Mr. Cope’s Cave: Hillary’s To-Do List: F.I.X. P.B.S.


Monday, I filled this space by introducing a new series, “Hillary’s To-Do List,” in which I intend to suggest any number of Republican-induced messes President-to-be Clinton might clean up during her eight years in the White House. I do not intend to prioritize these problems in any way or list them in an order in which I feel they should be addressed. I’m content to let Ms. Clinton do that. They will appear here simply in the order they occur to me or come to my attention. Hillary and her fine, fine Cabinet can sort them out as they wish.

Speaking of her Cabinet, if I were compiling this list of “to-dos” in order of importance, I would start by identifying those individuals I believe she should choose to head the various functions of the federal government. And a general rule of thumb I would use for choosing those individuals would be whether they were ever rejected, investigated or publicly scorned by this current batch of Republican Congress members. Seriously, there could be no higher recommendation than having a Darrell Issa, a John McCain, or a Mitch McConnell call you unfit to serve the American people.

But let’s save that for another time, OK? We have almost two years to think about who to appoint as secretaries of this and that. Today, I’d like to chat about a serious problem I see developing down at the Public Broadcasting Service. Once again, it involves super-rich assholes who think they can make whatever they want to happen happen just by throwing tons of money at it.

It has, within the past couple of weeks, come to the attention of America that Pension Peril, a PBS production exploring the troubles plaguing public employee pensions, was funded to the tune of $3.5 million by a billionaire hedge fund manager, John Arnold. As it turns out, Mr. Arnold—and can this possibly be a coincidence?—is also behind a nationwide legislative push to cut benefits from those same employee pensions, a little detail the PBS production failed to mention.

When this came to light, the producers of Pension Peril belatedly—and no doubt begrudgingly—returned Mr. Arnold’s money. However, this revelation has led many to wonder in what other ways are the extremely wealthy trying to commandeer PBS and convert it into just another propaganda outlet serving their purposes. For instance, is the funding that David Koch provides to the excellent and essential Nova series having an undue influence on that production’s presentation—or lack thereof—of climate change science? After all, oil billionaire Koch and his bro Charles are also dumping huge money—an estimated $55 million, so far—into front groups whose only function is to deny there is any such thing as global warming.

Over the four-and-a-half decades of its existence, PBS and its radio sibling, NPR, have been refuges for those who want their news un-biased, their science un-politicized and their documentaries un-infected with the agendas of special interests. Such purity may be impossible to achieve, but it is something to strive for, and it will never be attained when the funding relies so heavily on people for whom several million dollars tossed this way and that means no more to them than the sloppage from an over-filled bucket.

Since the scourge of the Reagan administration, Republican termites have been gnawing away at the foundations of PBS by stripping ever more state and federal money away to be replaced by grants from the rich and whatever-we-can-afford-to-give from the rest of us. President Clinton and her Democratic majority in Congress must put public broadcasting back firmly into the domain of the public. The most efficient, dependable way to do that would be to put the funding, or the great majority of it, back into the domain of the public government. And by “public government,” I mean the one we vote in, as opposed to the semi-secret government of those who would circumvent the democracy by overpowering the choices we make with the power their wealth buys them.

Not that we should resent or object to a man like David Koch’s contributions to Nova or any other production that expands the knowledge of Americans. I suspect it will turn out to be one of the few honorable things he or his family has ever done for the country that enabled them to become such kings of industry.

But if he and other billionaires are really so interested in providing the multiple treasures of PBS to the American people, let them cease their endless efforts to get out of paying their fair share of taxes. And instead of using public funds to subsidize the industries that so enrich them, let us use those funds to enrich all of us.

PS: Note to Hillary—say, when you’re looking for someone to head PBS, you couldn’t go wrong with Bill Moyers, huh? Think about it.