Senator Rubio Just Doesn't Get Why Public Broadcasting Is Vital to America

Once again, fringe elements of the Republican Party are moving in coming weeks to revoke funding from our nation's public broadcasting system. Each and every time these efforts reappear in Congress, I am surprised at how oblivious members are about the facts. Public broadcasting, made up of 1,300 locally owned and operated stations, is beloved by countless Americans and serves as the country's premier source of news and educational programming. Perhaps because we are just coming out of the political primary season, some members of Congress are still stuck in election mode, pandering to the most extreme edges of their party.

Public broadcasting has the support of more than 170 million Americans. In a recent, independent survey public broadcasting and its member stations were ranked number one in public trust and an "excellent" use of tax dollars for ninth consecutive year. At the same time, a study demanded by Republicans in Congress found that there was no viable alternative to federal funding for our nation's public broadcasting system. You'd never guess that public broadcasting was as invaluable as this polling and data shows by listening to the talking heads supporting this outrageous defunding effort. Last week, Senator Marco Rubio from Florida spoke on The Diane Rehm Show about his efforts to defund NPR. I'll ignore the jaw-dropping irony of the situation and move to the substance of his argument.

"There there are plenty of other commercial outlets that would love to have The Diane Rehm Show" said the Senator, arguing that there was a plethora of commercial broadcasting options and federal involvement was not needed. I beg to differ. If there were a strong market in commercial radio for programs like The Diane Rehm Show, wouldn't we see them all over the country? We don't see them because commercial demand does not exist. That's why NPR and its member stations remain the sole source of this type of content. More troubling, this attitude shows a fundamental inability to understand that commercializing PBS programming would drastically change its essential nature. Why turn the nation's best forum for sustained public discourse into a carbon copy of all the other programming? People turn to public broadcasting because they already have 500 channels with nothing to watch.

This might be less serious if we didn't have presidential candidate Mitt Romney identifying public broadcasting as one of five projects he would eliminate if elected president. Positions like this make Governor Romney less likely to be elected since a recent poll showed that two-thirds of the Republicans surveyed would either keep federal funding for public broadcasting as it is, or increase it. If he is serious about balancing the budget, he should look elsewhere since public broadcasting costs taxpayers less than one half of one cent per day.

Perhaps the most telling moment so far in this effort came when Senator Rubio was questioned by Diane Rehm about why he was willing to appear on her show. "I mean, anytime we have an opportunity to go anywhere, we try to take that opportunity to communicate with people that are listening," the Senator responded.

Here, finally, is a statement that rings true, even if not in the way the Senator intended. Federally-funded NPR programs like The Diane Rehm Show are one of the last places where people are actually listening and considering the important issues of the day. It would be the height of folly to cut their funding in an effort to appease the unappeasable base of the Republican Party.