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Who should pay for public radio?

How do you think public media should be funded? Commentator Tucker Carlson says cut federal funding and let the listeners pitch in.

Curious to see exactly how public media gets its funding? View the infographic

One of the on-again off-again debates in Washington is who ought to pay for public broadcasting: The government, which helps support hundreds of public radio stations across the country, or us, listeners, who give millions of dollars every year that help shows like this one get on the air.

Commentator Tucker Carlson says listeners could -- and should -- pay more.


Tucker Carlson: I love public radio. I listen to it every day. But sometimes, as I drive to my white-collar job in my expensive foreign car, surrounded by fellow public radio listeners driving to their white-collar jobs in their expensive foreign cars, I feel a little guilty. All of us are pretty affluent, I think to myself. Do we really need a federal subsidy?

I live in Washington, D.C., but the scene would be familiar to anyone who lives in Winnetka, Ill., the North Shore of Boston or the westside of L.A.: In general, the richer the zip code, the more people tune into public radio. Public radio listeners tend to have a household income more than $30,000 above the national average. They're also whiter, better educated and more than twice as likely as ordinary Americans to work in top management. Not the profile of your average welfare recipient.

Yet that's in effect what we are. Public radio receives more than $100 million a year in tax dollars. Teenaged shift workers at McDonald's, every harried single moms emptying wastebaskets at a law firm, lettuce pickers in California are laboring so that you and I -- you in your Prius, me in my Saab -- can listen to a certain sort of educated news and opinion as we cruise in air conditioned comfort to the office each day. Has there ever been a more unfair tax?

Every few years somebody in Congress tries to kill it. Public radio executives never quite defend their subsidy -- that would be impossible to do with a straight face -- but instead they respond by pointing out that lots of people really, really like public radio. That's true. Of course you could say the same thing about the Rush Limbaugh Show. And that's the point: When people like something, they'll pay for it. Public radio listeners could certainly pay the whole tab for public radio. They just don't want to. Maybe, just to be decent, we should start.


Tucker Carlson is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller and a member of Maine Public Broadcasting.

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About the author

Tucker Carlson is a 20-year veteran of print and broadcast media and co-founder of The Daily Caller, a 24-hour news and commentary website.

Curious to see exactly how public media gets its funding? View the infographic

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$100 million a year in tax dollars divided by a population of 300 million is about 33 cents per year per person. Another way to look at it is less than 3 cents per month per person. Even if affluent people listen to NPR more often than others, it is still a bargain for everyone.

It is not even technically true that the minimum wage janitor and farm worker are paying this 3 cents per month. They pay higher rates of social security and medicare taxes than the rich, but probably not federal income tax, which is the source of NPR's government funding.

More than half of my local NPR station's funding comes from listener donations. Listeners who donate to NPR are more likely to be affluent than NPR listeners in general, so to that extent the subsidy is paid by the more affluent and benefits the less affluent.

You think it's so great. You give them $100m/year.

I love NPR/PRI/APM but they are flawed, often preferring balance over truth; that is why Marketplace no longer blesses us with Labor Secretary Robert Reich's wit and wisdom every Wednesday. To quote The Eleventh Doctor, bowties are cool ... now that Tucker no longer wears them. Quid pro quo Clarisse/Tucker: we will stop subsidizing Morning (s)Edition when conservatives (ClearChannel/Bain Capital) stop subsidizing Glenn Beck by putting him on San Francisco's KNEW/KKGN with 90% fewer listeners than Stephanie Miller had along with every other stations switched from liberal talk to third-string sports and other ratings losers.

That includes S.FL.'s WINZ. That means ending The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which Bill Clinton regrets signing, and forcing television and radio to serve the public interest again if not by restoring the Fairness Doctrine. Obama in 2008 had Air America Radio on his side; now that's gone but Citizens United is making 2012 a bloodsport for plutocrats. Podcasts and HD/satellite radio only goes so far when two-hour commutes are normal.

P.S. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity's $200M+ contracts were at the cost of rank-and-file employees, more hollowing out of companies. Put a 2016 deathwatch on ClearChannel based on an average eight-year countdown of Bain Capital companies. http://domnogin.blogspot.com

Interesting that this comment thread has so far had one impact on Mr. Carlson. He ditched the bowtie photo and put up a more serious-looking one which is probably meant to spin us into ignoring his spotty logic and his manipulative, insulting argument. Spin wins? I hope not.

Just like health care, everyone should pay. Your poll data is flawed. "Teenaged shift workers at McDonald's, every harried single moms emptying wastebaskets at a law firm, lettuce pickers in California" are not participating in polls but they still listen, and they can't afford to donate. If rich white people know they're footing the bill then public radio will become the rich white people's broadcast company and the rest of us will have nothing. It's no different from public schools.

I'm not usually inspired to comment on all your wonderful programs, unfortunately - Mr. Carlson's "opinion" really struck a nerve. How can he make such a blanket statement about public radio listeners? I, for one, will never be able to afford a Prius, don't have a second home, in deep in mortgage to the first one (and thankful to have it), work only part time, and am also thankful to alternatives to the traditional economy. I buy all my clothes secondhand, barter for services, work for my share at a CSA, drive an old car, bike when I can, and look for free events for entertainment. I'm also a member of my public radio station and really appreciate the good programming. I can see that there are other comments like mine, so I'm very grateful that there is some government funding for public radio. People like me can't afford to pay for it on our own. I'm very happy to see tax dollars spent for this and wish I could choose more funding for NPR than for wars and boondoggles!

Not everyone who listens to public radio is rich and drives a nice car. I am a middle income American Woman who drives a 10 year old van who likes to listen to the news and commentary to stay current on the issues that are newsworthy. I am a member who pays 10.00 a month to support my habit. I am sure there are other people besides rich bow tie wearing white professional men who listen to public radio and appreciate that it is available to all. It is people who make generalized comments about public radio listeners who make it seem as though only a certain group of people care about it. Your views propagate the idea that public radio is only for the rich professional. It is called Public Radio for a reason.

Oh Tucker, I have a better idea that works well for me. I already contribute to multiple public radio and TV stations. But I want my federal tax dollars to pay for something that is life-enriching and improves the human race. And so I will gladly allow the transfer of my share of federal money spent for wars, congressional healthcare benefits and pensions, credits given to major corporations as a result of loopholes and a host of other items to public radio and television. Now that makes sense to me when I ride to work on the Metro bus coming from my one-bedroom apartment.

Mr Carlson asks if there can be a tax that is any more unfair, and my thought is, where should I start the list? How about my taxes that pay for enormous agricultural subsidies for profitable mega-corporations, or the catastrophe insurance for nuclear power plants. The list could go on, and would dwarf the approximately 0.01% of the budget that supports public broadcasting. The subsidy that Mr Carlson decries is one of the very few parts of the federal budget that does reach the general public directly, and it is justifiable because many listeners can't afford to contribute much, and the country as a whole and the government benefits from having available the broadcasting network and the incomparable variety of sources that public broadcasting provides.

I believe that there are more than enough comments here, however I'd like to say; I was amazed yesterday to find that I'm a minority among NPR listeners. I'm 24 years old, I make $24,000 a year and drive an '07 Corolla with a year and a half of payments still left. I've also been saving up for my dream trip, taking a couple of weeks to drive from the east coast to the west. I don't have any degrees other than a high school education and what I could afford in partial community college classes, but I'm pretty sure I don't qualify as "white collar". Do I believe that more financially endowed listeners should proportionately donate to help sustain and improve public radio? Sure. But to assume that all or even the majority of NPR listeners are wealthy, well-to-do elites is nothing short of naive and even offensive.

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