PBS and NPR, America's Pravda and Izvestia
It is a feature of American culture that's most upsetting, though hardly anyone makes much of it at all. Indeed, I know several avid defenders of the free society who make regular and eager appearances on National Public Radio and I have to confess that I myself have appeared on one or two Public Broadcast Service programs when allowed to make a pitch for a society that would have no such things, namely partly government-funded TV or radio programming.
When I first left Hungary in 1953 and came to live in the West, I settled for a while in Munich where my father and stepmother worked for Radio Free Europe. This outfit was partly American government − CIA − funded, beaming programs into Eastern European, Soviet bloc countries and supposedly countering communist propaganda. But at heart the idea of the American government doing this turned out to be a paradox since what is wrong with communist countries is precisely that they place everything in society under state control, including broadcasting the news, educating the young, science, entertainment and athletics.
That is just what is supposed to be so different between communism and capitalism: The state and the society are supposed to be separate in the latter. Yet here was RFE doing just what the communists were doing, entrusting government with broadcasting. (I recall how eager I was at one point shortly after I came West to have the American government give massive funding to Olympic hopefuls so they would defeat Soviet athletes and show how much better American athletes can be than Soviet ones, not realizing for a good while how paradoxical this was − sports should not be the purview of government in a genuine free country.)
Yet, what we have had in America and many Western countries for decades on end is, you guessed it, virtually the same thing as they had in the Soviet Union and its colonies, namely, government-run radio and TV, just like the two government-published and -managed "newspapers" in the USSR, Pravda and Izvestia, not to mention all their other media. Instead of showing a confidence in the institutions that emerge spontaneously in a free country, from the initiative of free men and women, Americans abandoned the principles of their system to mount a counter-offensive. Let's defeat communism by becoming, well, partly communist! What a self-defeating policy that is.
These days a good example is PBS's broadcast of Professor Michael Sandel's lectures on justice from Harvard University. Sandel is smart and erudite but at heart a propagandist for a planned society, only in degrees different from what the most earnest of the Soviets had hoped for (but, of course, couldn't bring off because of how it contradicts human nature). There is, of course, nothing objectionable about Harvard broadcasting Sandel's lectures at its own expense but there is decidedly something wrong with Sandel getting even partial government funding for his partisan lectures. He is not a teacher who gives a fair and accurate representation of different ideas of justice but someone who subtly nudges his students and audience in a particular ideological direction.
Am I exaggerating in considering Sandel a propagandist, albeit a subtle one? Well, here is how he handled Aristotle's political philosophy.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle defended a fairly intrusive type of political system in which the government or state − although some dispute this interpretation − aimed at making people good. Okay, this is a pretty standard rendition of Aristotle but in laying it out one needs to make note of the fact that it may well miss something vital about justice. This is that very likely no one can really make people good − that task needs to be everyone's own (other than those crucial impeded).
Human goodness is arguably something every individual has to bring about for himself or herself. Otherwise it is nothing but regimentation and what we get is perhaps good behavior but clearly not morally virtuous conduct. Aristotle, probably somewhat influenced by the experience of the extreme tyranny of the city state of Sparta, accepted the idea that people can be forced to be good. This is what the classical liberal ethos has corrected about ancient political philosophy − human beings need to choose and cannot be forced to be good!
Now, Sandel gave no mention of this problem with Aristotle. He made it appear (by failing to discuss the point) that whereas Aristotle had a noble concern with human goodness, the more recent tendency in (especially American libertarian) political philosophy to restrict the power of government and leave citizens to their own resources when it comes to living a morally good life was inferior to it. But it isn't. Classical liberals pay plenty of attention to human goodness but they realize it cannot be engineered! Communitarians and welfare state liberals to the contrary notwithstanding, people cannot be forced to be good! It is a distinctive element of human life that people's goodness must be their own doing not that of behavior modifiers, brain-washers or the bureaucrats.
To make it appear that this approach to politics fails to promote human goodness is a distortion. That is why I call Sandel's lectures propaganda. If they were fair-minded, by presenting this kind of critique of Aristotle and others who want to force us to be good, it would be educational. And by being put on PBS, a partly government-funded TV network, the lectures come very close to resembling what the citizens of the Soviet Union and its colonies received from Pravda and Izvestia.
