We have public libraries. Why not public broadcasting?

Last night's reception at the library.

Last night’s reception at the library.

Last night I was pleased to attend a reception unveiling the remodeled portions of Richland Library, which also served in a way as a celebration of the fact that the library was recently named one of the nation’s best.

The library is indeed something that we have to be proud of in this community, even though some of us (ahem!) aren’t allowed to check books out because we sleep across the river. Seriously, though, it’s awesome. (At this point I must note that ADCO did the library’s rebrand awhile back, and my daughter-in-law works there.)

Anyway, this came back to mind this morning when I was reading George Will’s Sunday column harrumphing about funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (“Public broadcasting’s immortality defies reason.”)

He trotted out all the usual libertarian, market-oriented objections, such as:

  1. It might have been all well and good in the 1960s, when it was started as part of LBJ’s Great Society (about which, as you’d expect, Will has snotty things to say). Back then, it increased most people’s TV choices by 33 percent. But if it were gone today, it would reduce folk’s choices from, say, 500 channels to 499.
  2. The elite snobs who like it are generally affluent enough to pay for their chosen recreation and edification themselves, without forcing Joe Sixpack to cough up taxes for it.
  3. If Big Bird et al. have value (and Will is willing to stipulate that they do, in a market sense, which to him is what counts), advertisers and broadcasters would line up to eagerly purchase them and take over would CPB cease to be.

Here’s how I answer those:

  1. That’s like saying we don’t need libraries because there are (or used to be) bookstores, and Amazon. Well, yes, those things are fine enough for those who can afford them, but they have a tendency toward the lowest common denominator — reality TV and other garbage. Occasionally, commercial TV has started to do what CPB does — remember how A&E and Bravo started out, before sliding into what Will would term inanition — but the market has yet to produce anything that regularly airs such material as “King Charles III” or “The Civil War” (just to name a couple of personal faves; you may have others.)
  2. Sorry, but even if everyone doesn’t want it, public amenities — from parks to libraries to public schools — are there to better our communities in ways that the market will not. And Joe Sixpack has the same ability to vote for what he wants our tax money to be spent on that I do. Not everyone will agree with every expenditure, but these are the little trade-offs involved in living in communities rather than as hermits. The government (in this country) is not some separate thing out there doing things to us. It is us, and every one of us has the right and the obligation to express what we want it to do — which I am doing at this moment. (Oh, and not all elite snobs are made of money, just as an aside in response to an assertion that is neither here nor there.)
  3. Yes, they may, and then we’d have to watch commercials every 10 seconds. And eventually, all that we would get would be the content that maximized profits, and we’d lose other things that might make a little money but not enough, things that very well be the best of the lot. The marketplace gives us all sorts of wonderful things, from iPads to, um, iPhones (if I had more time, I’d surely think of something else), but I think an important function of the public sphere is to give us good things that the market will not. And if you wonder what sorts of things those might be, go watch some PBS or listen to NPR.

Finally, Will makes a point that in the abstract is devastating and unassailable, especially if you’re a journalist:

America, which is entertaining itself to inanition, has never experienced a scarcity of entertainment. Or a need for government-subsidized journalism that reports on the government. Before newspaper editorial writers inveigh against Mulvaney and in support of government subsidies for television and radio, they should answer this question: Should there be a CPN — a Corporation for Public Newspapers?

Well, no, of course not. But then, we’ve long made a distinction between the press and the use of the public airwaves. The Fairness Doctrine and so forth.

Still, it’s a powerful argument: Government-run news, globally, is the mark of the totalitarian, repressive state.

But then we have the actual fact, right in front of us, of PBS and NPR news programming. And to any objective observer (especially a professional one), they are of such such vastly higher quality than commercial broadcast news that it’s stunning. They are every bit as fair and impartial if not more so, and the depth and quality puts everything (except the better print outlets) in the shade.

It shouldn’t be so. But in reality, it is.

I’m reminded of something The New Republic published a few years back: “Enough Acton: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, except when it does not.” (Of course, some of my friends will object that the magazine said so in support of the Iraq invasion, so there’s that — but it was still a very true observation, a warning against overgeneralization.)

