Let’s get all the disclaimers out of the way at the start. I am a devoted fan of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me. If public broadcasting produced nothing else but that show every week, it would justify its existence. I once had a show on Barrow’s public radio station entitled, “Discount Radio”. Its motto was, “You get what you pay for and I’m a volunteer”. I’ve also sat on the state’s public broadcasting commission, the board of KBRW and am now on the board of APTI, Anchorage’s public broadcasting organization. So I am not going to pretend to any neutrality about the role of public broadcasting in my life.
Here in Alaska, public broadcasting plays a vital role in all our communities, but especially in our smaller communities. It is usually the only game in town for most places off the road system. That alone should be a compelling argument for its continued existence. As a state, we need to ensure that all our citizens have access to the news they need to be informed voters and active participants in Alaska’s civic life. That is a role that public broadcasting plays better than any others simply because it is in every corner of this state.
The current efforts by what can only be called unhappy conservatives in Congress to either defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or limit the use of its funding so that local stations cannot use federal funds to buy programming from National Public Radio is simply wrongheaded. Not because NPR is perfect. It’s not. And lord knows it has recently had some embarrassing moments among some definitely bone-headed executive staff. But if you look at the bulk of its programming, it quickly becomes very evident that there is neither a left nor right leaning in it. Proof of this can be very simply had by asking someone who is ranting about NPR’s left leaning ways to point out one specific program or topic in which they did not present as many sides of the story as possible.
The answer you get will inevitably hark back to those idiots in management. But really folks, are you going to tell me that you have never rolled your eyes at the relative intelligence of management in whatever organization you earn your paycheck? The statement that incompetence rises to its highest level is unfortunately true more often than we would wish and public broadcasting is no exception.
But when it comes to the programming at NPR, whether it is Talk of the Nation or All Things Considered or Weekend Edition, what you are getting is thoughtful discussions of important topics with reporters from all over the world who are intimately familiar with the territory they are covering. There are no Rush Limbaughs or Glen Becks or their ilk. No one yells at you. No one belittles your intelligence for thinking differently. In fact, the discussions can be so quiet and respectful that, quite frankly, you might nod off if you didn’t work really hard to focus.
NPR programming is not about any one particular point of view. And lord knows there is no political bent to the Antiques Road Show, no liberal bias to Will Shortz’ puzzle segment. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me is willing to skewer any and all who have pretentions beyond their abilities.
Most small public broadcasting stations in Alaska aim to provide local content that meets the needs of their listening audience supplemented with NPR programs as finances allow. Whether it’s Tundra Drums messages or warnings about major storm systems approaching, public broadcasting creates a network of lifelines for Bush Alaska. Cutting their funding as a back door approach to destroying NPR is the ultimate example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Management of an organization is important and can be indicative of that organization’s operations. But in the case of NPR, what one of their executive’s said is simply not backed up by a review of the programming it offers. NPR is probably not the only organization in this country that function well despite its management’s occasional malfunctions.
Alaska needs it public broadcasters. America needs the balanced and intelligent reporting that is a daily occurrence at NPR. Don’t let some disgruntled members of Congress throw this baby out with the bathwater.