June 19, 2018
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Elmo vs. Marlboro

By Adam Lee , Special to the BDN

I am not an expert on public broadcasting and how their finances work, but I do listen to them daily. Between listening to public radio and reading the newspaper, it would be hard not to have heard about the recent hullaballoo concerning their fundraiser making unprofessional statements.

Ron Schiller, the fundraiser for National Public Radio, did not act professionally or responsibly when he met with what he thought were potential donors and then proceeded to make unkind and unprofessional comments. For this he resigned, as seems appropriate.

As it turns out, the few minutes that have been aired on TV and radio have been heavily edited. It is apparent when you watch the entire two-hour meeting that the tape was edited and quotes were rearranged to make his comments appear far worse than they actually were.

Undeniably, Mr. Schiller is guilty of poor judgment. However, the people who set up the meeting and edited the tape are guilty of fraud.

Unfortunately, Mr. Schiller’s poor judgment seems to have provided extra ammunition to those who want to discontinue public broadcasting’s government funding. The federal government currently gives the Corporation for Public Broadcasting a little more than $400 million a year. That is a lot of money.

According to the farm subsidy database put together by Environmental Working Group, the federal government has given the tobacco industry a little more than $400 million in the past two years to subsidize tobacco. Now granted, that is only half as much as they have given public broadcasting, but it seems to me that the PBS “Newshour,” “Curious George,” Ken Burns and a wide variety of shows on music, nature and history have more value than funding the growing of tobacco to make cigarettes.

I know that farm subsidies are complicated and I don’t pretend to really understand how they work. For instance, why do we pay farmers to grow tobacco and then sue the tobacco companies for getting people to smoke and die of cancer? And when we win these lawsuits, why do we spend the money to try to get people to not smoke? (At least we don’t take the money we win and use it to pay the tobacco companies to grow more tobacco.) It clearly does not make sense.

Funding quality television that has more than reality shows on, that has in-depth reporting and a wide variety of programming available — this makes sense. My kids grew up watching many shows on public television. I watch it and listen to public radio. I listen to the news programs, I also listen to music, interviews, storytelling and a variety of programming not available anywhere else.

Our federal government funds many things I don’t agree with, and many things I do. Subsidizing tobacco is government funding that I don’t agree with. Funding public radio is something that I do agree with and doesn’t appear to make anyone sick or give anyone cancer.

Adam Lee is chairman of Lee Auto Mall, which sponsors “Car Talk” and Maine Public Broadcasting’s annual fundraising appeal.

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