Government-backed media is a scary thing. Except PBS news is so very good. I don’t know how to explain it, but I know that — as an informed observer of news — I’d be sorry to lose that source. (Also, consider — this is news that gets a subsidy from government. As disturbing as that sounds, it’s a far cry from government-run news, which is something I do take an absolute, Actonesque stand against.)

And ultimately, that’s what I have to say about public broadcasting overall. At our house, except for maybe the weekly cold open on SNL, PBS is the only broadcast TV we watch at my house. We use our TV for that, and Netflix and Amazon. That’s it. And the reason why is that the rest of the broadcast universe offers nothing else as good.

And whatever the abstract arguments presented pro and con, I don’t want to lose that. So, to the extent I get a vote, I say let’s keep it.

Library 1

69 thoughts on “We have public libraries. Why not public broadcasting?

  1. Pat

    The government has a protocol to access public broadcasting equipment in case of emergency so actually the government is getting something for less than it would have to pay to maintain this backup by itself. So all of us who donate to public broadcasting are subsidizing it for the government.
    It is also used by public education.

    Reply
    1. Scout

      But do donations pay for that part? I thought donations were only allowed to go to programming – but not sure. I had a friend that used to work at ETV for a long time, so I used to know these things but now I can’t remember.

      I mainly remember in the context of Sanford trying to completely kill ETV that he tried to obliterate all kinds of federal requirements like maintaining that equipment willy nilly without realizing what he was suggesting because he didn’t have a clue what all ETV really does.

      ETV does a lot more than just the shows you see on TV. Like you said, there is the emergency broadcasting part, the public education part, and I think they are involved in getting broadband access to remote parts of the state somehow maybe, and the Statehouse feeds, for example.

      Reply
      1. Pat

        What I meant by that is that the public involvement keeps the organization well-greased so that when it is needed, it’s there.

        Reply
  2. Karen Pearson

    If private enterprise is so great where are all the really decent shows like the ones ETV normally airs–Downton Abbey (and Upstairs/Downstairs before that), The Civil War, the Wives of Henry III, Call the Midwife, etc? It seems that everything I see on TV exudes gratuitous violence or sex.

    Reply
    1. Claus2

      Aren’t those all British shows… well except The Civil War? Maybe it’d be cheaper just to broadcast the BBC channels.

      Reply
    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      As for “gratuitous violence or sex…” mostly, what I see on commercial TV is gratuitous stupidity.

      But to take your point… Compare, say, “The Tudors” to “Wolf Hall.” We’re talking about the same people from history, but “The Tudors” is obviously the one on commercial TV. Who knew that everybody in the Tudor court was young, good-looking and very fit, so they’ll look good in the many nude scenes?

      And isn’t it AMAZING how, on commercial TV, all female cops are STUNNING?…

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        “where are all the really decent shows like the ones ETV normally airs–Downton Abbey (and Upstairs/Downstairs before that), The Civil War, the Wives of Henry III, Call the Midwife, ”

        Put me in the group of “I wouldn’t watch any of those”. There is so much “decent” content available now across so many platforms (Netflix, Amazon, cable) that it’s not possible to watch them all. That’s the problem with any public supported television – it represents the tastes and preferences of a small minority of people. I wouldn’t watch Downton Abbey if you paid me. But I will pay to watch shows like House of Cards, Transparent, Mozart in The Jungle.

        It’s the same idea as how the hospitality tax dollars are disproportionately allocated to groups that have a certain demographic background. Art (and TV) should cater to those who are willing to pay for it.

        Reply
        1. Doug Ross

          As an example, Ken Burns produced a PBS-funded series on the history of the National Parks. I tried to watch it but got bored quickly. I’d much rather see a current day exploration of all the National Parks.. PBS is geared toward older, whiter, more affluent people with college degrees.

          Check out the org chart for PBS leadership sometime. It’s almost entirely white… all but one have degrees from Eastern colleges (lots of Ivy League alums) it certainly doesn’t represent the American “public”.

          http://www.pbs.org/about/about-pbs/leadership/

          Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I didn’t see the National Parks one. But go back and see the one on Prohibition. That was good. Or the one on Baseball.

