Wednesday, February 19, 2014

PBS funding

Michael Hiltzik writing in Monday's Los Angeles Times:
[A] PBS unit that funded independent documentaries canceled a film about the Koch Brothers last year, fearing the reaction of one of its major donors, David Koch. 

That underscores the cynicism of the steady withdrawal of public funding from PBS since the Reagan administration. It's another example of the old story of big government getting off the horse, so big business and the wealthy can saddle up [the column begins by noting PBS's decision to return a $3.5 million donation from a billionaire to help fund documentaries about the state of pensions for state and local government employees]. As David Sirota, the author of the PandoDaily expose, wrote in its aftermath, PBS doesn't stand for "Public Broadcasting Service" anymore. As it becomes more addicted to big-bucks donors, it risks becoming the Plutocrat Broadcasting Service.
Hiltzik, it seems, would have no problem if our tax dollars, via PBS, were used to support the anti-Koch Brothers documentary he references. From a moral and philosophical perspective, forcing other people to provide money to subsidize your preferred political views is reprehensible. 

More practically, Hiltzik's example nicely illustrates the pointlessness of taxpayer funding for PBS. The canceled anti-Koch documentary, Citizen Koch, ended up receiving more money from donations than what PBS had originally promised its producers ($170,000 in a Kickstarter campaign vs. $150,000 from PBS). So everyone was left better off; the taxpayers didn't have to fund something they might disagree with and the producers ended up with more money. This is cause for outrage?

Furthermore, even if the fundraising campaign had failed, the idea that anti-Koch crusaders need PBS to reach a wide audience is ludicrous (and if one acknowledge's that PBS' role isn't vital to spreading that message, then why do we care if they support the documentary or not?). If there is one thing the media does not lack for, it is information about the alleged nefariousness of the brothers Koch. 

Anyone with an internet connection -- which is to say, the vast majority of Americans -- can read the 2010 The New Yorker article which arguably kicked off the anti-Koch frenzy. has four pages devoted to Koch-related articles (sample headline: "Koch-backed Conservatives Go Pro-Cervical Cancer"), while The Huffington Post, Mother Jones (sample: "How the Koch Brothers Backed Public-School Segregation"), The Nation, Washington Monthly, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, etc. offer hundreds if not thousands more. The hour-long documentary Koch Brothers Exposed can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube along with plenty of other anti-Koch pieces.

Taxpayer funding of PBS is both morally problematic and practically unnecessary. Hiltzik's hand-wringing over reduced funding suggests he either desires others to pay for the spread of his political message or is simply against any cuts to government on principle, regardless of the practicalities. Possibly both. It's not a message worth taking seriously. 

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