Trump’s budget will leave PBS and NPR penniless

Trump’s budget will leave PBS and NPR penniless


norman lebrecht

February 12, 2018

‘The Budget proposes to eliminate Federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) over a two year period,’ says today’s proposal.

CPB feeds federal funding to PBS and National Public Radio stations. Without it, many will go out of business.


  • boringfileclerk says:

    If PBS and NPR produce a decent enough product, they will be able to find people who are willing to pay for it. Having a state funded tv/radio station only produces bad programming at best, and state propaganda at worst. Cut federal funding and privatize both. We’ll all be better for it.

    • Steve P says:

      This is correct.

      • Olassus says:

        It certainly is, and I’m so sick of MacNeil Lehrer doing its “Shields and Brooks” b.s., with no concern for presenting both sides. Why do we have to subsidize that?

    • Fred says:

      Your comment reminds me of the fate of Bravo and A&E networks, two channels that began as fine arts purveyors but quickly devolved into lowbrow pap because they were forced to follow the money.

      If the quality of these organizations could exist without government funding, then we would have them already, right? The closest the U.S. has is probably the Pacifica Radio Network, but its professionalism, reach, and scope does not begin to compare to those organizations that receive CPB funding.

      • PBS & NPR supporter says:

        Fred is absolutely correct. BORINGFILECLERK’s assertion that PBS and NPR would succeed without funding if they put out a “decent” product has no empirical support. It would be interesting to know what BFC regards as a “decent” product. Possibly Fox News?

        Fortunately, Trump does not dictate the budget. Congress does, and Trump can either sign or veto. It remains to be seen whether Trump’s lapdogs will join him in his quest for the LCD.

    • MacroV says:

      Nonsense. When it comes to media consumption, there is little connection between quality and popularity, which any participant in this blog (and presumably a classical music fan) will appreciate. Never mind classical music; Ken Burns has said he could never do his documentaries on a commercial network (18 hours on the history of jazz?). OK, maybe some of these things could be done on HBO, but then the potential audience is vastly reduced, which kind of undermines the idea of “public” broadcasting.

      Republicans have been trying to kill PBS and NPR for years, feeling that it’s a vast left-wing conspiracy.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Dear Comrade Boringfileclerk:

      Da! It is magnificent that you are sharing your Russian approach with all of us–independent media is a terrible thing. Comrade Trump sends his regards.

    • Guyfromupnorth says:

      Right after reading Boringfileclerk’s post, I picked up my Canadian passport and had a long look at it. I feel better now.

    • Anon says:

      You are so brainwashed dude, worse than a North Korean. Except in the center of the belief system that was brainwashed into your head is Mammon, not Kim.
      Classical music, or any higher art, has never ever in the history of mankind been able to stand on its own legs by popular support only. It was always financed by the cultural and moneyed elites.

      • Sue says:

        I think your comments are one massive projection. When people accuse us of something they are really telling us all about themselves.

  • La Verita says:

    And all because Ivanka quit her piano lessons!

  • Caravaggio says:

    This is both good and bad. Bad because valuable programs could be terminated. Good because what should have never started, e.g. populist trash by Bocelli, Il Volo, Andre Rieu etc etc etc etc, may/should at last be terminated.

    • You shouldn’t keep burning bridges like that.

      Sad fact to be dealt with:
      In some western countries, several generations have been intellectually and musically dumbed down by social and political forces. Instead of pulling back into elitism
      our efforts would be better spent helping to grow and elevate the crossover form.
      Music is too valuable to be abandoned to isolation and snobbery.

      Remember that if ‘trash’ is that which is dicarded, then most posts on this blog show
      that the pristine historical form is more at risk of earning the label.

      Lets all help to reverse the trend and make beautiful music popular again through engagement, not disparagement.

      • David R Osborne says:

        Also worth pointing out that one of the social and/or political forces doing the dumbing down (if not the main player) has been the classical music establishment itself, by it’s refusal to acknowledge and adapt to the views of mainstream audiences.