            I’m not normally a huge documentary fan, but those were good…

            Reply
            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              The Prohibition one is available on Amazon, and I think the Baseball one is still on Netflix.

              But mind you, neither of them would be there if public TV hadn’t launched them, and Ken Burns, to start with…

              Reply
            2. Doug Ross

              I’ve tried to watch the baseball doc.. no thanks. Too academic for me.

              If I want sports documentaries, ESPN’s 30 for 30 have been the gold standard.

              Reply
              1. Bryan Caskey

                I love the Ken Burns Baseball doc. It’s just a bunch of great stories all put together. But I guess that’s why I like history so much.

                I never could figure out why classmates of mine would gripe about history class. I loved it. To me, it was basically sitting in class and listening to really interesting stories. I never had to “study” much for history class because I could just remember the stories from the professor’s lecture.

                Reply
                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  There’s nothing more interesting.

                  I didn’t intend to get a history major. I did it inadvertently, just following my interest.

                  I was able to take a LOT of electives in college, because I had tested out of a lot of the usual required classes. For instance, I didn’t have to take ANY foreign language courses (on account of having lived in Ecuador as a kid) or math courses (on account of having gotten up to calculus in high school). I just took and aced the placement tests, so I was free to take courses that interested ME. That meant some extra English courses, even more political science courses, but most of all every history course I ran across that particularly interested me. (I sort of concentrated on the American revolutionary generation with a side trip or two into Spanish and Latin American history and poli sci.)

                  Then, when I was about a semester from graduating, I realized I only needed two more courses to have a second major (in addition to journalism) in history. So I took the two courses. They were U.S. Social and Intellectual History before and after 1865, which turned out to be two of my favorite courses in college.

                  I don’t think I ever actually declared the second major, but I did satisfy the requirements for it…

                2. Doug Ross

                  “There’s nothing more interesting.”

                  For you. Give me today and tomorrow over yesterday. Give me hands on experience over reading about someone else’s experiences.

                  I got through Hamilton’s bio and now have started Ambrose’s Custer book. I spent the last third of Hamilton wondering why he was so revered. His final years were one bad decision after another leading ultimately to the worst decision that took his life – fighting a duel that left his wife a widow and his eight children fatherless was the ultimate act of selfish pride. He allowed his son to suffer the same fate rather than intervene. In each case, the idiots chose to fire their weapons into the sky rather than actually fight the duel.

                  Anyway, it was instructive reading to help me strengthen my belief that nothing going on today is as bad as it was in 1800. The politics of that time was far worse than anything we’re seeing from Trump.

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Well, that’s not the conclusion that most of us who study history come away with…

                  This is obviously, in many ways, a better time to be living — thanks to medical science alone. And the United States is a much stronger, materially better-off country, which has helped shape a better world order than we saw during the Napoleonic Wars — rather than being an isolated country that needed that ocean to protect it from Europe.

                  But this is the most dangerous moment politically for this country since 1860 — and thank God we had a superbly brilliant man as our president then.

                  Today, we have the opposite. We have a self-absorbed blowhard who understands nothing about the office he has assumed or the issues he must deal with, and who has a perverse desire to do the opposite of whatever intelligent people, in and out of his administration, urge him to do. (There’s never in our history been a leading politician more in need of sage advice, or more resistant to it.) He’s already done a long way toward alienating our allies, and with his refusal to affirm Article 5 (defying his more intelligent advisers to do so) has undone almost 70 years of careful deterrence that’s helped prevent World War III.

                  Nothing a U.S. president could have said in 1800 could have been as dangerous or destabilizing to the world than what Trump did on his own stupid initiative last week. A U.S. president didn’t have that kind of power then.

                  Not to mention all the other stuff he’s done, such as ditching the whole world on Paris, or insulting an ally grieving from a new terror attack, or asking the FBI director to back off his friends before firing him, or …

                  You know what? This is ridiculous. Why do I even have to explain these things? There has never, ever been such a stupid, mindless, embarrassing, degrading and yes, dangerous situation in American political history as what we face at this moment. In 1860, our most dangerous moment ever, we had Lincoln. Now, we have easily, no contest, the worst man ever to hold the office, a man who can’t reason his way out of a wet paper bag.

