This month marks the half century of one of Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" programs. It's not the War on Poverty, Medicaid or the Voting Rights Act. It's public broadcasting. And it's high time Congress stopped forcing taxpayers to subsidize it.
When President Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act on Nov. 7, 1967, he spoke of a future in which non-commercial broadcasters would function as nationwide replicas of Ancient Greece's "agora," or marketplace. But he added a dark warning: If mishandled, they could "generate controversy without understanding ... mislead as well as teach."
PBS wasn't yet a year old in 1971 when a 35-year-old White House lawyer warned President Nixon that they were being "confronted with a long-range problem of significant social consequences--that is, the development of a government-funded broadcast system similar to the BBC."
That lawyer was future Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. As usual, he was right on the money. Since then, there have been efforts under every Republican administration except Gerald Ford's to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the vehicle for funding PBS and NPR.
President Trump's experience is typical. His original 2018 budget would have ended federal grants for public broadcasting, but the budget Congress recently passed punts on the issue.
Republican presidents keep trying to stop taxpayer funding of the CPB for a simple reason: While PBS, NPR, Pacifica Radio, American Public Media and all the other public broadcasters create what is unquestionably a quality product, that product skews to the left.
NPR and PBS insist they just report the news with no bias. And it is true that NPR, PBS, et al, do not broadcast government propaganda. (If they did, they wouldn't be so hard on the Trump administration.)
So why the persistent failure of all previous efforts to relieve the half of the country that votes conservative from paying for public broadcasters? As Scalia warned Nixon, defunding would be "politically difficult in view of ... the generally favorable public image which CPB has developed."
The reason for that is that PBS, NPR and the others hide behind their original educational remit. As George Will put it earlier this year, "Often the last, and sometimes the first, recourse of constituencies whose subsidies are in jeopardy is: 'It's for the children'."
But NPR and PBS are not really for the children anymore, if they ever were, which is why conservative leaders must now find the intestinal fortitude to free Americans from the tax obligation to fund them.
Thomas Jefferson, who never heard a broadcast, was undoubtedly right when he observed that "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagations of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical."
Mike Gonzalez is a Senior Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
Editorial on 11/04/2017