The House of Representatives restored the proposed budget cuts that PBS' defenders claimed would "destroy" it. So PBS has been saved. Who can contain their excitement?
Of course, the debate over PBS was enormously silly, but let's leave up the party streamers anyway.
Now, I must disclose a bit here. I worked in the back alleys of PBS for about a half-dozen years. I produced a weekly television show and several documentaries, and I was involved on the business side of things quite a bit. I've attended annual meetings and conferences. In short, I know a little bit about public television.
And . it's liberal. It just is. To say it isn't is just plain batty. The shows we associate most with PBS are run by liberals - some of them great journalists and some of them miserable partisan hacks - and they tend to tackle questions from a liberal perspective. The people who run PBS are liberals. The decision-makers are liberals, and - contrary to funhouse logic of PBS's left-wing critics - the fact that these executives sometimes opt to put conservatives on the air doesn't change that fact. It might mean, as some leftist critics claim, that PBS execs don't have the courage of their convictions. Or it might just mean that they're trying to make the network more balanced and respond to a perceived need.
Whatever. But don't tell me the Volvos in the PBS parking lot with bumper stickers reading "God is coming . and she's pissed!" are really closet conservatives. It just won't wash. In fact, just last week I caught a biographical documentary about the late Communist stooge Henry Wallace that was so over the top in its praise, I thought it would end with him riding Pegasus through the clouds.
That said, conservatives who think the regular fare on PBS is crazy left-wing stuff overstate the case. Typical PBS programming involves breathless suburbanites dreaming that grandpa's old footlocker might actually be the Ark of the Covenant on "Antiques Roadshow." Yes, Bill Moyers is a disingenuous lefty, but Gwen Ifill and Jim Lehrer try to play it fair. And it isn't a conservative-free zone.
The liberal-conservative thing, however, is a sideshow. Public television was created to help poor people, educate young people, and to promote diversity on TV. Today, the average PBS viewer is in his late 50s. Somewhere around two-thirds of the poor have cable or satellite TV. Even more have DVD or VCR players. When PBS was created in 1967, it increased the number of television stations by 25 percent. Today PBS stations constitute a rounding error among the choices available to most consumers.