NPR's Kroc-pot bubbles over

Brent Bozell

11/12/2003 12:00:00 AM - Brent Bozell

National Public Radio is not only a broadcast boutique operated by and for liberals, it's now flooded with more cash than it could possibly ever need, thanks to a liberal philanthropist. Last week, the estate of Joan Kroc, the wife of McDonald's franchising genius Ray Kroc, who died last summer, announced an award of $200 million to NPR.

Joan Kroc rose to public prominence when she was the first American to donate a fat million dollars in 1987 to the Democratic National Committee. She said she was appalled by "an unwarranted and excessive increase of our military weapons" under President Reagan and "by the use of military force as our first priority in carrying out U.S. policy abroad," extending from Lebanon and Libya to Grenada and Nicaragua.

Joan Kroc was a Carterite peacenik, a major donor to Jimmy Carter's political rehabilitation center in Georgia. With her millions, she endowed two "peace" institutes of the Dennis Kucinich variety at Catholic universities, one at Notre Dame and the other at the University of San Diego. The San Diego institute's recent events calendar included a speech by Australian radical Helen Caldicott, who advocates the elimination of all nuclear weapons. When Mrs. Kroc died a month ago, Scott Appleby, the Notre Dame institute's director, proclaimed she was "single-minded in her dedication to eliminating the threat of nuclear weapons and all forms of deadly violence."

In short, Joan Kroc was a Mommy Peacebucks. Her massive favoritism toward NPR leads to the inescapable conclusion that she felt that putting her money on "All Things Considered," "Morning Edition" and "Talk of the Nation" was in line with the rest of her political giving. It was, she hoped, just another effective avenue for defunding the Pentagon and lobbying against American military action of any kind.

So what does this say about NPR?

Let's leave our senses for a minute and enter a strange alternative universe. Imagine that the generous conservative philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife left one tenth of Kroc's amount to NPR in his estate. You know exactly what would happen, from coast to coast. The political left would rush to the rooftops to proclaim, in a panic, that NPR was being dangerously compromised, politicized, dragged to a right-wing extreme. Everywhere, there would be a call for NPR to honor its commitment to objective journalism by returning that gift.

So where are they now with Kroc? Most reporters are not just comfortable with this cozy leftist arrangement, they're awed by it all. The Washington Post published (without giggles or groans) a Kroc spokesman insisted, "She loved NPR and its unfiltered presentation of the news. ... It wasn't liberal, and it wasn't conservative. It was as objective as you're going to find."

Let's be clear about something here. NPR didn't need that money. They report their annual budget is $100 million a year from public and private sources, more than enough for even lazy liberals to run a radio network. So it begs the questions: In an age of roaring budget deficits, shouldn't we be reducing the federal outlay to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by an equivalent $200 million? By $100 million? By $10 million? Dream on.

In Public Broadcasting Economics 101, there is no such thing as enough. Public broadcasters seek to maximize their funding in nearly all cases. Like a thirsty sponge, they will absorb money from federal, state and local governments, and then turn around and beg and plead their way through pledge drives for every private dollar they can get their hands on.

What did NPR do with its Kroc gift? They quickly announced they're putting $175 million in trust, and then just drawing on the interest payments of about $10 million a year. That's not taxpayer relief. That's not pledge-drive relief. It's hoarding.

NPR spokeswoman Jessamyn Sarmiento told local stations there's no new money for them: "By no means does it mean that people should stop thinking that their local public radio station is going to continue to need their support."

NPR President Kevin Klose painted reporters a surrealist picture of the NPR budget: "beginning in the late '70s and through the sequential years, the amount of federal support directed to us has disappeared to almost nothing." Truth serum, please? The Corporation for Public Broadcasting sends large chunks of taxpayer change to local public-radio stations, and they send a pile of it back to NPR headquarters as "program fees." Their federal take has to be at least 15 to 20 percent of their budget, but their budgeting is a confusing mess designed to give reporters headaches.

Through all the public-relations fog, the Kroc donation doesn't help NPR be more accountable, more privatized, more localized, and certainly not more fair and balanced. It just makes NPR a fatter, and even more liberal, sacred cow.