Conservative talk show host Sean Hannity devoted six minutes of his Nov. 29 Fox News show to congressional Republicans’ pledge to defund National Public Radio, inviting political commentators Sally Kohn and S.E. Cupp to debate whether the federal government should subsidize public radio.
Well, okay — it wasn’t a debate, per se — they shouted at each other and misrepresented basic facts about NPR’s history before Hannity wrapped up the argument. “Liberal propaganda is not the common good,” he said. “You wanna know why conservative talk radio works? People want to hear it.”
Keep in mind, Hannity regular S.E. Cupp garbles the facts about NPR’s federal funding. She implies that Congress historically intended to “wean” NPR off of its subsidies and says NPR received a $7 million “bail-out” during its 1983 financial crisis. “Why they’re still being funded at all right now is a mystery — it’s 30 years after the fact,” Cupp says. “It’s time to end it.”
The bail-out she described was a loan from CPB, which was guaranteed by NPR member stations in 1983 and repaid in full three years later, according to A History of Public Broadcasting. Although Republicans in Congress and the White House have sought to end funding to the field many times since passage of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, a phase-out of federal aid wasn’t written into the law.
The pundits also dropped in confusing references to polling data about the extent to which Americans trust public broadcasting or Fox for news. Nobody cited specific sources, but Hannity was likely referring to research about Fox that was released early this year. In a January survey by Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina-based political polling firm, 49 percent of respondents indicated they trust Fox News — a higher percentage than any other TV news network, but pollsters didn’t ask about PBS or NPR.
The 2010 Roper survey for PBS, commissioned annually to measure the extent to which the American public values and trusts PBS, found that news and public affairs programs on PBS are the most trusted among major national networks. Forty percent of respondents said they trust PBS a “great deal.” Fox News was rated highly for trustworthiness by 29 percent of respondents; CNN, by 27 percent; NPR, 25 percent.
When respondents were asked whether the news networks were “mostly fair” or had a liberal or conservative orientation in their coverage, PBS again topped all others, being described by 40 percent of respondents as mostly fair. NPR came in fifth, below the broadcast TV networks and CNN, with 29 percent of respondents; Fox News was described as mostly fair by a quarter of those surveyed. A PDF summarizing major findings of the Roper survey, released in February, is here.
UPDATE: More recent polling data from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found only 1 percent difference in credibility ratings between NPR and Fox News: 28 percent of respondents to a July 2010 poll said they believe “all or most” of what NPR reports, 27 percent said the same for Fox News. CBS’s 60 Minutes was the news organization deemed highly believable by the most respondents (33 percent), followed by CNN and local TV news (29 percent). NPR is the only news outlet included in the survey whose credibility ratings have increased since 1998, according to Pew’s survey report, “Americans Spending More Time Following the News.” Fox News and 60 Minutes have held relatively steady compared to other major news providers. Pew didn’t poll respondents about PBS news programming.