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Attacking Public Broadcasting? Conservatives Fight "Truthiness"

Why Conservative Propaganda Is On Its Way Out

            In November of last year Republicans announced their latest attempt to strip the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (National Public Radio, Public Broadcasting Station, and their local affiliates). Since then there has been a continuing effort by the conservative right to characterize public broadcasting as the liberal godfather of liberally-biased media and to use the current fiscal crisis to cut funding for it completely.

            NPR reporter Juan Williams was let go from NPR late last year for comments that were highly publicized as anti-Muslin on Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor. Williams admitted that he feels nervous when he boards a plane with people in Muslim garb. The comment, prejudicial though it was, was also plucked out of context and splashed across every major media airwave. However, Williams went on to say that he does not believe that Muslims should be characterized as “extremists” or that they should be held responsible for 9/11. The damage had been done and NPR terminated Williams’ employment.

            When the smoke cleared Williams was framed as the victim, the big bad NPR was left as the bad guy. Republican leaders in D.C. jumped on it like hyenas. Rep. Eric Cantor stated, “When NPR executives made the decision to unfairly terminate Juan Williams and to then disparage him afterwards, the bias of their organization was exposed.” A trademark politician’s logic gap; an organization that fires one of their journalists (who are expected to be objective in their reporting) for discriminatory remarks is portraying a liberal bias. Whereas if NPR had kept Williams on, knowing his personal bias, they would be a “fair and balanced” news organization? That sounds like Fox News logic.

            Another, more damning, attack on NPR happened months later during a meeting between NPR chief fundraiser Ron Schiller and a faux Muslim group set up by guerrilla filmographer James O’Keefe. O’Keefe recorded the meeting, catching Schiller making disparaging comments about conservative Republican and Tea Party members. Though it was later revealed that O’Keefe’s documentary had been heavily edited, Schiller admitted the comments had been his. The result was Ron Schiller and NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation) were let go. So, NPR lets go of another employee that shows a significant personal bias, this time a liberal one, and conservatives were a bit quieter about it. Interesting…           

            The fact that conservatives in both the Republican and Tea Party ranks are going after Public Broadcasting in the name of reducing deficit spending is an even more interesting piece of this puzzle (and it truly is puzzling). The amount of federal dollars that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting receives is up for debate. Republican committees say up to 40% of the Corporation’s total budget is from taxpayers, while the Corporation says it’s closer to 2%. In any case, even if allowed the Republicans that purposefully inflated numbers, it’s still insignificant given the $14 trillion in debt that they’re attempting to close. The total annual operating budget is in the neighborhood of $432 million, according to the CPB website; 40% of which is roughly $172.8 million, or .00001% of the total amount of debt we’re attempting to eliminate.

            For such an infinitesimally small piece of the national debt pie, why are conservatives spending time and energy in legislative hearings? It certainly isn’t to eliminate federal debt or decrease deficit spending. Instead, consider the following:

- Republican pundits, talking-heads, politicians and activists decry mainstream media as having a liberal bias.

- Fox News, a decidedly conservatively biased news outlet refers to itself as “fair and balanced”

- Conservative news media and talk radio use ad hominem attacks that go after the news-bringer, rather than the news brought. A commonn rhetorical misdirection tactic.

- Conservative news media and talk radio use representative arguments in which limited data is presented as a “whole picture” truth. A common rhetorical misinformation tactic.

- Conservative news media and talk radio use either/or arguments, in which not agreeing with one point-of-view automatically puts you in another. A rhetorical framing tactic.

            Essentially, Republicans want to control the national narrative by manipulating the news cycle. This tactic was incredibly successful in the mid-1990’s when conservatives were able to repeal the Fairness Doctrine, which required talk radio to provide equal time to all sides of a controversial issue. After its repeal talk radio become even more incendiary and divisive. Since then Republicans and conservatives have enjoyed nearly a decade of rhetoric-fueled policymaking. What is a possible antidote to an over-abundance of conservative manufactured half-truths and ideology? Oh, yeah. The internet.

            Call it a grassroots IT revolution, but the news cycle has been cleanly exorcised from the conservative propaganda machine, and the Republican narrative is stalling out. Instead they’ve been relying on Americans’ fear and uncertainty around the economic crisis to continue peddling their agenda, but even that is proving a tougher sell as Obama’s economic policies begin to pull us out of recession.

            Truthiness, or that quality of a piece of news that rings true, is back. I waited eight goddam years for a conservative-spun agenda to run its course, and now that it finally has Republicans and conservatives are up in arms. So desperate are they to once again manipulate our information that they are hounding a public agency whose greatest crime seems to be firing those employees that show too significant a personal bias. What’s worse is the wasted time, energy, and attention that this debate has attracted isn’t even worth the miniscule amount of money we may save, not to mention the jobs and smaller local economies that may suffer in the process. Take a stand against the Grand Ole Partisans and save public broadcasting. Go to http://civic.moveon.org/publicbroadcasting//, sign the petition, and do your part to protect truthiness!

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