When recently Mitt Romney said he would shut down PBS and Big Bird, there was a lot of bellyaching about it but Romney, who isn't even a libertarian, was correct. It isn't the task of government in a free country to do entertainment, not even education. It is supposed to keep the peace and protect individual rights, period.
So, yes, get Big Bird over to a private television network and keep him apart from inevitably politicized government "entertainment."
Posted by Bischoff on 11/25/12 08:54 PM
NPR and PBS like Pravda... ??? Maybe like the Pravda of old which was a Sowjet propaganda organ. Here is what Pravda in Putin's Russia has to say about Obama and America:
"Recently, Obama has been re-elected for a 2nd term by an illiterate society and he is ready to continue his lies of less taxes while he raises them. He gives speeches of peace and love in the world while he promotes wars as he did in Egypt, Libya and Syria. He plans his next war is with Iran as he fires or demotes his generals who get in the way."
Pravda goes on:
"Well, any normal individual understands that liberalism is a psychosis. O'bomber (Obama) even keeps a war going along the Mexican border with projects like "fast and furious", and there is still no sign of ending it. He is a Communist without question, promoting the Communist Manifesto without calling it so. How shrewd he is in America. His cult of personality mesmerizes those who cannot go beyond their ignorance. They will continue to follow him like those fools who still praise Lenin and Stalin in Russia. Obama's fools and Stalin's fools share the same drink of illusion."
Posted by Darby Jie on 11/20/12 09:35 PM
"Also, if you have a spare ( Government Supported) moment, google what Bismarck said about professors. Added to which are you not sponsored, directly or indirectly by the same sources?
Oh the Humanities!"
It is even *worse* than that -- I listen to NPR almost every day. Gads! :)
BTW, what DID Bismarck say about professors? Google refused to divulge that
and merely tells me he admonished them that Politics "is NOT a science." Hmmm!
But thanks for your lovely letter.
Posted by TimurTheLame on 11/20/12 06:07 PM
My point was that comparing the influence of PBS and NPR to the influence of Pravda and Izvestia was an invalid example. I didn't 'honour' either the West or the East in their efforts in any way. Your syntax of wording makes it difficult for me to respond at the risk of either misunderstanding or insulting you.
@ Darby Jie
Actually my original point was as pointed out to the Mexican Mouse above. Certainly it segues into the conclusion that I mentioned and that you acknowledged.
To be quite frank, I have avoided the good Doctor's articles for years but was fatefully tempted to read this one because of the header that mentioned Pravda and Izvestia. Soviet history, Russian history, Cold War and any variant of that era has been of keen interest to me. I will add to my credentials that I have travelled to those areas no less than a dozen times, at periods of several months each time and met many of the very high and the very low.
What irks me is the good professor's ( supposed) blatant ignorance while lunching out on his credentials as being from the 'other side'. Good professor, if you are reading this, compare the price of foreign wars conducted by your adopted country in just the last decade with your concern of the cost of public TV and convince the public that you actually care about what is right or wrong.
Also, if you have a spare ( Government Supported) moment, google what Bismarck said about professors. Added to which are you not sponsored, directly or indirectly by the same sources?
Oh the Humanities!
Posted by Darby Jie on 11/20/12 10:29 AM
TTL:"The point being made may be valid but the comparison is surprising and in essence relatively moot. In Western countries as a product of free enterprise, sponsor supported entertainment always trumps government propaganda.
The real point might be that the once diverse MSM, notwithstanding the minor impact of PBS and NPR, slowly became the equivalent(s) of Pravda and Izvestia and it didn't cost the government a nickel- Bizzaro World!"
I believe I have divined your (subtle)point, that pillorying NPR and PBS obscures (misdirects) our attention from the REAL culprits: the various mainstream outlets which dot the airwaves like so many bug-beds. In other words, if you 'look over THERE', you will not be on your guard 'over HERE' (in the traditional media's bailiwick). Was that the point you were making?
If so, and if it was planned this way, it is indeed *subtle* and quite impressively skillful propaganda; Wow -:( AWARENESS is indeed our essential
need and protection!!
