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.

Share your thoughts about this or anything else you hear on the program. Post a comment below or contact us by email.

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

Log in to post123 Comments


Excellent comment and I would like to tweet it, citing "livid" as the source. Perhaps we could tweet Tucker into thinking...

I too felt insulted. Thanks for voicing it.

No offense, but the marketplace can't sustain the likes of NPR. Instead, it paves the way for the likes of Clear Channel's monotonous music monopoly. No thanks.

Like many neo-con (artists) Carlson talks about federal subsidies as if it's the governments money, when it's convenient. Like most of us, even Carlson knows that the government doesn't have any money of its own ... it has OUR money.

As someone who fits the elitist demographic that Carlson talks about ... well, not the White part or the Prius/Saab (oy!) part ... my tax dollars are part of what keeps Public Radio afloat, and I'm really glad to do it. I also contribute during the fund drives ... yeah, I'm a member of my public radio station.

In addition, conflating Public Radio with the venomous bloviator Rush Limbaugh is simply obscene. That drug addled waste of flesh is simply that ... a drug addled waste, albeit a popular one with a segment of the population (you want to describe that demographic Tucker?).

Look Tucker, the books on the best seller lists aren't necessarily the best literature; the most popular songs aren't necessarily the best music and Limbaugh is definitely not the best that the public's airwaves has to offer ... PBS is!

Now go crawl back into the FAUX News bubble where you belong.

The logic of Carlson's argument assumes that NPR is beneficial only to those who listen, but that's flawed. First, NPR provides critical/thoughtful news that holds public officials accountable. The presence of active healthy investigative journalism is critical to democracy and good governance. Two, the effects of journalism always spillover from one medium/source to another.
But more importantly, it is a core American value for the government to subsidize the free press. Postal subsidies were an early form of government commitment to maintaining the free press. An independent press (free from corporate pressure and the tyranny of ratings based ad revenue) is a public good worthy of communal support.

Crikey! Where are all these well-to-do public radio listeners? I personally know of none and most of my friends are like me: barely making ends meet, month by month. I have been a sustaining member but had to cut that this year due to a lesser income. I gladly pay when I can. I hope those wealthy public radio listeners are able to step up their contributions if government funding is cut. Personally, I do not think it is a bad idea for the government to help public-supported organizations in educating and informing their citizens. (I'm certain that is NOT what Rush Limbaugh does.) Apples to oranges, Tucker.

I totally resent the genius who just said on Marketplace, that only the affluent listen to NPR.
Down here in Miami Beach, you can see old men with transistor radios, walking the streets & sitting in McDonalds with NPR blasting.
Local kids discuss NPR at school because just like my teenaged son grew up listening to NPR in his childseat in the backseat of my SUV, not to mention, watching PBS at home on TV, like his mom did as a child.
We, all over America, listen to NPR, not because of what's in our purse or wallet or stock portfolio, but because we are intelligent and free, and we choose to.
Most of us may not have much $ at the moment, but we've lived rich lives, & many (like myself) have traveled the world and know better to "quantify" the true meaning of wealth.  NPR & PBS is priceless to us all.

Tucker is dead wrong ...but right in the end. Wrong in his facts. I know those folks don't have much use for the full range of facts, but it's wholly short-minded to assume the people who pay with saab-latte-prius money are the only ones who benefit from public radio. I pay through the subsidy and I'm cool with that portion. It is an elitist endeavor, starting with the seemingly monocultural staff (by school history prereqs for the job and by ethnicity), but there is a lot of valuable news that I don't have the option of paying for otherwise. So, I don't care as much that it's all white, prius, blah, blah, blahh. ...But, oddly enough, Marketplace makes his case for him by following his editorial with the "problems" of ski resorts, featuring interview comments such as, "I used to pay $73 for lift tickets; now it's $92." Try asking a big chunk of America what a lift ticket is and you might see why losing funding is so appealing to Tucker. It wasn't much positioned as an industry story with some conceivable impact for people whose lift tickets are bus tokens. You don't have to position it like that - no populism here. Just saying, when they say it's time to pull the funding, hold the ski resort problems or don't be surprised.

Tucker is a bold~faced idiot. Not everyone lives in the Hamptons, or on Beacon Hill, or in Oak Park. He wouldn't know it, but some people live in very small towns, in very rural states. These people work for a yearly wage that likely would pay for one quarter of his wardrobe. Amazingly, not all people who live in such locations are hillbillies or low-life losers. Some people have to work 2 and, yes, 3 jobs to keep a roof over their heads. Amazingly, these people do appreciate intelligence, good music, thoughtful commentary, and thought-inspiring discussion. They often can not and do not contribute to Public Radio because they are financially not able, though they would like to BE able. So, climb in your newest Volvo or Prius, Tucker, and live your poorly informed, smug existence. You are the type of person that speaks VERY poorly for Public Radio, and thank goodness there are better people than you, who represent Public Radio, overall.

I am a white woman with a doctoral degree who makes less than $40,000 a year take-home-pay because I choose to work in the field of church music. I've depended on public radio for most of my life for excellent well-balanced reporting. I have often contributed - I can usually only afford the minimum. I drive a 14-year-old Toyota Corolla and walk to do most of my errands so that I can save on gas. No thanks to Tucker Carlson for generalizing about the incomes of public radio listeners. How incredibly patronizing of him, and how typical of the state of our knowledge about each other.
Public radio is one of the few places that my tax dollar is spent which I do not resent. In my area, which has few jobs for professional women, our station has had to cut back, even though our 1% do contribute generously. However, MANY OF OUR 1% ARE REPUBLICANS! They would love to see public radio die, like many other programs which we working, well-educated poor people cannot afford to support.
All right, well-educated poor folk, speak up!
I wouldn't at all object to Tucker Carlson's sharing some of his gas money with NPR. He can do that NOW, without changing its tax-supported public nature.
How about it, Tucker?


With Generous Support From...