and would not be rushed as "tweens" into a hypersexualized early adolescence. Furthermore, PBS is television’s great excuse for itself, the sheep’s clothing that the wolf wears. Almost no one actually watches PBS, the network’s numbers are pathetic, but if nature programming and Bert and Ernie did not exist, the TV industry would have to invent them as the thin sheet they spread of the corpus delectum of exploitation, hypersexualization, soulless coarsening comedy, commercials aimed at sexualizing minors and turning them into consumers, programming which does the same, etc, etc I know Neal Postman is a liberal, but you owe it to yourself to read "Amusing Ourselves to Death." I will never understand why conservatives accept TV so unquestioningly, but I do know it is a hard habit to break. I largely quit for Lent, because I was pretty sure I’d keep a religious vow, but I am ashamed that I own a TV, and ashamed that I watch it ever. I know there is no excuse to be made for almost any of the shows I like.

My neighbors don’t have a VCR or DVD player. They struggle with 1 child to put food on the table with 4 jobs between them. They have a TV, though, and the kid watched Sesame Street, and if well behaved, Spongebob. They need that kind of program from PBS. They aren’t priviaged to have a library of DVDs.

Shows like Reading Rainbow and Sesame Street would be commercially successful on a non-public station. If the only reason to keep funding PBS is to prevent those shows from having commercial interruptions, then I think we are indeed throwing an awful lot of money into a deep dark hole.

Dominick Roark

Isn’t anyone going to bring up the fact that shows like Sesame Street have created an expectation among young people that education has to be "fun" and entertaining in order to be worthwhile? This, I think, has been the source of a great deal of mischief in modern pedagogy.

Also, in response to Joel Vos, I don’t think that anyone’s arguing that people should be told how to spend their money. The proposal isn’t to outlaw public television, but rather to cease government subsidies to it. If enough people like Mr. Vos still want to support those programs, then they will continue to exist without picking the pockets of everybody else.

Amen to your criticism of education needing to be "fun." That attitude is ruinous. In one of Bloom’s essays Giants and Dwarfs he laments how much of classical culture students are cut off from because language study is considered too heavy a burden for kids in school. I have experienced this difficulty personally.

Nobody should be forced to pay for any TV or radio programming. Enough already!

And for those of you who lament the lack of similar programming on commercial stations, bear in mind that PBS has had an unfair advantage for decades. What would you expect? Why would a commercial station try to compete directly with a station funded by tax dollars?

I will pick up Professor Schramm’s gauntlet. If we accept PBS as educational, and we accept the legitimacy of tax dollars being used to fund public education (k-12, state universities, vouchers) then there is no principled argument against PBS. Someone could make a prudential one, that it is a poor way to educate, etc. but the only way to beat PBS is to argue the public should not fund education, which given our history (Northwest Ordinance) will be difficult to do or that it is not at least somewhat educational, which given the current state of public education would be difficult to do.
I am uncertain about the history, but I have a suspicion that PBS was created before it was technologically feasible to have cable or satellite tv. I think it is interesting that cable channels derive themselves from PBS shows. The nature channels seems a lot like Wild America and Nature, the Discovery Channel seems a lot like Nova, the History channel seems a lot like the American Experience, the news channels seems a lot like News Hour and McGlaughan group (spelling?), home channels seem a lot like This Old House and Hometime, and the Food network seems a lot like PBS’ cooking shows.
I will admit that many of PBS’ political shows are sickening liberal, but they are the fairest channel a noncable subscriber can get. The News Hour frequently has Rich Lowry, etc. and lets both sides speak, or scream at each other. PBS also recently picked up the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed show; I assume it is somewhat conservative, or at least fair.
I dislike almost all tv, but consistently watch PBS when it has something on that interests me, which is frequent.

I think it is interesting that cable channels derive themselves from PBS shows. The nature channels seems a lot like Wild America and Nature, the Discovery Channel seems a lot like Nova, the History channel seems a lot like the American Experience, the news channels seems a lot like News Hour and McGlaughan group (spelling?), home channels seem a lot like This Old House and Hometime, and the Food network seems a lot like PBS’ cooking shows.

This, I would contend, is the most persuasive case to be made for de-funding PBS--it offers, at taxpayer expense, nothing that is not now available through privately financed channels.

wm: I do take offense that you have made this a conversation about my parents. I never said that I learned these things from TV, rather, they helped me learn things. And yes, my parents were right there with me reciting my abcs and assisting me with my shoelaces. They taught me to be a moral, caring, tolerant person. TV may be a "satanic evil", but a tool to assist in some cases, it is as well.

John Moser: I work directly with at-risk youth in a high school setting, and believe me, as an educator I understand the importance of making learning "fun". Nobody says learning will be entertaining, but I think back to grade school, and learning the ABCs to a song was fun and entertaining. College and most of high school was not entertaining, but by God, if the teacher or professor could get you interested by a witty anticdote or explosion of hydrogen from a Pringles can it was magical. And also, Mr. Moser, if you read my post carefully, you will see that I argue for the stifling of Public Broadcast. I know that if it is meant to be, there will be money from those who see it as worthwhile. I learned critical reading from a college english professor. I hated that class, yet I can still interpret writing. (Thank you Dr. Wells...)

By all means, have commercial stations pick up quality programming from PBS. Yet, why have we not discussed the XM/Sirrius style of broadcast? I pay for satellite TV so I can get OLN, CNN, ESPN and History Channel...but I thought that when people started paying for cable TV, the commercials were supposed to become fewer.

And also, Mr. Moser, if you read my post carefully, you will see that I argue for the stifling of Public Broadcast. I know that if it is meant to be, there will be money from those who see it as worthwhile.

Whoops, my mistake. My apologies to Mr. Vos for misreading his comment.

