The last thing Americans need, in this era of “fake news” hegemony, is less real news.
But that’s what the president proposes.
Donald Trump’s generally onerous budget proposal is very specifically onerous when it comes to the question of whether all Americans will have acceoss to quality news and entertainment programming. Under the Trump proposal, federal funding for public media doesn’t just take a cut—it is phased out altogether.
Conservative Republicans have been angling for years to zero out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides federal support for local PBS and National Public Radio stations. Prodded years ago by conservative columnist George Will, who asked, “What about the cultural institutions? Conservatives have considerable grievances against the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the national endowments for the arts and the humanities. What’s their future?” To which House Speaker Newt Gingrich replied: “I personally would privatize them all.”
Gingrich failed, but the agitation never stopped. As US Senator Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, has said: “PBS is right at the top of their hit list—always has been and always will be, until they can destroy it.”
Now, as he has with so many other items on the right-wing wish list, Trump is delivering for those who desperately want to eliminate alternatives to the unadulterated spin and wrongheaded partisanship that dominates talk radio and too much of broadcast and cable TV.
In much of America, public media provide that alternative. And people trust it.
While PBS and NPR certainly have their flaws, they are exceptionally well regarded when compared with other media. New polling confirms that Americans continue to have more faith in PBS and its member stations than in digital platforms, commercial cable and broadcast television, newspapers, and social media.
At the root of that faith is a sense that public media serve the great mass of Americans rather than advertisers and political agendas. If Trump’s scheme were to succeed, says CPB president Patricia Harrison, the phasing out of funding “would at first devastate, and then ultimately destroy public media’s ability to provide early childhood content, life-saving emergency alerts, and local journalism.”