Dec 1, 2010

Hannity and guests debate NPR funding

Conservative talk show host Sean Hannity devoted six minutes of his Nov. 29 Fox News show to congressional Republicans' pledge to defund National Public Radio, inviting political commentators Sally Kohn and S.E. Cupp to debate whether the federal government should subsidize public radio.

Well, okay — it wasn't a debate, per se — they shouted at each other and misrepresented basic facts about NPR's history before Hannity wrapped up the argument. "Liberal propaganda is not the common good," he said. "You wanna know why conservative talk radio works? People want to hear it."

If you watch it and wonder what was said amidst all the shouting, this summary of the transcript might help a little.

Keep in mind, Hannity regular S.E. Cupp garbles the facts about NPR's federal funding. She implies that Congress historically intended to "wean" NPR off of its subsidies and says NPR received a $7 million "bail-out" during its 1983 financial crisis. "Why they’re still being funded at all right now is a mystery — it's 30 years after the fact," Cupp says. "It's time to end it."

The bail-out she described was a loan from CPB, which was guaranteed by NPR member stations in 1983 and repaid in full three years later, according to A History of Public Broadcasting. Although Republicans in Congress and the White House have sought to end funding to the field many times since passage of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, a phase-out of federal aid wasn't written into the law.

The pundits also dropped in confusing references to polling data about the extent to which Americans trust public broadcasting or Fox for news. Nobody cited specific sources, but Hannity was likely referring to research about Fox that was released early this year. In a January survey by Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina-based political polling firm, 49 percent of respondents indicated they trust Fox News — a higher percentage than any other TV news network, but pollsters didn't ask about PBS or NPR.

The 2010 Roper survey for PBS, commissioned annually to measure the extent to which the American public values and trusts PBS, found that news and public affairs programs on PBS are the most trusted among major national networks. Forty percent of respondents said they trust PBS a "great deal." Fox News was rated highly for trustworthiness by 29 percent of respondents; CNN, by 27 percent; NPR, 25 percent.

When respondents were asked whether the news networks were "mostly fair" or had a liberal or conservative orientation in their coverage, PBS again topped all others, being described by 40 percent of respondents as mostly fair. NPR came in fifth, below the broadcast TV networks and CNN, with 29 percent of respondents; Fox News was described as mostly fair by a quarter of those surveyed. A PDF summarizing major findings of the Roper survey, released in February, is here.

UPDATE: More recent polling data from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found only 1 percent difference in credibility ratings between NPR and Fox News: 28 percent of respondents to a July 2010 poll said they believe "all or most" of what NPR reports, 27 percent said the same for Fox News. CBS's 60 Minutes was the news organization deemed highly believable by the most respondents (33 percent), followed by CNN and local TV news (29 percent). NPR is the only news outlet included in the survey whose credibility ratings have increased since 1998, according to Pew's survey report, "Americans Spending More Time Following the News." Fox News and 60 Minutes have held relatively steady compared to other major news providers. Pew didn't poll respondents about PBS news programming.

Diversity and Innovation Fund announces first 16 program finalists

PBS has revealed the finalists of this year's CPB/PBS Diversity and Innovation Fund (Current, April 19) request for proposals. More than 200 submissions were received in response to the RFP, PBS said. Sixteen now advance to panel review.

They include State of the Re:Union TV from WGBH, a television version of the radio show that wrapped production on its second season this fall (Current, Aug. 9). Host Al Letson travels the country in search of "real America," finding along the way compelling characters and "unveiling what makes our diverse country one nation."

Another finalist is It's All Relative with Farai Chideya, former host of NPR's News & Notes, a casualty of NPR budget cuts in March 2009. The program finds Americans who have a connection to another country, and joins them on a "dream trip" to reconnect with their homeland.

The Diversity and Innovation Fund aims to provide the National Program Service with resources to support content to expand viewership in diverse audiences both online and on TV.

The entire list of the 16 shows is available online.

KCET among nine stations receiving membership challenge grants from Newman's Own Foundation

KCET, the Los Angeles pubTV station dropping its PBS membership as of January, is one of nine station recipients, along with the PBS Foundation, sharing $2.2 million in membership challenge grants from the Newman's Own Foundation. PBS announced the funding today (Dec. 1). "These grants will help us continue to serve those communities, foster rich civic dialogue, encourage participation in the arts and provide access to quality education,” Paula Kerger, PBS president, said in the statement. The PBS Foundation will keep $50,000, targeted to the arts.

In addition to KCET, the stations are: Connecticut Public Television; KCTS in Seattle; Twin Cities Public Television in Minnesota; WAMC Northeast Radio in Albany, N.Y.; WETA in Arlington, Va.; WNET in New York City; WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, Conn.; and WTTW in Chicago.

CLARIFICATION: All funding for the grants is coming through Connecticut Public Television, Paul Newman's local station. CPTV President Jerry Franklin said Newman was a longtime supporter of public broadcasting in general, and that station in particular.

Franklin told Current of their first telephone conversation several years ago. He told Franklin, "There's no Mr. Newman here. It's Paul." Then Newman told Franklin that he was embarrassed to find out from staff that the Newman Foundation was giving WNET/Thirteen in New York $100,000 annually, and CPTV got $5,000 a year. "I'm a Connecticut resident, and I want to change that," Newman said.

"Three days later," Franklin said, "I got a check for $300,000 written on Paul's personal account with a note, 'I hope this will cover my past sins,' signed by him." When Newman called to see that Franklin received the donation, Franklin told him, "That is an excellent way to cover your past sins. We're good to go."

More on the personal interest Newman took in CPTV in the next issue of Current, Dec. 13.

Top GOP House Appropriations member hopes to gain helm, cites CPB for elimination

A Republican Congressman hoping to keep his key committee chairmanship is citing CPB as an example of what funding he would cut, according to a story in today's (Dec. 1) Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif. Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.) yesterday made a presentation to the Republican Steering Committee, which will decide who will head the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees federal spending. Lewis, the top Republican on the committee for six years, declined to reveal the specifics of his presentation, but cited to the reporter three examples of funding cuts he supports: $12 billion in unobligated stimulus funding, $40 million in the elimination of grants for green jobs and $440 million in savings by ending federal support of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.