PBS: Fair, Balanced, and Funded

Jesse, incensed by PBS's new effort to imbue their network with that "fair and balanced" goodness, is offering cookie-making robots to anyone able to force the media into "screw balance" week. Sounds like a plan. But before getting to the baking AIBO's, it's worth looking a nit closer at the PBS situation.

Just like with Social Security, there is no crisis. NPR is not biased, PBS does not swing left. In an electorate where easy majorities believe their news channels want merely to gut punch some unlucky ideology, 55% believe PBS's programming is "fair and balanced", while 79% bestow the same dubious designation on NPR. Not only that, but public broadcasting has an 80% favorable rating and a majority consider PBS more trustworthy than ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and CNN. So while liberal gremlins with "PBS" tattooed on their chest surely dance around Brent Bozell's head, the rest of the country -- you know, the folks Congress is supposed to be legislating for -- have happily resisted the delusions.

None of that, of course, has stopped PBS Chairman Ken Tomlinson from trying to restore fairness and balance to a network that already has it. His attempts to overwhelm the station with Republican operatives, luminaries, and bigwigs constitutes a truly impressive effort to destroy PBS's independence, and the New York Times article describing his strategy really has to be read to be believed. But Ken doesn't seem evil, just opportunistic. According to buddies quoted in the article, he believes a rightward tilt is what's needed to receive funding for the station, and so that's what he's going to create.

It doesn't much matter that the public likes PBS as is, so long as the conservative movement continues to have nightmares where Moyers and Lehrer taunt Christ from Terry Schiavo's bedside, their puppets in the Senate are going to make life miserable for the station. And that, finally, is where we're at: the government application of an ideological litmus test that decides whether or not public broadcasting will be financially supported. The original aims of fairness, independence, and service to the population are no longer operative, it's a simple question of PBS's loyalty: are they conservatism's ally or enemy? And since conservatism, though not the public, currently considers them hostile, the station will replace its staffers with Republican operatives, change their programming, and twist a formula that Americans overwhelmingly appreciate to one that more closely mirrors the many stations they find less trustworthy and more biased than PBS. And maybe that's the end point, a complete collapse of credible media outlets, a world composed of nothing more than Foucault's competing discourses. Because hey -- when facts don't matter, supply side economics work, the weapons were found/moved to Syria, the Medicare drug benefit was cheap, Bush is saving Social Security, and the rest of the Republican agenda is sound and safe. And that's a fact.