Steve Chapman

Those organizations had to decide what coverage their readers truly valued and were willing to pay for, and then find more creative, less costly ways to provide it. Some newspapers even went out of business.

But public broadcasting stalwarts have no patience with demands that it forgo welfare. The amount that could be saved, $430 million, is so small that "it's not going to make one iota's difference in the deficit," scoffs Patricia Harrison, president of the CPB.

Actually, $430 million amounts to at least a couple of iotas. If it's a trivial sum, would Democrats be willing to provide a matching grant to Fox News?

Public broadcasting is perfectly capable of supporting itself. In a typical week, some 27 million people listen to NPR. Many of them also kick in to support their local stations. In a pinch, they could do more. The typical NPR household had an annual income of $86,000 in 2009, far surpassing the $55,000 national average.

Doing without federal help would also take public broadcasting out of pointless political battles. If a commercial network fires a commentator, it doesn't invite members of Congress to protest. But when NPR canned Juan Williams, Republicans on Capitol Hill thought it was their business. They had a point.

Defenders of public broadcasting subsidies raise the specter of its most beloved shows, like "Sesame Street," going extinct. But even if PBS went out of business, which is unlikely, its most popular shows (if not all of its shows) would quickly find new homes.

Yet we continue to treat it and NPR like helpless children. Public broadcasting has been the object of federal help for more than 40 years. It's big enough and old enough to stand on its own.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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