The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Students debate federal funding for public media

Caleb Wossen
Slim Gravy gets respect.

Sesame Street’s Big Bird found himself in the center of the national political arena in the past week following a mention from Mitt Romney in last week’s presidential debate while he was discussing cuts to federal funding for PBS and other public media. (AP)


I have to give Mitt Romney a lot of credit: telling the man moderating your debate that you plan on cutting all government funding for the channel on which he hosts a news hour every night takes some chutzpah. I’m hoping Jim Lehrer doesn’t fear for the future of his career now that Mitt Romney’s been moving up in the polls, especially because it doesn’t look like anyone’s planning on hiring him to moderate any more debates soon.

It seems conservatives like making an issue of funding for public media every time we start talking about budget cuts. And hey, I don’t blame them. It’s an easy talking point and a great galvanizer. My liberal compatriots are incensed: Mitt Romney – the man who would kill Big Bird.

As usual, such a straw man argument is not wholly productive. If the government did decide to stop subsidizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), nothing would likely happen to Sesame Street. The show gets most of its money from product sales and donations. Consider this: on average, about 15 percent of PBS budget comes from federal funds, according to ABC News.

That being said, without the government subsidy, public media would certainly look different. You could probably kiss Antiques Roadshow goodbye. Wasn’t Mitt Romney having a hard enough time winning the votes of senior citizens?

It’s important to remember that federal funds for PBS and NPR are not distributed equally. Affiliates like KERA here in North Texas could probably survive on their own through member donations (albeit with some deep cuts), but affiliates in more rural areas depend on the government for up to 60 percent of their funds since they can’t rely nearly as much on people donating for pledge drives. There’s no doubt those stations would shut down.

And how much money would we save by cutting the PBS subsidy? In 2011, we spent $430 million to support the CPB, an amount constituting .00012 percent of the federal budget. Someone bust out the champagne. Neil deGrasse Tyson snidely tweeted that “cutting PBS support to help balance the federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500 gig hard drive.”

However, conservatives realize that we’re not going to balance the budget by forcing Downton Abbey into syndication. Funding for PBS, NPR and public media has become controversial in recent years. This is not because people think it’s too expensive, but because people think it’s a bad use of our money. After all, who gave us the Corporation for Public Broadcasting but that nutty leftist Lyndon Baines Johnson?

PBS and NPR were conceived by liberals and continue to be defended by liberals. Sesame Street and Arthur might be innocuous enough, but NPR’s news has a pretty obvious left-leaning bias, like most of the mainstream media. They might like to pretend they’re not, but fiascos like the firing of Juan Williams last year illustrate that, yes, NPR and public broadcasting in general leans left.

But just because NPR listeners are 326 percent more likely to have read The New Yorker in the past six months doesn’t mean that we need to let the market decide whether or not it’s worth funding. Sometimes it’s worth breaking the laws of the market to accomplish a particular ideal (and conservatives can’t disagree with me about this: look at the military budget). If we accept that one key tenet to the maintenance of a republic is an educated populace, public media is essential.

Yes, NPR and PBS aren’t perfectly objective, but if we let profits drive public media’s operations, we’d end up with something looking a lot more like MSNBC (which I hesitate to even call news). I want PBS and NPR to keep their federal funding because I believe the government has a duty to maintain a well-educated polity. That .00012 percent of the budget is money well spent.

Bub is a junior majoring in English, political science and history.


Even if you didn’t catch last week’s debate, you probably heard about Mitt Romney saying that if and when he is president, he is cutting off Big Bird.

This little remark was made into a huge deal thanks in large part to Twitter. Remarks in regards to the economy and Obamacare just didn’t have the same comic appeal to them as did the idea of big, bad Romney cutting the purse strings to PBS.

However, a strong argument can be made for Romney’s remark being spot on. Currently the U.S. is in debt just over $16 trillion. We are having to borrow money from whoever is willing to lend it to us. China currently owns more of our debt than any other country. This is bad as the U.S. has acted as a world powerhouse ever since it overtook Great Britain’s position of dominancy. These days, the U.S. is living in the shadow of China’s economy.

His statement was not the oversimplified anti-PBS or the grossly oversimplified fire Big Bird. His point was whether or not Americans were so passionate about the federal government funding Big Bird that it was willing to borrow from China to do so? It is a safe assumption that most people, aside from the residents of Street and Elwood City, would be willing to let that minor expense go by the wayside in the interest of not further indebting ourselves to China in order to do so.

PBS is broadcast in a variety of markets, each one locally owned and operated. The total amount of PBS’ overall revenue derived from the federal government amounts to only about 15 percent.

The total amount comes to around $450 million a year. True, this number seems rather insignificant when you take into account the fact that the U.S. government will spend $3.5 trillion in this fiscal year.

However, when you are in debt it is imperative that you cut down wherever you can afford to and as the federal contribution to PBS amounts to only 15 percent of its annual income, it would not be so detrimental to the institution that it would be altogether lost.

As with any cutbacks, there would be some disadvantages. While on the national level the federal money makes up only a relatively small percentage, in certain smaller markets the federal funds constitute 40 to 50 percent of their total budgets. Because of this, it is altogether possible that the branches of PBS in these markets might be forced to close. While this may be sad to Elmo lovers, it is reported that only about 89 million people watch PBS on a given week. This encompasses only about 29 percent of Americans. This is yet another government funded program that everyone pays for, but few benefit from.

The U.S. government has been spending like Marie Antoinette for years. No matter where the cuts in spending come from, it is of the utmost importance that they be implemented. Taking $450 million a year form PBS won’t make much of a dent in curbing federal spending, but it is a step. With a large number of those who watch TV subscribing to cable and satellite services, locally produced free stations are not as widely viewed as they once were.

The question presented by Romney is valid, do you want PBS bad enough to borrow money from China to fund it or are you willing to cut federal funding to a television channel that has largely become obsolete?

In a debate stacked with depressing statistics and candidates promising a bleak future if their opponent were to win, the American public took the lighthearted humor where they could find it.

This obviously will not act as a divisive political issue, but it addressed the much graver issue of the government’s funding of superfluous institutions and programs and the fact that no matter how
small the contribution, each played a role in the mounting debt.

Dunn is a junior majoring in political science. 

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