Posted by speedygonzales on 11/20/12 08:02 AM
One day In old days of Soviet Russia showed in kiosks white/clear newspapers. Man asked seller in kiosk: Where are letter? Seller answered: For what letters. Everything is clear.
Compare PBS and NPR with Pravda and Izvestija You make honor for Pravda and Izvestija as they were just scratching surface of art of propaganda compare with PBS and NPR. Propaganda in Russia was on on naive painter level. In america is on Salvador Dali level. There was more truth about West in P&I than is in PBS and NPR. For example. P&I wrote about drugs and Nicaragua real story. Or about Propaganda 2, Licio Geli, Vatican. They wrote truth about capitalism, colonialism & imperialism and religion as well. Now people worldwide voluntarily drop religion and stands against old soviet enemy-western imperialism. Weird. Aint it?
Problem was that people did not believe 'em in that time.
Posted by TimurTheLame on 11/19/12 04:12 PM
Comparing PBS and NPR to Pravda and Izvestia to make the point about getting government out of public broadcasting is like comparing apples to auto parts. To begin with they are different media forms and surely the good Doctor knows that in the Soviet Union Pravda and Izvestia were virtually the ONLY sources of broadsheet information. Yes there was blathering on the radio and later TV but it was the same party line.
That the government in one system controls 99% of the information through the aforementioned 'newspapers' ( and can imprison or execute those who disseminate information that strays from the official truth) makes the comparison curious. As is common knowledge even in the early days in the West one could choose from several different privately owned dailies in any major city that were that had disparate political stances or go to the NBC, CBS, ABC networks for TV and many different radio stations in any given area. NPR and PBS could be ignored at will.
The point being made may be valid but the comparison is surprising and in essence relatively moot. In Western countries as a product of free enterprise, sponsor supported entertainment always trumps government propaganda.
The real point might be that the once diverse MSM, notwithstanding the minor impact of PBS and NPR, slowly became the equivalent(s) of Pravda and Izvestia and it didn't cost the government a nickel- Bizzaro World!
Posted by taxesbyanyothername on 11/19/12 03:11 PM
We have been talking about defunding NPR and PBS for a long time. I do not think that Romney would have followed through and done it.
Posted by dimitri on 11/19/12 01:42 PM
Whenever I hear the words "I saw it (or heard it) on PBS (or NPR)" my stomach does that little flutter in advance of reverse peristalsis.
Some of the world's slimiest journalists and European Correspondents at one time or another walked through the doors of Radio Free Europe. It was considered a feather in their hats, under which dwelled little more than totally controlled minds.
Thank the skies for the internet reformation.
Posted by Friend_of_John_Galt on 11/19/12 01:31 PM
Whatever reasons there were when PBS and NPR were formed have long since been rendered completely irrelevant but technological and market changes. In the early days, the predecessor to PBS, "educational TV" was an effort to harness a then new technology (TV) for educational purposes -- including transmission of educational material directly into classrooms.
Educational TV transformed into a "fourth network" to broadcast the type of cultural material that the three commercial networks ignored. Of course, the hoi polloi was funding this for the more wealthy aficionados of such entertainment. Indeed, the number of taxpayer supported symphonies and opera companies is truly amazing. Obviously, this material could easily have been supported by those who most appreciate such material but "our betters" feel that "high culture" is "good" for the masses.
Since the cable-TV revolution -- where the 3 networks have multiplied into countless special interest cable channels -- the justification for PBS (and NPR) has faded away. Most of what PBS offers could easily transfer to one or another of the privately owned cable channels. Indeed, BBC-America has a cable channel devoted to the very shows that PBS so often harvested for itself. Likewise, there are several channels that specialize in documentaries, etc. Even what PBS produces is timed to make it suitable for commercial broadcast -- Nova, for example, actually delivers about 45 to 47 minutes of actual content to fill the one hour 'slot' in the schedule -- about on par with many of the other documentaries shown on the Discovery Channel or the History Channel.
NPR, likewise, is a public subsidized liberal propaganda outlet. It occasionally has good news features, but most of the content is material that was unable to "make it" in the private market as proven by the failure of several liberal/leftist attempts in recent years to establish networks in competition with the "conservative talk radio" market that is so very rich and vibrant.
There is absolutely no justification whatsoever that all taxpayers should be supporting these relics from an earlier age of broadcasting.