Conservative Senator Jim Demint argued that it’s time to cut funding for the Public Broadcasting System at the Wall Street Journal yesterday.
When presidents of government-funded broadcasting are making more than the president of the United States, it’s time to get the government out of public broadcasting.
While executives at the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR) are raking in massive salaries, the organizations are participating in an aggressive lobbying effort to prevent Congress from saving hundreds of millions of dollars each year by cutting their subsidies. The so-called commercial free public airwaves have been filled with pleas for taxpayer cash. The Association of Public Television Stations has hired lobbyists to fight the cuts. Hundreds of taxpayer-supported TV, radio and Web outlets have partnered with an advocacy campaign to facilitate emails and phone calls to Capitol Hill for the purpose of telling members of Congress, “Public broadcasting funding is too important to eliminate!”
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PBS President Paula Kerger even recorded a personal television appeal that told viewers exactly how to contact members of Congress in order to “let your representative know how you feel about the elimination of funding for public broadcasting.” But if PBS can pay Ms. Kerger $632,233 in annual compensation—as reported on the 990 tax forms all nonprofits are required to file—surely it can operate without tax dollars.
The executives at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which distributes the taxpayer money allocated for public broadcasting to other stations, are also generously compensated. According to CPB’s 2009 tax forms, President and CEO Patricia de Stacy Harrison received $298,884 in reportable compensation and another $70,630 in other compensation from the organization and related organizations that year. That’s practically a pittance compared to Kevin Klose, president emeritus of NPR, who received more than $1.2 million in compensation, according to the tax forms the nonprofit filed in 2009.
Today’s media landscape is a thriving one with few barriers to entry and many competitors, unlike when CPB was created in 1967. In 2011, Americans have thousands of news, entertainment and educational programs to choose from that are available on countless television, radio and Web outlets.
Despite how accessible media has become to Americans over the years, funding for CPB has grown considerably. In 2001, the federal government appropriated $340 million for CPB. Last year it got $420 million. As Congress considers ways to close the $1.6 trillion deficit, cutting funding for the CPB has even been proposed by President Obama’s bipartisan deficit reduction commission. Instead, Mr. Obama wants to increase CPB’s funding to $451 million in his latest budget.
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Meanwhile, highly successful, brand-name public programs like Sesame Street make millions on their own. “Sesame Street,” for example, made more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales from 2003-2006. Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell received $956,513 in compensation in 2008. With earnings like that, Big Bird doesn’t need the taxpayers to help him compete against the Nickleodeon cable channel’s Dora the Explorer.
Taxpayer-subsidized broadcasting doesn’t only make money from licensing and product sales. It also raises plenty of outside cash.
Last year, for example, the Open Society Foundation, backed by liberal financier George Soros, gave NPR $1.8 million to help support the latter’s plan to hire an additional 100 reporters. When NPR receives million-dollar gifts from Mr. Soros, it is an insult to taxpayers when other organizations, such as MoveOn.org demand that Congress “save NPR and PBS” by guaranteeing “permanent funding and independence from partisan meddling,” as the liberal interest group did last month. It was even more insulting when PBS posted a message on Twitter thanking MoveOn.org—the group that once labeled Gen. David Petraeus as “General Betray Us”—for the help.