John,

I thought that was a rather good argument for PBS. It created a genres of shows when the market could not create such shows. It is possible that the market cannot create other shows. Therefore, PBS can create shows that may some day be profitable.

I think PBS is analogous to the space program. There was not much economic benefit from going to the moon. But, as a consequence of developing techology to get there, many items were created that might not have been created. Some examples are temperpedic mattresses and pillows ("space-age" foam) and Tang.

I notice you did not try to tackle the public education part of my argument. It seems as if no one has a principled reason for eliminating PBS, it becomes merely a matter of practical considerations, and if these rule we ought not to change. I think Burke said something along those lines once.

Steve: First, public television is only nominally educational. To say that the government may fund education (and indeed, your argument presupposes the dubious principle that the federal government should fund education) does not mean that the government has a duty to fund every kind of education. All your other examples were direct or indirect funding of schools. Any number of other quasi-educational endeavors could likewise be imagined, but they would not be schools, and therefore would not be within the tradition of public funding of education--which itself is traditionally a state function (note that the Northwest Ordinance applied in the territories prior to the formation of states; a unique time when the federal government regulated what were traditionally state functions). To address it more starkly, even if I concede that public television has some nominal educational function, I would still argue that the federal government has no basis to fund it, because the federal government does not have legitimate authority to fund education. Congress has limited powers, and those things outside of those powers properly belong to the states and the people. To borrow your line, other than a prudential "we like it" or "we have done it for a while," I would challenge you to show me where Congress has the authority to fund any kind of education, let alone the nominal education offerred by PBS.

It created a genres of shows when the market could not create such shows. It is possible that the market cannot create other shows.

The fact is that PBS didn’t "create" most of these shows; they were developed by independent, privately-owned production companies (Children’s Television Workshop is a prime example) and sold to PBS. The problem was that there were only three networks at the time and it was not profitable for these networks to buy programs that aimed at small niche markets. However, technology has radically altered the situation, and, as you point out, entire channels today are dedicated to specific small audiences. The independent firms that have traditionally produces the content would still be around--they’d just be selling their products to new customers.

By the same token, if it should ever become feasible for private firms to engage in space exploration, I would advocate getting the government out of that business as well.

Mr. Moser, thank you, and well put. (on PBS and NASA) It would be reasonable to get programming off of PBS and let other networks take it. CTW may have evolved into some strange liberal front and may not "let" networks have their shows. That would be, how should I say it...lame. Government funding makes no sense for PBS, as said in a number of posts, that they should receive funding as they become more willing to voice a specific political view. Minnesota is looking to pass a bill to stop state university professors from preaching their political ideaology to students. Why not have the bill cover all publicly funded programs? Is de-funding PBS a logical next step?

Comment 7 by Concerned Citizen
My neighbors don’t have a VCR or DVD player. They struggle with 1 child to put food on the table with 4 jobs between them. They have a TV, though, and the kid watched Sesame Street, and if well behaved, Spongebob. They need that kind of program from PBS. They aren’t priviaged to have a library of DVDs.

Exactly! If they didn’t have to pay for PBS (among other government hoandouts), maybe they’d have more money in their pockets.

If they watch Spongebob, then they pay for cable.

Better yet, if they didn’t have to subsidize a grotesque military budget that includes sending troops to fight and die (1,500 and counting!) for an elective war based on falsehoods (WMDs, links to Al Qaeda), they could have a DVD player and a DVD copy of "Paths of Glory." And "Dr. Strangelove" for the kids!

On the other hand, Craig, if we didn’t have to subsidize the grotesque budget of the utterly useless PBS, we’d have more money to spend on excellent weaponry. I’ll take a few more Abrams tanks over Bill Moyers any day--and I’ll bet most Americans would agree with me. (If they agreed with your ravings, Craig, Howard Dean would be president, and he couldn’t even make it past the Iowa caucuses. Does that make you feel as if your head might explode, Craig? Contact Dr. Dean, he can show you how it’s done.)

Ohio Voter,

Thanks for taking on my argument. Two thoughts in reply:
1. The federal government must have some constitutional power to fund education since it does fund education. Of course there is a distinction between an is and an ought, but that is too confusing for me. I would think the federal government could constitutionally create PBS (using mainstream Supreme Court jurisprudence since 1937) through the commerce clause or the spending clause. The commerce clause argument would be that tv broadcasting is commerce, therefore Congress may regulate it, that is, they may require TV Broadcasting companies to support PBS. The Spending clause argument is that the constitution gives Congress the power to tax and spend for the general welfare, PBS is for the general welfare, therefore Congress can do it. It is interesting to note that 4 justices (Stevens, Breyer, Ginsberg, Souter) wanted to claim education was commerce in Lopez. One more vote on the liberal side and Congress can spend and regulate education, unless the 10th amendment prevents it (a court viewing education as commerce would not care about the 10th amendment). All of these disputes are Jefferson-Hamilton disputes and could only be resolved by force. I argue they were during the civil war. Hamilton won.
2. Even if the federal government does not have constitutional power to create PBS, the states surely would since the states deal with education. So unless anyone argues that states should not support public education we are still stuck with PBS if we do not worry about practical considerations.

What we need is more commercial free TV, not less. The news is so controlled by advertising that it’s really gotten out of control.

Just look at the BBC in the UK. This is probably the top news organization in the world for one reason - it’s owned by the public and has no advertising.

I can’t think of a better way to spend $50-$100 of my tax dollars than to fund one or two major television stations that would be completely advertisment free.

Look at any local news station and you see more segments about what toys are best for children than you see actual news. For a country as advanced as ours the level of actual information in our news is appauling.

With billions in tax dollars to spend they would be able to bid on and win top television programming as well provide the most unbiased news around, thus increasing the overall knowledge of the american citizen.

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