                  Why don’t you get that, Doug? Why do you argue with what is so obviously, painfully true?

                4. Brad Warthen Post author

                  “I could just remember the stories from the professor’s lecture.” And history would be wonderful if only for that. Even better, to see the patterns of issues, ideas and themes that run through those stories, tie them together and give them meaning…

                5. Doug Ross

                  Let me know when Mike Pence shoots and kills the Treasury Secretary and gets away with it. Then we can talk about how much worse things are now compared to 1800.

                6. Doug Ross

                  It wasn’t for honor. It was for something akin to a Trump tweet calling Hillary crooked. They were fools who fell into the trap of peer pressure and silly rules of etiquette.

                  Today, we have front page news when Trump goes golfing. Back then, John Adams ran home to Boston for months at a time to avoid having to act as President. Today, we have protests because Trump wants to delay entry to certain Muslims due to the real threat of terrorist acts. Back in 1800, the Alien Enemies Act authorized the president to imprison any male citizen of a hostile nation above the age of fourteen. Today, Trump wants to build a wall and deport immigrants who have entered the country illegally. In 1800, the Naturalization act increased the period necessary for an immigrant to become a citizen (i.e. voter) from 5 to 14 years. Pure voter suppression.

                  But you keep telling yourself it’s worse now because Trump writes tweets late at night.

                7. Brad Warthen Post author

                  It is. I don’t have to tell myself; it’s obvious. And you underestimate the value of the Code Duello. Trump wouldn’t Tweet the way he does if each time he insulted someone, he had to stand in front of a gun to defend it.

                  Being offensive, which Trump is all day and night, is extremely cheap these days. Which is why we see so much of it…

                8. Claus2

                  A discussion on history and Brad twists it into yet another Trump bashing lecture.

                9. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Two points:

                  1. No need to twist. Anyone who knows, understands and values our history understands fully what a grotesque departure from it this moment represents. Review our history, and it’s inevitable that one will see how much we’ve suddenly lost as a nation.

                  2. I didn’t bring him up. Doug did. Review the thread…

                10. Doug Ross

                  Are you suggesting the dueling was an appropriate response to someone questioning your ethics? It was nothing but foolish behavior. Hamilton essentially committed suicide rather than apologize. And he allowed his son to do the same. He was manic, ill tempered, and in his later years a political manipulator akin to Roger Ailes or Lee Atwater. Throw in his long standing affair (that he wrote a pamphlet about to describe the details in all their glory) and the rumored relationship he had with his wife’s sister and he makes Trump look like Jimmy Carter.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, they’re right in my wheelhouse.

          I, too, use my TV mostly for watching Netflix and Amazon.

          But when I watch in “TV” mode as opposed to “HDMI 2,” it’s always on PBS.

          Broadcast TV doesn’t offer anything else worth watching.

          Actually, I take that back: SOMETIMES broadcast TV offers something like “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” “Bluebloods” or “Madame Secretary” — and technically I think even “Vikings” was produced for cable TV — but I always prefer to wait and see them on Netflix or Amazon. Once you have the option to watch them IN ORDER and WHEN YOU’RE READY, why would you watch TV any other way?

          Except with PBS. With my HD antenna I can get all three ETV channels, and there’s almost always something on worth watching.

          Has anybody been watching the show the last couple of weeks about the development of popular music over the past century? It starts with all kind of “roots” music — the Memphis Jug Band, the Carter Family, Mississippi John Hurt, the invention of the Hawaiian steel guitar by Johnny Kekuku… I’ve learned a lot from it. It’s fascinating. I think it’s on tomorrow night starting at 8…

          Reply
      2. Pat

        We like Doc Martin, and I like Keeping Up Appearances, Looking for God, As time Goes By.
        My hubs doesn’t care for sitcoms so much, but he enjoys Doc Martin (for the gross medical situations, I think).
        I also like A Chef’s Life because it features NC farmers and shows how she updates a dish based on a traditional southern dish. The program shows how real rural people interact and make a living. I know not everyone appreciates this type of show, but it has been so popular, reservations at her restaurant must be made weeks in advance even though it is in a tiny town in eastern North Carolina. This one little show has triggered a revival of this little town and provided jobs in the slow food movement. A commercial station would have never invested in this program.