        The unflinching and bloody minded attachment to the work of the avant-garde is a big part of the reason that we have ended up with Bocelli, Rieu and of course that Slipped Disc favourite, Carl Jenkins. How we about we try focussing on presenting great music created in our time that is also capable of actually attracting new people to the Concert Hall- preposterous suggestion I know but at this stage, anything’s worth a try.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    They won’t be penniless – most of their funding comes from a game show they play several times a year, “Begging for Dollars”. Private citizens, corporations and others who support these things will continue to shell out money. But to ask the gov’t to support CPB and NPR just isn’t right, especially when private companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus are struggling and possibly near bankruptcy. It’s not right that their taxes should go to support a competitor. And check out the obscenely high salaries of the CPB and NPR management – outrageous! Where I live we had classical programming (2 stations!) long before NPR came along and I have no doubt it won’t disappear. And maybe if our current classical station would play better music, people like me would tune in more often and give more money.

    And…PBS and NPR both are very left-wing, very anti-conservative, both highly biased. Why should the 50% of the taxpayers who identify as conservative be forced to support a media outlet that is derisive and insulting? Netflix is doing quite well producing high quality documentaries and doesn’t require public funding like Ken Burns does. Maybe he can work for them.

    • MarkF says:

      “Why should the 50% of the taxpayers who identify as conservative be forced to support a media outlet that is derisive and insulting?” For the same reason that people who (still) believe the earth is flat, and that Donald Trump wants to help blue-collar working people, should be forced to pay for and attend schools. Living in a bubble where all you ever hear confirms your existing biases is bad for individuals and bad for a civil and civic society. That’s why I listen to Fox, NPR, the BBC, and other people.

      Where I live we used to have at least 5 radio stations with some classical programming, two of them NPR stations. Now we have one and half, neither is an NPR station, and the “listener-supported” station is far more interested in commercial sponsorship (a.k.a. “corporate underwriters”) than in listeners who actually like classical music. So they chase ratings, which means they play a seemingly random mix of everything with no regard for continuity, never tell the listener anything about the music, composers, or performers (that would mean TALKING), and compress the life out of the dynamics because their audience wants background music.

      Isolating classical music from the rest of world culture is a bad idea. Everyone should have a chance to be exposed to it, as part of their everyday activities. It’s so vast that while none of it will appeal to everyone, everyone will find some part of it that appeals to them. And, yes, it will make them better people than if they never hear it. But that means ratings cannot be the sole measure of their worth.

      NPR and PBS shouldn’t be in “business” in the first place: they should be an uplifting part of the environment in which our children develop and live.

    • MacroV says:

      A few years ago Ken Burns wrote a NY Times op-ed where he said after many of his documentaries airs on PBS, a commercial channel invites him in to talk about possible collarboration. They asked what he’s up to, he says 18 hours on the history of jazz, they say “thank you very much” and he heads happily back to PBS.

      And high CPB/NPR salaries? Certainly not compared to commercial counterparts. What you call left-wing bias, I call sanity.

    • Judy says:

      This is actually not accurate. For the past quarter of a century, according to Gallup, the percentage of people who identify as conservatives has remained at just above 1/3 of the population in the U.S. Moderates have been a larger group, approaching the 50% mark, but they have been declining in recent years as more of them have shifted their identification to Liberal. In 2016, the percentages were: 25% Liberal and growing, 36% conservative and remaining static, and Moderates down to 39%.

      One might also note here that Public Broadcasting station choices are tied to their local communities, with input from local advisory boards. We can see, in our area, that the two public broadcasting entities have vastly different programming, due to community influence. IOW, it really does represent the public.

    • Edgar says:

      Poor Cubs Fan. Lost to sanity. PBS and NPR are the only decent outlets in the vast lowbrow desert that is the US, they are the remaining vestiges of human culture in a wasteland of vulgarity, soiled and ussurped and brainwashed by rightwing fascist 24/7 “talkshows”. Indeed, as Kurt Andersen rightly observes in his eminently readable book “Fantasyland. How America Went Haywire. A 500-Year History”, this development is only another sad episode in the cultural and moral decline dragging the US down for decades now, with the bottom still not in sight. That bottom will be yuge. Great. Bigly. Beautiful. Trumpian.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    Odd. I get told during every fundraising drive that Federal support is minimal and they’ll go out of business without my donation. Now I get told they’ll go out of business without Federal funding.

