Ralph Nader: Public Broadcasting’s Cowardly Executives


The tumultuous managerial shakeup at National Public Radio headquarters for trivial verbal miscues once again has highlighted the ludicrous corporatist right-wing charge that public radio and public TV are replete with left-leaning or leftist programming.

Ludicrous, that is, unless this criticism’s yardstick is the propaganda regularly exuded by the extreme right-wing Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. These “capitalists” use the public’s airwaves free-of-charge to make big money.

The truth is that the frightened executives at public TV and radio have long been more hospitable to interviews with right of center or extreme right-wing and corporatist talking heads than liberal or progressive guests.

PBS’s Charlie Rose has had war-loving William Kristol on thirty one times, Henry Kissinger fifty five times, Richard Perle ten times, the global corporatist cheerleader, Tom Friedman seventy times. Compare that guest list with Rose’s interviews of widely published left of center guests—Noam Chomsky two times, William Grieder two times, Jim Hightower two times, Charlie Peters two times, Lewis Lapham three times, Bob Herbert six times, Paul Krugman twenty one times, Victor Navasky one time, Mark Green five times and Sy Hersh, once a frequent guest, has not been on since January 2005.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the widely-quoted super-accurate drug industry critic, who is often featured on the commercial TV network shows, has never been on Rose’s show. Nor has the long-time head of Citizens for Tax Justice and widely respected progressive tax analyst, Robert McIntyre.

Far more corporate executives, not known for their leftist inclinations, appear on Rose’s show than do leaders of environmental, consumer, labor and poverty organizations.

In case you are wondering, I’ve appeared four times, but not since August 2005, and not once on the hostile Terri Gross radio show.

The unabashed progressive Bill Moyer’s Show is off the air and has not been replaced. No one can charge PBS’s News Hour with Jim Lehrer with anything other than very straightforward news delivery, bland opinion exchanges and a troubling inclination to avoid much reporting that upsets the power structures in Congress, the White House, the Pentagon or Wall Street.

The longest running show on PBS was hard-line conservativeWilliam F. Buckley’s show—Firing Line—which came on the air in 1966 and ended in 1999.

Sponsorship by large corporations, such as Coca Cola and AT&T, have abounded—a largesse not likely to be continued year after year for a leftist media organization.

None of this deters the Far Right that presently got a majority in the House of Representatives to defund the $422 million annual appropriation to the umbrella entity—Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). About 15% of all revenues for all public broadcasting stations comes from this Congressional contribution.

Though he admits to liking National Public Radio, conservative columnist David Harsanyi, believes there is no “practical argument” left “in the defense of federal funding…in an era of nearly unlimited choices….”

Really? Do commercial radio stations give you much news between the Niagara of advertisements and music? Even the frenetic news, sports, traffic and weather flashes, garnished by ads, are either redundant or made up of soundbytes (apart from the merely 2 minutes of CBS radio news every half-hour). If you want serious news, features and interviews on the radio, you go to public radio or the few community and Pacifica radio stations.

Harsanyi continues: “Something, though, seems awfully wrong with continuing to force taxpayers who disagree with the mission—even if their perceptions are false—to keep giving….”

Public radio’s popular Morning Edition and All Things Considered are the most listened to radio shows after Rush Limbaugh’s, and any taxpayer can turn them off. Compare the relatively small public radio and TV budget allocations with the tens of billions of dollars each year—not counting the Wall Street bailout—in compelling taxpayers to subsidize, through hundreds of programs, greedy, mismanaged, corrupt or polluting corporations either directly in handouts, giveaways and guarantees or indirectly in tax escapes, bloated contracts and grants. Can the taxpayer turn them off?

Here is a solution that will avoid any need for Congressional contributions to CPB. The people own the public airwaves. They are the landlords. The commercial radio and TV stations are the tenants that pay nothing for their 24 hour use of this public property. You pay more for your auto license than the largest television station in New York pays the Federal Communications Commission for its broadcasting license—which is nothing. It has been that way since the 1927 and 1934 communication laws.

Why not charge these profitable businesses rent for use of the public airwaves and direct some of the ample proceeds to nonprofit public radio and public TV as well as an assortment of audience controlled TV and radio channels that could broadcast what is going on in our country locally, regionally, nationally and internationally? (See: Ralph Nader & Claire Riley, Oh, Say Can You See: A Broadcast Network for the Audience, 5 J.L. & POL. 1, [1988])

Now that would be a worthy program for public broadcasting. Get Limbaugh’s and Hannity’s companies off welfare. Want to guess what their listeners think about corporate welfare?

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a politician, activist and the author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, a novel. In his career as consumer advocate he founded many organizations including the Center for Study of Responsive Law, the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), the Center for Auto Safety, Public Citizen, Clean Water Action Project, the Disability Rights Center, the Pension Rights Center, the Project for Corporate Responsibility and The Multinational Monitor (a monthly magazine).

One thought on “Ralph Nader: Public Broadcasting’s Cowardly Executives

  • March 31, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Ralph is on target.
    Excuses can always be found to renege on promises, like a guarantee for support of a public voice on the airwaves given up to figurative corporate control in the 1930s (as McChesney’s superlative study “Telecommunications, Mass Media & Democracy” [Oxford, 1993] details point by grunting point.) These switcheroos are especially apparent when corporate heft is involved. The public is always outgunned.
    The pattern was set in the history of our government’s shame-splattered treaties with Native Americans. This year we’re pushing a state cut of cigarette taxes for cartons sold on reservations. Well, that’ll help the budget, along with tax on cigarettes sold in Libya, Iraq & so forth, as long as we’re abandoning notions of sovereignty.
    In upstate NY, certain promises were made to local residents when NYC pushed them off their land to create reservoirs for the City which lasted almost a hundred years before they were reneged upon because of a torture- coerced “confession” which included an improbable terrorist plot against reservoirs. It doesn’t matter that the same strained confession included a plot against a nonexistant target on the west coast, it’s the utility of the idea that counts.
    What happened then with those “Low Power” radio stations which were going to be provided for in exchange for even larger slices of the public air with the ’96 Telecom Act? An excuse to ignore the inconvenient parts of an agreement with the hapless public can always be found.
    The NPR cuts will effect locally produced shows on the foundation & corporate-sponsored stations which have blurred the lines of old definitions of “commercial” & almost subliminally guided by underwriting overlords. The chief news gathering outlets mentioned by Mr. Nader, like “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered” etc. will be less threatened because of the black budget funds they likely receive to spin (often too obviously) what passes for coverage, particularly since they “spooked up” with psy-op experts well trained in opinion-shaping when Kevin Close came in from his Radio Free Europe & Asia cold to lead NPR into new challenges of domestic perception in the late 1990s & good ol’ Don Rumsfeld goosed up “full spectrum” BS after that NYC & DC op blamed on al Quaeda in 2001.
    Hour by hour, day after day, we’re gifted with interviews & insights provided by the same think tanks & foundations, leaned left or right for the desired effect.
    We can all hope that at least “Car Talk” will survive these cuts.


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