        Reply
        1. Claus2

          You mean Fox wouldn’t drop Masterchef Junior for A Chef’s Life? I can tell which kid is going to win during the first episode, it’s the most annoying kid of the bunch.

          Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I don’t see how y’all can watch that stuff.

            Of course, I just want food to show up on my plate. I’m not at all interested in what goes on in the restaurant kitchen, as long as they leave out stuff I’m allergic to. And trumping it up into some sort of high-suspense contest? My Eyes Glaze Over…

            Reply
  3. bud

    But then we have the actual fact, right in front of us, of PBS and NPR news programming. And to any objective observer (especially a professional one), they are of such such vastly higher quality than commercial broadcast news that it’s stunning.
    -Brad

    Actual FACT? Really? That is just a stunning, elitist and highly debatable statement. And it’s the type of snobbery that you post on a host of subjects. The very best, most incisive, most in-depth news broadcast on television today is the Rachel Maddow Show. She provides historic perspective and factual insight that is without peer. Sure PBS and NPR do a fine job but they are sometimes rather dry and frankly not all that insightful at times. Rachel is a liberal for sure but she’s fair and avoids the tabloid sensationalism that you find on Fox and even some CNN and MSNBC shows.

    My advice to you Brad is to stop peddling these condescending absolutes that are really just nothing but your opinion. You do that frequently. Snobbery is not an argument any more than anecdotal references.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yep, it’s a fact. I know what I’m talking about.

      Based on the few times I’ve seen any of Rachel Maddow’s show (and the time she interviewed me), I think she’s brilliant. It’s fun to watch her mind work. That, to me, seems to be the point of the show.

      NPR and PBS are not about the personalities. They’re not about stars. They’re about the news, and in-depth discussion of issues.

      And of course when I say NPR, I’m also tossing in PRI and other producers of news programming on public radio.

      Don’t get me wrong — I still get most of my news from reading. But I have to admit that the quality of presentation and depth and thoughtfulness in NPR’s report (I see PBS far less than I hear NPR, which is pretty much whenever I’m in my car) matches any print outlet I regularly see…

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Of course, when I say “print,” I mean “text-based,” or “the written word.” I can’t think of the last time I read a newspaper on PAPER, Must be a couple of years…

        Reply
      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Y’all notice how, when Bud accuses me of being elitist, I can’t help responding in an elitist manner (“Yep, it’s a fact. I know what I’m talking about.”)?

        Can’t help myself.

        Especially at this moment in our history, when intelligence, expertise, knowledge, judgment, discernment, taste, discrimination, perspective, insight, perspicacity have been utterly cast aside and our nation placed in the hands of a lowest-common-denominator ignoramus, this is a touchy point for me. Especially after the way it was rubbed in all weekend

        It’s not a good time to fling “elitist” at me as though it were a bad thing.

        Note that I immediately reined myself in and answered, after that, with equanimity. But y’all must allow me to vent, just for a one-liner, now and then…

        Reply
    2. Doug Ross

      Rachel Maddow is Bill O’Reilly with a shorter haircut. A biased snarky miserable person. My vision of Hell would be a road trip with her.

      Reply
      1. Claus2

        I said that comment was classic stand up material, but that didn’t sit well because it wasn’t approved.

        Reply
      2. bud

        Doug have ever actually watched Rachel Maddox? As different from BO as night and day. And not just politically. She’s thoughtful and respectful of her guests. Plus she doesn’t have a history of sexual harassment.

        Doug you really are the most cynical human being I’ve ever known. Why is that?

        Granted, Brad does go a little overboard in his Trump snipping, but it is just undeniable that this man is an outrageous narcissist without a shred of common decency. We won’t really know for sure if he’s up to the job until we have a crisis. But already he’s made 2 disastrous decisions: withdrawal from the Paris climate accords and his assault on immigrants. The former is not going to manifest itself for decades but could make other bad decisions look like a walk in the park. Thankfully the Muslim ban has so far been thwarted but the extradition order has resulted in extreme cruelty not seen since the days of Jim Crow.

