Why I think it’s a crummy idea to stop funding public radio

Like U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), I have deep misgivings about our federal spending. Unlike him, however, I think it’s a weak idea to right our ship by cutting funding from National Public Radio.

I happen to think NPR is one of our country’s most trustworthy and consistent sources of information. You can disagree. Certainly, its firing of Juan Williams for remarks about Muslims raised concerns about how politically correct (read: “ultra-liberal“) the organization really is.

And I understand: A news source that spends a percentage of its coverage on the arts can’t help being perceived as “a little too intellectual” (read: “elitist liberal snobs“). If you don’t like the arts, or people talking about the arts, or people talking about the arts on government-supported radio, then NPR is probably going to chafe your hide sometimes.

Let’s put those disagreements aside and just boil the matter down to what commercial versus non-commercial news coverage really means:

There’s a palpable difference, yes?

It’s not like NPR is any stranger to commercial slumming. In addition to program sponsorships, corporate partnerships and pledge drives, you can even see that Android found a way onto the NPR home page. But what’s important to note here is one news provider is giving us what we want, while another is giving us what we need. That’s the legacy of non-profit news versus news for business.

Is NPR an imperfect news source? Sure. Pure objectivity in news is an unattainable perfection, no matter the organization. And I’m sure it has at least one interview in its archives where yet another celebrity dishes about something vapid.

But while not perfect, NPR is pretty damn good. It’s thorough, reasoned, thoughtful — and in an increasing rarity, calm. It reaches everyone, with news from local to national to international, entirely for free if you choose to partake of it that way. No cable package or newspaper subscription necessary — just a pocket radio. Forcing NPR to stretch out its hat even further reduces our chances of maintianing a truly “fair and balanced” news source.

And if you still don’t buy that, consider this: Fighting over public radio funding will be a contentious slog that would result in almost no perceivable improvement in our budget crisis. Even Colin Powell agrees: Want to fix the problem in a hurry? Trim the fat in the Big Cost Centers, like entitlements and defense. There’s more than enough debate in those two nouns to fill a session or three of Congress.

Anything else is a mere drop in the bucket — and could result in more front-page coverage of reality TV judges … interviewing inconsequential personalities … about fading talk show hosts. If only that Piers Morgan/Howard Stern headline had contained an off-hand Sarah Palin reference, it would have completed its death spiral to triviality. And in times when most Americans are choosing  CNN and Fox News as their most trusted news sources, I’d rather not give up the fight for careful thought.

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