Paul Greenberg

Let's see if I've got this right. According to NPR's official line, the greatest hope for objective news reporting on the American airwaves will be lost if its federal subsidy is eliminated. And it's quite a bargain for the taxpayers, too, for only 2 percent of its budget is federally funded. But like much of NPR's news, any such claim is incomplete at best, misleading at worse.

My first question is why, if NPR gets only 2 percent of its budget from the feds, or a measly $5 million out of its $145 million in revenues, it couldn't make up that mere 2 percent from private sources -- if its programming is as good as it says it is.

What's more, if NPR chose to support itself instead of depending on government handouts, it would at last be free of the (all too accurate) accusation from pesky types like me that it is propagandizing the American people with our own money.

So why doesn't NPR grow up and support itself?

Because, while NPR's direct subsidy may be only 2 percent of its revenues, the federal government, through its Corporation for Public Broadcasting, funds local public stations, which in turn pay fees to NPR for the programs it produces.

Those fees amount to some $63 million a year, or 43 percent of NPR's budget. That's quite a difference from the official claim of only 2 percent. And only too typical of the gap between NPR's political reporting and reality.

Other public funds flow to NPR via grants from the selfsame Corporation for Public Broadcasting and federal agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts, which kick in still another 3 percent of NPR's revenues. Then there are all the grants to public stations from state and local governments, public universities and federal agencies like the Energy Department.

Talk about corporate welfare: NPR may speak of itself as a grass-roots organization designed for the little old lady in Peoria, but that's just its public line. When it talks to its advertisers -- excuse us, its underwriters, as they are known in NPRspeak -- it takes a different line. It flaunts demographic studies that paint a different picture of its average listener, who is described as a 50-year-old male with a managerial or professional job and a household income of $90,000 a year. Mr. Average NPR Listener is three times as likely as the average American to have attended college, and four times as likely to have gone to graduate school.

To quote Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald, who dug up these figures, the average NPR listener is "a lot more likely to be from Boston or San Francisco than Peoria or Topeka."


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.