        But there is plenty of horror in the pipeline. The Trump budget will destroy the lives of millions. Healthcare is teetering on collapse. We’re quietly sending more and more troops back to the ME. Only time will tell whether we are ok as a nation in spite of Trump or whether unspeakable horrors unfold. I’m betting it will be closer to the later and it will be up to President Castro to clean up the mess as Obama did 8 years ago in the wake of the George W Bush catastrophe.

        Reply
        1. Doug Ross

          I’ve watched Rachel Maddow many times in short doses. She is all about grabbing ratings by presenting her very biased ultra liberal views in a way that is condescending and snarky. I suggest going to Youtube and searching for one of the videos that recaps her staggeringly incorrect forecasts regarding Trump over the course of 2016. She was so wrong, so often, and in such a self-assured smirking way that it was pure joy to watch her melt down on election night.

          “Doug you really are the most cynical human being I’ve ever known. Why is that?”

          Because you don’t actually know me.

          Reply
          1. bud

            If you see Rachel Maddox as a liberal BO then you are the most cynical human being on the face of the earth. That is a fact :)

            Reply
              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                The opening line of “The Sounds of Silence” has been getting quite a workout since the election. It was used in reference to Melania’s reaction when Trump wasn’t looking…

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                1. Claus2

                  That’s some selective photos and videos in that clip. I didn’t realize that Michelle Obama was such a warm and happy person. It makes me wonder why she wrote the thesis she did in college.

              2. bud

                Given that we just elected a narcissistic moron to the presidency I cried too that night. What’s your point? In the words of Lesley Gore you’d cry too if it happened to you.

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                1. Claus2

                  I didn’t cry when Obama got elected… twice, I doubt I would have cried had Hillary been elected. In fact, I didn’t know Trump had been elected until Wednesday morning when I woke up and turn on the news. Then I did what every good Republican did… went to work.

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  “I didn’t cry when Obama got elected… twice, I doubt I would have cried had Hillary been elected.”

                  Why on Earth would you have? Those would, and would have been, perfectly normal election results (as it would be if McCain had won in ’08, or Romney in ’12).

                  There was never, before 2016, a presidential election result — take your pick as to whom was elected — that was worth getting all that upset over (and yes, South Carolina; I’m including 1860).

                  But this result represents the ultimate degradation of the presidency, and therefore of our country. Nothing this bad had ever happened to the nation before in the political sphere.

                  Of course, I don’t understand crying. I only understand crying at the end of “Saving Private Ryan,” and stuff like that. But if you’re the crying type, Nov. 8 was the right time for it.

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  You know what I find appalling (although not as appalling as the election of Donald Trump)? It’s the way Trump supporters get such a big laugh out of the dismay of their fellow countrymen over his election.

                  Either they’re sadistic, or clueless as to what has happened, or both…

                4. Richard

                  “It’s the way Trump supporters get such a big laugh out of the dismay of their fellow countrymen over his election.”

                  As if it wouldn’t be the same if Hillary had been elected. If I recall correctly she and they were gloating all the way up to the point where the polls closed and reality set in. It’s like watching the loudmouth kid finally get punched in the mouth runs home crying. Instead of running home Hillary got drunk, took it out on her staff and from all impressions had a nervous breakdown and had to be sedated.

                5. Brad Warthen Post author

                  I can’t speak for Democrats and how THEY react. Partisans are in general insufferable. I can only answer for myself. And while I thought Hillary was probably going to win, I was very concerned about how Trump voters would react, especially if it was close. We’re talking about people already very alienated from the political center. I anticipated them being really bitter if he lost, and I was worried about it. I can’t imagine finding their distress amusing. It would have been a serious problem.

                  I made a number of references to this before the election. I said I expected she would win, but I was really dreading what would come after. I expected it to be ugly. I assumed it would make the partisanship of the Bush and Obama years look like a picnic. Because Republicans had been hating Hillary since before they’d even HEARD of W and Obama…

    3. Scout

      But it’s Brad’s blog. I think that means it gets to be about his opinion, if he wants.

      I like Rachel Maddow alright, but she can come off a bit pretentious at times, in my opinion. But she also is a commentator. For me, NPR excels at just news reporting – not necessarily commentary – although when they do that, it is done well also.

