NEA, PBS, & The Artful Abuse of Taxpayer Airwaves

For those inclined to believe in the purity of public broadcasting, or naïve enough to feel it immune to financial pressures, I present to you this Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour.

In the first nationally televised interview with the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts since the infamous August 10th conference call, PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown got straight to the heart of the controversy that many of us at Big Hollywood have been so diligently covering – its involvement in propaganda. How did NewsHour broach this topic, you may ask – by actually participating in propaganda.

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You see, in the almost 8.5 minute interview, Chairman Rocco Landesman was asked a total of ZERO times about the NEA’s involvement in the meeting. He was asked ZERO times about the resignation of his Communications Director. He was asked ZERO times about NEA grantee Americans for the Arts’ involvement in advocating for health care reform legislation after the call. And he was asked ZERO times about “non-partisan” organization Rock The Vote’s launch of a universal health care campaign only days after the call.

Instead, what the PBS NewsHour chose to use as a theme of the segment was Rocco Landesman’s message that the NEA’s budget is “pathetic.”

“Why do you think the arts are so undervalued in our society,” asked NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown. Landesman answered with a list of governments that support the arts with far more taxpayer dollars, concluding, “We are, among all the developed world, the weakest supporter of the arts on a public basis.”

Now PBS will claim that they did their journalistic duty by asking Landesman about his “controversial” Peoria comment. But that whole controversy was nothing compared to the use of an agency to push legislation. It is just a safe way for a journalist to claim that the hard questions were asked.

“The great thing about this particular post, whatever the limitations of the budget, is that it’s a great bully pulpit,” said Chairman Landesman. And with that, the Chairman wraps into one statement what so many limited government types see as the problem with the NEA – it gives the government an opportunity to bloviate on the taxpayer’s dime.

The segment ended with PBS’ Gwen Ifill stating,For the record, the National Endowment for the Arts is one of the funders of the NewsHour’s arts coverage.”

Wait – What did she just say?!?

A note to Mr. Brown and Ms. Ifill: The elitism witnessed in the Peoria statement is not controversial. Using a federal agency for propaganda, however, is. With your segment, PBS’ NewsHour can be added to the list of accomplices. Don’t you think we know that by making an NEA segment about the “pathetic” funding of the agency, PBS is also making a plea to the public for funding as well?

A taxpayer funded agency uses taxpayer airwaves to broadcast a request for more taxpayer dollars – it would actually be knee-slappingly funny if it weren’t so mind-numbingly infuriating.

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