  • Byrwec Ellison says:

    Before we get carried away here, it should be noted that the US Congress just passed a two-year spending bill last week, which barely averted a second government shutdown for the second time this year. The presidential budget is little more than a MacGuffin or a chimera or fake news or whatever you want to call it – an empty annual exercise by the Chief Executive that the Congress routinely ignores and is irrelevant to all practical exercise of actual policy. It’s just one of our crazy Americanisms.

    • Stephen Owades says:

      Indeed you’re right. Trump’s budget proposal is an empty exercise, mainly intended to satisfy his base that he’s on their side. It will have no effect on a Federal spending or even actual budgeting. Also, PBS and NPR would not be left “penniless” even in the absence of the Federal government’s Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This isn’t the BBC, and most of the money that runs public TV and radio comes from donations and sponsors (called “underwriters”).

  • Una says:

    Thank God for the BBC in Britain and the World Service!

  • Mark says:

    It is worth noting that PBS gets only about 15% of its budget from the federal government and NPR about 3%. The rest comes from the state and local governments, revenue from shows like “Sesame Street” and private donations. The salaries paid by this supposedly non-commercial entity would make many people working in the corporate world green with envy – for example, the former CEO of NPR, Kevin Klose, was making $1.2 million a year … I am sure if they take a hard look at their budget, they can survive without the federal handout.

  • Dan P. says:

    The NPR situation is, actually, a little more complex than previously stated here. There is NPR, which produces SOME programs and pays for other programs produced by affiliated and non-affiliated production companies, which it then distributes to member stations for a fee. A LARGE fee, as it turns out. All Things Considered is an NPR show. This American Life is produced by a non-affiliated production company that NPR pays to distribute. There is also a distinction between NPR itself as an entity and its member stations, which pay dues to NPR, but are not run in any way by NPR. They are unrelated entities.

    Just one other comment. As a number of people have stated above, the president’s budget is merely a personal wish list. Congress devises the budget. The president just signs it if he so chooses. He does not determine its content.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    Um, no. As several commentators have already said, NPR/PBS gets the vast majority of its funding from (a) corporate sponsorship, (b) foundation grants, and (c) view/listener donations. The small federal government contribution occasionally gets kicked around as a political football, but the reality is the CPB is fully capable of surviving without it. May take some more work to shake loose extra funding from the other sources, but they can do it.

    And, yes, I’m an individual donor to my local stations…..not big enough to get my name mentioned at the beginning of a program!

  • Bruce says:

    To be fair, NL only says that several NPR and PBS stations will go out of business, not NPR or PBS themselves.

    Still not sure how true that is; if this ever came to pass, some stations would be able to garner extra support from their local listener base.

    In the meantime, yes: the meaningless annual budget is just the president saying “this is what I would do if I could do whatever I wanted.”

  • Joseph McGuire says:

    Your headlines are very misleading! You should stick to the UK and countries you know something about. You know very little about anything to do with the USA, and it shows. You should at least have someone on your staff who understands the United States and how our system works!

    Here is NPR’s 990 Form. They are hardly penniless!

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I am with you.

      We should also try to understand how Slipped Disc works: doesn’t it have a financial incentive to get more clicks? If so, it has a vested interest in headlines and text that manipulate readers (you and me included) into lots of clicks and comments.