      I listen to NPR in the car and we usually watch the NBC news and the local news on TV too later after I’m home. So many times, I’ll be listening to the TV version of a story that I heard on the radio already – and my husband will be confused because of the way they tell the story on TV and I’ll say – ok, pause it, let me explain – and proceed to tell him some crucial bit of background that NPR told and that the TV news totally left out, rendering the story very confusing. Mostly it is the local news that really messes things up when you know the full story, but the national TV news also leaves out really pertinent bits some times or either tells the story in an order that is harder to put together.

      I think NPR also does a good job of weaving together a lot of different perspectives in a respectful way. They let people of all stripes tell their side of things, even when their side is ridiculous in my opinion; they let them talk and let the listener draw their own conclusions after hearing all sides. I respect that.

      We also listen to the Sunday morning shows on ABC and NBC – Meet the Press and This Week. I think they do OK. Chuck Todd does a better job than George Stephanopolis at pressing people who try to pivot to talking points instead of answering questions. I tend to agree with Matthew Dowd, David Brooks, and Cokie Roberts most often, of the people that go on those shows regularly.

      Perhaps I just have a bias towards people who are civil and reasonable.

      Reply
      1. Claus2

        All of the Sunday morning political shows are so left leaning that they’re almost unwatchable. Chuck Todd is the worst and he’s got a classic case of Napoleon Complex. If you’re a Democrat I’m sure you enjoy the dialog, but then they don’t fall far from the dialog of other television shows… such as The View.

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          1. Claus2

            I watch them in a sadistic view, these people on the show are so uncomfortable that they make up scenarios where they may convince others on the panel that they’re right and the voters are wrong. It’s like watching the prison shows on Netflix where the inmates try to convince the reporter that they’re not guilty.

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          2. Richard

            If you don’t watch them, then how do you not keep up with what your US Senator has to say? Lindsey Graham seems to make the rounds more than Diane Feinstein or Nancy Pelosi combined on them.

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            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I get his press releases. More than that, though, major national news outlets play what he does and has to say prominently, because he’s a serious player…

              Reply
  4. Kathleen

    Bud, Doug, and anyone else hanging an elitist sign around the neck of public broadcasting may wish to consider the cost for an individual to access Amazon, Netflix, and CNN. Has anyone clocked the actual content time of a broadcast television program lately ? All the methods for avoiding commercials I am aware of call for the expenditure of money. Internet access is almost reasonable, but speed comes at a cost and in some areas the fastest available isn’t totally satisfactory. I also don’t recall seeing any references to the teacher re-certification credit courses I’m pretty sure some of those overpaid government employees access through ETV.
    Scout mentioned the state house feed. I am sure there is some usage within the state K-12 public school system but I’m to unsure of specifics to address it.

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    1. Doug Ross

      I’m pretty sure the poor folks who can’t afford Netflix aren’t sitting around watching Downton Abbey or Upstairs/Downstairs.

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      1. Richard

        I remember when ETV had quality programming such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Benny Hill, The Red Green Show, and Faulty Towers.

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    2. bud

      Kathleen I’m not hanging an elitist sign around the neck of PBS. I actually like them a lot. My point is a more nuanced criticism of Brad. He unequivocally declares as fact that PBS is the best source of broadcast news/opinion. Fact is, Brad’s assertion is an OPINION. Since he offers zero evidence I dismiss his statement as nothing more than a bromide.

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  5. JesseS

    It succeeds because of capitalism (not in spite of it). Capitalism excels at economies of scale. That hip replacement you got? Not so much. I’m not going down to Walmart and picking up 6 prosthetic limbs every weekend. With capitalism there is always a blind spot. For the news it is stuff that is deeply depressing and deeply dry and NPR and the NewHour excel at both.

    The big broadcasters have to avoid dry and depressing. If a story is too depressing, you apply a little jingoism or make the story as horrific as possible. If a story is too dry you throw in some personal interest or obligatory celeb gossip.

    That said, I have to cut off NPR and NewsHour every few months. 6 months of NPR on my drive home and I start to get a little batty. So much endless guilt. Please, not another girl who was sold into sex slavery in some country I’ll never visit or another profile on racist ice cream songs from 1910.

