This week, my local NPR station – WMRA – has been conducting its spring membership drive. And this time around, I’m ignoring it.
Even the most casual reader of this column might suspect that NPR’s news coverage would suit my “informed” – not too “liberal” – predilections. Long-time readers of this column will know that I’ve long been an advocate of public radio.
Which is why I find myself surprised that I feel absolutely no inclination to make a contribution this year.
Now, to be sure, I’ve had to tighten my belt in recent years. Gone, for now, are the days when I could support my public radio station at the dollar-a-day level.
But this year, I can’t even bring myself to cough up a nominal sum. I’m that fed up with what once passed for “must-listen” radio.
Here’s my problem.
Like most public media, NPR started out as the indirect beneficiary of generous public funding. Taxpayer dollars subsidized local stations, which, in turn, subscribed to news and other programming from NPR and other content providers.
Over the years, public funding has been reduced – forcing public radio stations to seek additional support from individual listeners, non-profits, and – here’s the kicker – corporate sponsors.
This last fact has been unfortunate. Whenever any entity – educational, artistic, or otherwise – becomes dependent on substantial corporate funding, it quickly learns that this funding comes with strings.
For public radio, the result has manifested itself in many ways. From my personal perspective, the two most egregious have been an almost total disregard of two issues: AGW (anthropomorphic global warming) and the increasingly disturbing ways in which our food supply is produced.
To be sure, the former issue is of far greater concern. If even the more moderate expert forecasts are true, our children and grandchildren will be living in a world drastically different – in ever more unpleasant ways – from the world we have known in our times, or indeed, since our ancestors climbed down out of the trees.
Our food supply would be of greater personal concern if I hadn’t made the decision, some years back, to do a lot more actual cooking - increasingly using ingredients which are natural, and (when the price permits) organic.
Still, I wish more of my friends and fellow citizens were aware of the degree to which the things they consume introduce hormones, antibiotics, and actual toxins into their diets.
Sadly, nobody’s going to learn much about climate change or the food supply from NPR news. In recent years, it seems, these issues have simply disappeared – and one can only conclude that this has come about as the result of public media’s dependence on corporate dollars.
Which is not to say that NPR and other content providers have moved entirely into the conservative camp. For most public radio stations, listener dollars are more important than corporate support.
But liberally-minded listeners – like their conservative opposite numbers – can generally be contented with non-stop coverage of social issues. Thus, NPR’s almost obsessive coverage of demographic issues – the politics and sociology of race, gender, gender preference, and immigration status.
Because the public radio audience contains a large number of aging Baby Boomers – members of a generation which refuses to grow old – recent years have also featured an increasing emphasis on pop culture and the latest technological gadgets.
On any given day, in morning or afternoon drive-time, you can be sure of hearing a stories about some manifestation of inequality in our society; about some new gadget, app, or website; and about some up-and coming band, singer, or other entertainer.
But you’ll drive a lot of commuter miles between stories about AGW, much less – say – what your latest meal might be doing to your body.
Now look, no rational observer would question that Big Business – far more than Big Government – runs this country.
Moreover, most of the media – newspapers, radio and television stations, and online service providers - are owned by huge corporations.
As are nearly all of their advertisers.
Our elected officials are, especially since the abominable – and intellectually indefensible – Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. FEC , almost entirely dependent on essentially unlimited campaign contributions from wealthy individuals and corporate sources.
With public radio, the strategy has been a bit more subtle. Deprive the stations of public funds – on the argument that they shouldn’t be supported by taxpayer money – and then substitute corporate funding, on condition that these stations and their content providers “dummy up” on the issues most important to Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Pharma, and our other corporate masters.
That strategy has worked. Perhaps I’m only playing into our corporate masters’ hands by withdrawing my personal support. If others followed my example, public radio might gradually be transformed into another FOX News.
But I’m sorry. My heart just isn’t in it this year.