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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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I listen regularly to NPR and with an annual income of less than $10,000, I don't have a white- collar job, don't drive a European car, or any car for that matter, and as much as I'd like to, I'm in no position to fund this quality news programming. There are other activities funded or subsidized with federal tax dollars that are less beneficial to me specifically, than Public Radio and most of them have a higher price tag.

PS--I just wanted to add that until August of last year, I was driving a 1995 Ford Escort. Now I'm driving a 2009 Honda Fit. And I still haven't broken the $70,000 per year salary ceiling in my 30 year career in social services.

In 38 years in social services, most of those years as a supervisor, I never made it to $50,000. Different zip code!

Oh, Tucker. Are you aware that not all of us have the cash to support public radio on a regular basis? I have been struggling to stay afloat financially since being laid off in November. Yes, back in the days when I had a full-time job, I did contribute what I could — $50 here and there, even (during one heady time of second-job-income-expansion) $100. Nowadays, that kind of money is the difference between having fuel in my dented 2004 Toyota (and therefore the means to go to job interviews) and having to walk everywhere — because living in a rural area, I do not have access to public transportation (another one of those under-funded services our tax dollars supposedly support). It is comforting to me when my tax dollars pay for something of which I approve; as I listen to stories about hookers in Columbia and grandiose conferences in Vegas that took place on public funds, I can at least console myself that if nothing else, my tax dollars are the reason I *know* about these obnoxious excesses. Please, don't take that away from me.

Really....only rich, well educated people driving expensive imports listen to public radio. I have to hope the comments were made to generate outrage and not because Mr Carlson actually believes it is true. I would also encourage him to give more and spread it out beyond urban America to the rural areas of our country. Even areas with declining populations deserve access to public radio. I am a member of 2 public radio stations. I also support a public radio and tv station that provides programming to a large area in rural Kansas. Of all the things my tax dollars go to pay for I believe I am getting a bargain with public broadcasting.

Mr. Carlson said "...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." This is another example of conservatives perceiving an issue, and proposing a solution that's not relevant. Rush Limbaugh's listeners don't pay to listen to his show. Advertisers pay, and based on his ratings, they pay more than they do for a slot at 2 a.m. Tax dollars support many programs that a variety of Americans don't use and may not agree with. (As previous commenters noted.) Why should NPR be evaluated in a different paradigm than other recipients of tax dollars, but by the same paradigm as something they are not--commercial radio? This apple is different from the other apples--let's compare it to oranges? That's how conservatives often think--let's restore the American economy by outlawing abortion and gay marriage. It's not rational. Like Mr. Carlson's argument.

Only the magic of Public Radio could convince a Conservative Libertarian that the wealthy should pay their fair share.

Tucker Carlson’s offered a slightly new draw on the worn out right wing old saw of cutting off funding for public radio. This time he first tries the strained tactic of inclusion when suggesting he loves public radio and is affluent like all you fellow public radio listeners. Then he proceeds to suggest this is an unfair condition for which we, like him, should feel guilt. And then under this elitist position poses as the protector of welfare recipients, harried single moms, and even teenaged McDonalds workers from the supposed burden of subsidizing public radio. Really? But then the argument he uses that drives off the road of reason suggests that public funding of public radio should be cut because, oh because liking public radio is equivalent to liking nasty right wing shows. This is a very false equivalence. If we were to accept Mr Carlson’s reasoning then we should stop public funding of the highway system that people really, really like because people really like to pay to watch NASCAR races.

What the decent thing to do is to fund and foster public radio for the collective good – we pay far too much for ignorance and the provocative partisan “entertainment” that promotes it.

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