  • Sharon says:

    To follow up to what Dan P says, I believe that some commercial stations carry some NPR programming, especially at times that they do not have a lot of listenership, say Sunday morning, for balance or to provide a little more intellectual content to their programming. In the same way some commercial movie theaters, such as the AMC chain, bring in the Met’s Opera in HD and other independent or art films. Although AMC charges more than one third more for the price of the ticket for the Opera in HD than they do for their commercial films.
    In non subscription commercial radio the advertising during the more popular commercial programming supports the fees they have to pay to NPR since advertising is limited and/or receives lower rates during the NPR programs. It is good public relations; they can say that they are not always just appealing to the lowest common denominator of viewers/listeners and are bringing in programs which “serve the community”.
    As far as Congress is concerned, although the bloggers here are correct that it is Congress, not the President, that ultimately decides the budget, even when the Congress is in the hands of the opposing party the President’s budget request is of tremendous influence. In fact, I would say it is the main tool the President has when it comes to domestic policy (or in Trump’s case, his main tool next to Twitter).
    Congress does have the Congressional Accounting Office and the Congressional Budget Office but these agencies evaluate programs after they have been implemented, for the most part. It is the President’s office and his executive agencies that have the armies of budget analysts that come up with next year’s budget. This can run for hundreds of pages and the Congresssmen and their staffs do not have the time to analyze it in depth. Much of it is just passed as is. This is true for the govenor’s budget request for many state governments as well
    Controversial big ticket programs like Trump’s infrastructure initiative and the military budget may receive some scrutiny but even the Democrats will not pay a lot of attention to the arts budget. Not enough of their constituents care enough.
    At one time the live arts were seen as a way to compete with the Soviet Union and therefore deserving of federal support but that time has long passed. There was a small revival of interest in the Clinton administration which tried in some ways to imitate the Kennedy administration and because Clinton thought that the arts were important in education but this was a just a blip in modern political history.
    When Trump was interested in having a large public relations presence in New York City he went to the opera because he thought that that is what the “hot” i.e. society people, did, but now he is appealing to the opposite base. He has to show that he is anti “effete” and an easy way to do this is to abandon classical arts.
    What this funding cut may do is promote subscription radio services like Sirius XM which have a number of channels of commercial free political programming, classical music, and health programming at the expense of free broadcast public radio stations. It may also increase listenership for college radio stations which might consider increasing their broadcast listening area

  • Quodlibet says:

    Also of concern is that the proposed budget also eliminates or reduces funding for the NEA, other arts-supporting agencies, and a whole long list of programs and agencies that support nonprofits, small business, libraries health, rural communities, etc.

    As one commenter already said, the president’s budget proposal is merely that – a proposal. It is a means of communicating the White House’s priorities and preferences for serving the people who elected the all to office. The president’s proposal is a piece of political propaganda. No one expects Congress to vote on it.

    The proposal is nonetheless dangerous and corrosive as it communicates clearly that the president and/or his puppeteers wish to do away with these sorts of programs, and that in itself encourages Congress to take action in that direction, to cut programs (such as NEA) that have long been an essential thread in our national fabric. The budget proposal gives a signal: “If you cut these programs that Americans have relied on for decades, that’s OK, I’ll sign it in to law.”

  • Sharon says:

    I believe that the president’s budget request is far more important than most of the bloggers here believe. However Quodlibet is right, it does reflect the tone of the executive branch and its supporters and has (I believe a lot of) influence on Congress.
    However, I, like, Quodlibet, with regard to the health of the classical arts in America, am far more concerned about the potential demise of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities which the president’s budget also eliminates. These federal “endowments” provide real and in many cases substantial funding to not for profit classical arts organizations and institutions as well as funnel monies to state and local governments to do the same. Although these agencies are small in comparison to other federal agencies they have a HUGE impact on the classical arts scene. Unfortunately, although it may not be obvious to people who are immersed in the classical music world, these agencies do not have large constituencies and it is therefore easy to cut their budgets as non essential “pork”. All we can do is contribute to the United States arts lobbying groups, attend their Congressional and state capitol lobbying days when possible, and take a wait and see attitude.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    Just got the notice in the mail to renew my contribution to the local NPR affiliate. I think I’ll give ’em a little extra this year – just in case.

  • Sue says:

    One needs to be super skeptical about all media consumption, particularly that subsidized and owned by government. Internet podcasting and independent minds is where all the exciting discourse is occurring. Soon, hopefully, there will be no need for the State in our media. Sorry, but it just needs to get the hell out.