WALKER: We Snobs Would be Happy to Pay for NPR

Published March 23, 2011

Full disclosure: I’m a snob. Increasingly, I shun popular culture for the esoteric film, theater, literature and music given far wider exposure on NPR than on commercial stations. While I’m in confessional mode, I should add that I’m rooting for the future of the network, as I’ve been a daily listener for more than 30 years.

I do this despite what I perceive as an obvious left-leaning news bias, a perception that has increased since the release of James O’Keefe’s recent guerrilla video wherein NPR suit Ron Schiller has harsh words for Tea Partyers and Republicans and a negative assessment of conservatives in general. The more NPR staff protests, the more evidence surfaces displaying its decidedly liberal bent.

My appreciation for NPR persists also despite my earlier reporting revealing the disingenuousness of NPR claims that its annual budget constitutes a mere $1.35 per U.S. citizen per year when, in fact, the bulk of the network is subsidized by state taxpayers who “give” generously to state universities housing public-radio studios, offices, transmitters and staff. Thus, the claim that just 10 percent of NPR’s budget derives from public monies strains credulity.

Leaving aside arguments about political content and actual costs, however, it’s possible to be a loyal NPR fan and still have a principled desire to see its snout removed from the taxpayer trough. Doing so would shush the network’s critics and allow NPR to return to its regular high-quality cultural programming devoid of silly defensive posturing.

By principled, I refer to a stance that prefers markets over compulsory government services. Not everyone listens to NPR, and those who don’t shouldn’t be forced to provide the luxury of “free” radio to those who do. Taxpayers who aren’t ardent NPR listeners should not be compelled to provide me a listening choice that typically favors Bach over Bachman Turner Overdrive.
Yet another principle at play in the NPR debate is whether government should subsidize an industry in which there are many commercial competitors. Ask anyone who has owned a radio station, and he or she will tell you the enormous costs involved in establishing and operating such an enterprise. Imagine the dismay of a radio station owner who has leapt these barriers only to see the government slathering money on a direct competitor for listeners, when the total audience determines what the commercial station can charge for advertising, a market reality that NPR conveniently avoids.

If NPR listeners “just like you” – and me – want the luxury of listening to the radio without blocks of commercials and jabbering morning-drive-time hosts, we belong to a demographic that gladly would pay more than $1.35 a year for the pleasure. In fact, I’d venture to guess many of us wouldn’t mind forking over $1.35 a day to remain immersed in jazz, blues, folk, classical music and other fine NPR offerings. That would more than make up for the lost 10 percent of government largesse. I know I would donate far more than I have in the past.

Are you listening, NPR? I have my checkbook ready.

Bruce Edward Walker is managing editor of the Heartland Institute’s InfoTech and Telecom News.