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Should PBS Try to Supplant Private Sector?

One of the more memorable moments from Wednesday’s debate came when Governor Romney doubled down on his pledge to cut federal grants to PBS. Bethany has already spoken to the notion that Romney doesn’t really want to kill Big Bird. And I certainly agree with Bethany that Sesame Street is a model program, one which brings in profit which allows PBS to fund other programs. That’s the way PBS should work. Nevertheless, Paula Kerger, the CEO of PBS, has already pushed back on Romney’s comments. “With the enormous problems facing our country, the fact that we are the focus is just unbelievable to me,” Kerger told CNN. “This is not about the budget, it has to be about politics.”

Actually, it is about the budget and about waste. Certainly, I grew up watching Big Bird. And, when I was 5, I also enjoyed the Electric Company, though when I see clips now, 35 years later on Hulu.com, I wonder what the heck I was thinking.

It just seems hard to believe that PBS feels it lacks money when it takes what little it receives to start websites and programs that compete directly with private initiatives. Take, for example, “Tehran Bureau.” PBS sells this often-conspiratorial website as providing an independent source of news about Iran. That’s fine. But, isn’t that what www.iranian.com and www.payvand.com have also long since done? The politics between Tehran Bureau and Iranian.com aren’t that different and, indeed, share some of the same contributors. Why on earth do Kerger and her associates at PBS believe that it should be their mission to fill gaps which the private sector filled a long time before?

Now, I don’t want to pick on Tehran Bureau. It’s just the example I know because I tend to follow the Iran-interest websites more than others. I suspect that this sort of duplication is the rule rather than the exception. Simply put, taxpayer money should never be used to duplicate what already exists (several times over) nor should it be used to try to out-compete or to try to beat with private enterprise.


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