NPR's Public Funding Questioned After $200 Million Donation

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

( - National Public Radio is basking in the surprise and delight of having received a $200 million bequest by the late Joan Kroc, widow of the founder of McDonalds fast food restaurants, liberal philanthropist and Democratic Party donor. But NPR's good fortune has already renewed questions over whether it should still be subsidized with federal tax dollars.

"These days, when you have so many choices on radio, on TV, on cable, on satellite and local programs, why do we need the government funding any kind of programming?" asked Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

"[Even] before the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities and even the [Corporation for Public Broadcasting], there was more than enough in terms of quality programming and quality information available to the American people," said Schatz.

"The idea that somehow, you need an elitist organization funded by government to provide...quality [programming] is absurd," said Edward Hudgins, Washington director of the Objectivist Center.

"And if you really want in-depth information, you're probably going to read it because there's much more you can put in a written article" than can be featured on TV or radio, Hudgins added.

NPR's level of public funding, however, is a matter of some dispute and mystery.

On its website, NPR is described as "a privately supported, not-for-profit, membership organization" and a "producer and distributor of noncommercial news, talk and entertainment programming."

However, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a government-funded nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, funnels tax dollars to some 700 NPR affiliates nationwide in the form of Community Service Grants (CSGs).

In turn, about 50 percent of NPR's national operating budget comes from those local affiliates, which pay to run NPR programming, according to President and CEO Kevin Klose.

But only a small percentage of NPR's $104 million annual budget comes from federal taxpayers, Klose said.

In addition to the revenue from local stations, Klose said that another 23 to 25 percent comes from foundation grants from the Ford Foundation, the McArthur Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trust, the Carnegie Endowment and other organizations, while the remaining 25 percent comes from corporate underwriting.

"It is a common misconception that NPR is supported by federal dollars, by direct federal appropriations to NPR," said Klose.

"It is true that when NPR was organized and chartered in this city in 1970 as a 501(c)3 in its early years, virtually all its money came from direct stipends and direct grants from the [CPB]," Klose said.

"But beginning in the late '70s and through the sequential years, the amount of federal support directed to us has disappeared to almost nothing," Klose reported.

According to Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the Media Research Center,'s parent organization, the local stations that, in turn, fund NPR get much of their operating budget from government, both federal and state.

In any case, some believe it's unlikely that Congress will make the effort to de-fund public radio.

"There's no sincere effort to cut spending on either side of the aisle," Schatz bemoaned.

"It's a sacred cow," said Graham. Congress is "very afraid of looking like they're anti-public broadcasting because that's like being anti-public spirited."

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), founder and chairman of the 100-member congressional Public Broadcasting Caucus, stressed the importance of public radio.

"Congress, actually, often plays an important part with some of the money that goes to the corporation that flows back to local communities," said Blumenauer.

"You feel a critical need at a time when so much of the electronic journalism is either hard-edged and ideological, or it's bland, 'Anywhere, USA' programming," said Blumenauer. Gone are the times, he lamented, when the whole nation, it seemed, would be tuned to an episode of I Love Lucy, or a ballgame was interrupted by a presidential address.

"The closest we have to a true national voice that gives the rich texture of what we need to know about public broadcasting culture and news comes from public broadcasting," Blumenauer explained.

See Earlier Stories:
NPR Issues Apology for Conservative Slur
(Feb. 7, 2003)
NPR and PBS Too Conservative, Say Liberal Lawmakers (July 11, 2002)
National Public Radio Criticized in Congressional Hearing (Feb. 28, 2002)

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