PBS President Ervin Duggan’s strongly worded opposition to advertising created a public rift in the “presidents group” that has been coordinating relations with Congress. In a speech April 11, Duggan said that public TV, if deprived of federal aid, would be tempted to turn to advertising, which he compared to prostitution. The right-wing <em>Washington Times</em> promptly headlined, “PBS chief portrays Republicans as cruel pimps of privatization,” which upset some Republicans including House Appropriations Chairman Robert Livingston (La). “I really can’t discuss this,” CPB President Richard Carlson told the newspaper later, “but we’re trying to do serious work here and I wish people would stop making speeches like this.”
Carlson called Livingston to disassociate himself from Duggan’s remarks, the <em>Times</em> reported, and sent a similar note to the CPB Board. Duggan meanwhile complained to the <em>Times</em> that its reporter had “deliberately distorted” his speech, which “attacked no one” and was not disrespectful.
Public broadcasting’s response to a detailed inquiry by Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) arrived on Capitol Hill the evening of Feb. 10 , accompanied by three boxes of supporting material. All but one of the major national organizations submitted responses to the Senate Commerce Committee chairman’s 16-page, single-spaced questionnaire, which included more than 200 questions about the field’s financing, program policies and interrelationships. Pressler earlier had withdrawn some of his queries about political contributions by public broadcasting employees and personal data on NPR staffers. CPB said collecting the information by the senator’s deadline cost $92,000 for staff time, legal fees and copying.
When public broadcasters awoke on Jan. 23 , they saw the headlines and their heads started spinning. Newspapers reported that Bell Atlantic [later renamed Verizon] was interested in a partnership with CPB “that would have the Baby Bell step into the funding role now played by the federal government,” as the Wall Street Journal put it. That news came from Sen. Larry Pressler who revealed on CBS’s Face the Nation that the company and other telecom firms were interested in buying or partnering with public broadcasting after Congress privatizes it. To people who thought they understood media economics, it made no sense.
It’s time to privatize Congress. The federal subsidy of this playground for the rich is bleeding American taxpayers and adding to the deficit. Not only does Congress cost more than $60 million annually in direct salaries, but its staff, perks and infrastructure add hundreds of millions more. Why should all of us pay for an institution benefiting only the few? Each congressional candidate should seek sponsorship from a corporation or association willing to pay his campaign costs and, if elected, his salary and office expenses.