More relevant, with the obvious exception of "Sesame Street," the target audience for PBS isn't remotely the poor. It's the well-to-do. Yes, some poor folks enjoy symphonies and entire shows dedicated to shiitake mushrooms and fennel. I have no doubt that there's some lunch bucket Joe who races home after clearing roadkill all day just to catch "Washington Week in Review." But, come on, who're we kidding?
And that's the great irony of the restored PBS budget cuts. Because budget rules said the money had to come from somewhere, Congress raided social programs for the poor to give Big Bird back his $100 million.
Which brings up another bogus argument. When public broadcasting's integrity is attacked, the PBSers harrumph that government money is only a tiny fraction of their budgets. But, they say without taking a breath, if you take even one penny of it away, it will destroy us.
Or consider PBS' glorious status as "commercial free" programming. The sponsors I used to dun for cash must do a spit-take every time they hear this. PBS is not only chock-a-block with ads - they merely appear before and after, but not during, most programs - but some shows are actual commercials. The cooking shows - dozens of them - are infomercials for cookbooks and delicately placed products. Even the best documentaries (and there are some great ones) are shrewdly packaged as part of a larger marketing campaign to move all sorts of swag, from coffee table books to CDs. And if you think "Sesame Street" is pure, you haven't seen my daughter's diapers (or her cups, plates, band-aids, stuffed toys, etc.).
It should also be noted that in terms of fulfilling one of PBS' original mandates of informing the public about its own government, C-Span eats public broadcasting's lunch every day - and it's as commercial free as it gets.
Now, I know it doesn't sound like it, but I've actually mellowed on PBS. I watch it often, and I think it does a lot of great work. It's entirely possible that if we stopped funding it, it would become much worse in quality - and, almost surely, in political bias.
So here's a thought. Let's be honest about what PBS is and isn't. It ain't what they say it is, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily bad. If I am a plumber but I pretend to be a banker, I'm a faker. But that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with being a plumber. The next time we have this debate, maybe PBS's defenders could admit what it is. Then we could decide if we want it.
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