    NewsHour not so much. With only an hour to work with they have to take the clinical Joe Friday approach.

    As far as SCETV goes it is analogous to the Postal Service.

    Every time GOP members bring up closing the USPS and going with a more Anarcho Capitalist friendly model, someone has to take them off into a room show them just how many government services the USPS handles that the public will never see. Who do you think ships highly sensitive things like drugs and gold? How about that Social Security check you got? Do you think it was printed in DC –bet you thought the Publishing Office did that. Nope, with a country this large that would be stupid. USPS prints them. USPS: They make the rest of government cheaper.

    The same goes for SCETV. When Haley wanted to slash their budget, it was probably my lowest point for her.

    You like having cell service, right? You know those towers aren’t owned by Verizon, right? Verizon leases them from those who already own broadcasting towers. And who has those? Did you know those tower owners also make money from it? In this case the state of SC is the owner. How about communications redundancy during natural disaster? Yep SCETV. How about IT infrastructure when it comes to streaming video? The same state employees who hang TVs and run cables in classrooms are the same guys who build servers and handle the online feeds. And they do it for cheap and fast, because the workforce is distributed.

    And trust me, the private sector really isn’t cheaper, faster, or more efficient in this instance. Just hanging a TV with a private vendor might require a guy staying in a hotel for the weekend and coming back two weeks later because he didn’t have the right part, as opposed to some guy driving 60 miles and fixing 5 other problems on the way.

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    1. Bob Amundson

      You nail the fallacy of privatization: “creaming.” Government must provide services that are not profitable, often services to the “hard to serve.” A classic example is no “death rows” in private prisons.

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    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      You seem to be way more knowledgeable about it than I am. My own analysis doesn’t go much deeper than, “Did you see ‘King Charles III?” Wasn’t that amazing? Modern Shakespeare!

      Have to admit I thought the premise was cheesy — I harrumphed on Twitter at the idea of making entertainment out of imagining the death of Her Majesty (such disrespect to my dear distant cousin!). But as soon as it started, and I saw the actors playing Prince Charles, et al. speaking in faux-Shakespearean blank verse, I was pretty much blown away. Very cool…

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    3. Claus2

      Sounds like we’ve heard from the guy who works at SCETV. Anyone else want to chime in and defend SCETV?

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        1. Doug Ross

          I don’t have a problem with SCETV existing. I just don’t pretend to think they represent the public or that it has any meaningful impact on society. It’s a tv station presenting shows that its viewers like. That’s it. Could it survive as fully listener or advertiser supported? I doubt it.

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        2. Claus2

          I watch ETV, programs like Nova and some of the history programming. I bypass any of the “cultured crowd” programming like the British programs that have been discussed here, the opera and symphony programming, etc…

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  6. David Carlton

    One additional argument for government subsidies for public broadcasting: they benefit those constituencies that need it most. Here in Nashville we have a very strong public radio station, broadcasting on several channels and boasting a first-class news operation (Actually, we have *two,* counting the Americana-jazz station at MTSU). Kill the federal subsidy, and it would survive, because Nashville’s a large city with a sizable constituency of well-heeled and well-educated people. Small stations in rural areas? Not so much. And remember that the people Will sneers at as “elitists” are, well, basically people like Will, but mostly without his money and influence. The affluent snobs that Will hangs out with in DC are far outnumbered by people like I was as a kid–bookish, trapped in a milieu that looked down on what I valued, with little ability (apart from the public library!) to lift their eyes and ears above a narrow horizon. Of course we had SCETV when I was a kid, because the Barnwell Ring thought using TV would allow them to dispense with actual spending on schools and teachers. But it was weak beer. Radio didn’t show until after I’d left SC for college. When I found myself again spending time in Spartanburg helping clean up my Dad’s estate in the early 1990s, I found myself listening to WNCW out of Spindale, NC and thinking “Why couldn’t this have been here when I was growing up? Could WNCW survive withdrawal of federal subsidies? Perhaps, since it’s become nationally famous for its musical eclecticism. But is it worth the risk? No.

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