Mister Rogers, Elon Musk, and Public Broadcasting’s Twitter Brat-Fit - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Mister Rogers, Elon Musk, and Public Broadcasting’s Twitter Brat-Fit

Fifty-four years ago, Fred Rogers — Mister Rogers to his viewers — testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications and asked for $20 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

He explained to Sen. John Pastore, a man as different from Fred Rogers as Handyman Negri was from Lady Elaine Fairchilde, one of the central ways that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and public broadcasting, generate revenue.

“Each station pays to show our program,” he told Pastore. “It’s a unique kind of funding in educational television.”

Then, as now, the bulk of the federal funding went directly to affiliates, which kicked the money upward to air programs produced nationally. In this indirect way, the federal government funds National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Whereas Mister Rogers explained the role of tax dollars clearly and concisely, his public broadcasting progeny obfuscate the truth. They want the government’s money. At the same time, they find it indecent for anyone to notice, let alone point out, that they depend on the state.

NPR quit Twitter after the social media company correctly labeled the tax-supported outfit as “state-affiliated media.” Elon Musk compromised in changing the label to “government-funded media,” but NPR still pulled its 52 Twitter accounts. PBS, and several affiliates of both, did likewise.

“The whole point isn’t whether or not we’re government funded,” NPR CEO John Lansing insisted in an article published on NPR.org. “Even if we were government funded, which we’re not, the point is the independence, because all journalism has revenue of some sort.”

And if that revenue skews toward one source, the reporting often skews, too.

Take, for instance, the NPR article on itself. Its title? “NPR quits Twitter after being falsely labeled as ‘state-affiliated media.’” The author, David Folkenflik, draws a paycheck from NPR. If he drew one from Breitbart or even the Hill, then the piece likely would take a different tone. Other outlets, for instance, included the quotation Elon Musk took from NPR’s very own website — “federal funding is essential to public radio” — that seemingly contradicts both Folkenflik’s article and his boss’s caterwauling.

The unforgettable exchange between James Clayton and Elon Musk this week in which the Twitter CEO exposed the BBC journalist’s empty allegations to such an embarrassing degree that Clayton plaintively petitioned “let’s move on” and later repeatedly attempted to end the interview similarly demonstrates how paychecks influence news coverage. The BBC, like NPR, does not like Twitter calling it government-funded broadcasting, so it covers Musk with great hostility.

An act of Congress established NPR, which makes it different from, say, Cumulus Media or WABC or WBZ or KSFO. Lansing noted it receives less than 1 percent of its funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This seems like a lie by omission in that NPR receives a much larger percentage of its budget from the CFB indirectly. And Twitter did not label NPR as “CPB-funded media,” after all, but “government-funded media,” which makes NPR’s fixation on CPB a non sequitur.

NPR member stations, many of which are owned or run by government entities, provide a large chunk of the main hub’s budget. Examples include Western Kentucky University owning the WKYU network, Ohio State University owning WOSU, and the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents owning the license to KGOU and the school running the station. Such government-owned local stations generally receive a massive chunk of their budgets, as an honest man normally wearing a sweater at home explained to Sen. Pastore in 1969, from the CPB (and state and local governments). They use a large portion of that money to buy NPR programs.

Public radio stations, as anyone with the misfortune to tune in during pledge week understands, also receive funding from listeners. The name-dropping of corporations and nonprofits in the audio credits clues in the audience about other donors. NPR and its affiliates, which generally express gratitude toward their patrons, strangely do much to hide their big benefactor big government.

CPB received $465,000,000 from the federal government in 2022. About $100 million of that went to radio. One would think that NPR might thank the taxpayer as effusively as it thanks the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Instead, it offers a blank you instead of a thank you.

Fifty-four years ago, a gentleman in the truest sense who essentially played himself on a children’s show did not camouflage his purpose in Washington. His honesty and gratitude — he acknowledged the support of Sears Roebuck, National Educational Television, and the affiliates — endeared himself to the subcommittee chairman. So did a song, which included the lines: “It’s great to be able to stop/When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,/And be able to do something else instead/And think this song.”

Government-funded radio’s current crop of dishonest leaders might indeed want to think this song. Sen. Pastore surely did. He told Fred Rogers, “Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”

Daniel J. Flynn
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Daniel J. Flynn, a senior editor of The American Spectator, is the author of Cult City: Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books, 2018), The War on Football (Regnery, 2013), Blue Collar Intellectuals (ISI Books, 2011), A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, New York Post, City Journal, National Review, and his own website, www.flynnfiles.com.   
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