Debate Forum: Left 3/8/11

‘V’ for Vendetta

By Ben Tompkins

Benjamin Tomkins

Hi children. Today’s letter is “V.” “V” is for “vendetta.” Can you say “vendetta”?

Kids: No Big Bird, we can’t.

Big Bird: Why not, kids?

Kids: Because “Sesame Street” isn’t on TV anymore. Nobody can hear us since conservatives and libertarians cut our funding because they believe the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is a liberal organization funded by a federal government that robs its people by way of taxation at the point of a gun.

Big Bird: So I’m wearing this ostrich suit and talking like Lenny in an empty sound studio full of abandoned children?

Kids: Yeah, pretty much.

Big Bird: …

Kids: So since we’re cancelled, does that mean Mr. Hooper can come back to…

Big Bird: No, he’s still dead. Listen, the new letter is “F.”

OK, I made my little joke. Now explain to me how it’s not true. I mean, I honestly think that people who want to cut all funding for the CPB either, A) think “objective” equals “liberal”, or B) plonk their kids down in front of Judge Judy for seven hours with a Ding Dong and a two liter of Coke every day to shut them up. Christ, most people I talk to don’t even realize that PBS and the CPB aren’t the same thing. What is the CPB? I’ll tell you.

The CPB is a federally funded initiative headed by a board of no more than nine members whose job is to distribute funds to local TV and radio stations who could otherwise not afford to exist. There can be no more than five members of a single political party on the board. THAT’S IT. They don’t produce any content.

PBS is a private, non-profit organization, which creates content like “Sesame Street,” “Live From Lincoln Center” and “PBS News,” and distributes this programming to local station affiliates. The CPB gives funding to the 354 PBS member stations that pay dues to PBS, and the CPB also funds PBS directly so they can produce their programming. NPR is a similar setup, except that they have to compete for federal grants with other radio agencies rather than receiving direct funds.

Now how much money are we talking about here? To put it this way, the CPB distributes about $450 million a year to local TV and radio stations; stations like WOSU 34 and WYSO 91.3. Last year the federal budget was about $3.5 trillion, and about 70 percent of that was Social Security, health care, debt and defense. That means that the CPB represents about .013 percent of the federal budget if you round up. Let’s say you paid $10K in taxes last year, which you probably didn’t. That means you spent a whopping $0.003 a day to be able to watch “Nova,” “Sesame Street,” and listen to “This American Life” anywhere in the U.S. you can find reception! That’s the greatest deal in the history of the universe!

Of course, some people want to make the argument that content supported by the CPB is liberally biased. “C” is for “conservatives.” And other words. Well, from 2003 to 2005, Kenneth Tomlinson was the chairman of the CPB. He’s a good man. He didn’t like that PBS has a strong commitment to unbiased news reporting, and indeed has a mandate in its charter to support objective, non-partisan programming. When PBS refused to run a biased piece regarding Muslims, Fox News ran a smear campaign alleging liberal bias. Fox News also believes Charlie Sheen is headline material. You see the value of having media alternatives that don’t need advertising and shock value to sell themselves.

So anyway, Kenneth privately authorized $10K to investigate PBS’s Bill Moyers for bias. Moyers eventually resigned in 2005 citing “political pressure to alter the content of his program and saying Tomlinson had mounted a ‘vendetta’ against him.” Tomlinson also hired two Republican lobbyists, violated federal law and the CPB’s own bylaws to institute conservative programming, and started using the phrase “fair and balanced” in reference to PBS. Oh, and he also ran a horse racing operation out of his office. Yeah, that too. “A” is for asshole. Finally, in 2005, the federal government got rid of Kenneth Tomlinson for treating his job as a political platform and PBS rehired Bill Moyers. “P” is for “principles.”

Listen, $450 million might seem like a lot, but it’s a drop in the budgetary bucket that also provides some of the best, most objective programming in the country. It’s an investment in the idea that Americans should have an intelligent and educational alternative to mainstream media schlock. Maybe we will have to proportionally trim funding because of tough times, but getting rid of it entirely is nothing more than a blatant attempt to replace objective programming with Fox News and MSNBC consumption. “B” is for “Bullsh…

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

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