To start us off, this all started in the mid-1960s. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was created in 1967, and pretty immediately thereafter, Republicans tried to argue that public broadcasting shouldn’t have government subsidies. The CPB gets money from the federal budget and then spreads that money among various channels. One of those channels is NPR. Put another way: Though Republicans have tried to push measures to remove the CPB from the federal budget, Congress doesn’t actually give NPR that money. The CPB does. (Yes, it’s a little confusing. But stay with me!)
Let’s look at how this has worked out for Republicans over the years. Not one, not two, but three Republican presidents actually tried to slash public broadcasting funds; Ronald Reagan didn’t want public broadcasting to get government subsidies, and neither did George W. Bush. And, surprising not a single reader here at Daily Kos, the Trump administration tried to get Congress to cut all funds to CPB in 2017, 2018, and 2019. (Congress declined to do so, obviously.)
In the ‘90s, Republicans introduced a bill to eliminate all federal funds going into CPB, but it didn’t make it out of the House. (Which, interestingly, had a Republican majority then.) As The Washington Post reported at the time, Republicans in the mid-90s were livid that NPR dared to air (among other things) stories about LGBTQ+ feeling alienated and forming chosen families. Conservatives were also furious the outlet covered a story about public school students taking sex ed classes.
Isn’t it funny that Republicans just rotate through the same couple of subjects—queer people, reproductive health, immigration—throw in language about liberal “elites,” and hope that’s enough to keep them in office? Funny or scary. Or both!
In 2011, House Republicans passed a bill to ban federal funds from going to NPR. The two main anti-NPR arguments at that point were as follows. As covered by The Atlantic, some Republicans felt NPR just wasn’t that important and didn’t actually need or deserve federal backing; people had other places to get their news, for example, and public radio wasn’t a necessity in the way it had been at NPR’s inception. Other Republicans argued NPR had a liberal or left-leaning bias and that the government shouldn’t back it for that reason.
Of course, we know how often a left-leaning bias is a code for something being accurate. But I digress…
Now, the CPB doesn’t fund only NPR. In fact, NPR is reportedly a tiny percentage of its overall budget, coming in at about 2%. The CPB also channels federal money into PBS, the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) grants and the National Endowment of the Humanities, and local NPR member stations. These places survive on a mixture of federal funds, corporate funds, donations, marketing, and other contributions.
And to hammer down the obvious, if smaller stations lose funding, it hurts them individually and the larger networks, because of the important work done in local reporting. So even if a larger or better-known outlet gets more donation support from listeners, for example, smaller stations crumbling still impacts the larger one because… more people and presence are necessary to get our hands on the news. It’s a circle.
And as is covered well in this deep dive over at Vox, funding cuts would (perhaps ironically, considering who Republicans are trying to get votes from) actually hurt rural viewers the most, where it’s actually quite expensive to operate news stations at all. And it’s worth pointing out how many folks in these areas actually don’t have reliable internet at home, canceling out a big opportunity to get news outside of public broadcasts.
To get into specific numbers, it’s been reported NPR receives about 2% of its budget via government subsidies, and PBS receives about 15% from government subsidies, both from the CPB. That’s it! Important, yes. But mostly for the reasons I outlined above (rural viewers, etc.) and not because, as conservatives insist, NPR has a hypnotic ability to make voters leftists.
As a reward for making it this far, let’s look at what folks have tweeted to express their outrage at a public broadcasting station. It’s a doozy!
Personally, I wish NPR was even half as liberal as critics seem to think it is. At this point in the election season, I’d be thrilled with a quarter as liberal, even. And that’s part of the reason it’s so important we keep doing what we’re doing and try our best to get folks educated and to the voting booths—we had a nice win with our midterm elections overall, but the battle is far from over.
Author: Marissa Higgins