Amid the bombast over the relationship between Muppets and the federal deficit, a measure of sanity has begun to emerge in the debate over the future of public broadcasting. Even House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a conservative who has called public broadcasting a "liberal sandbox," has retreated a bit from his vow to end federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
One possible reason is that the public thinks this is one government program that works. Even 80% of Republicans, in a recent poll done for the CPB, favored maintaining its $285-million annual appropriation, which is distributed to 980 stations nationwide through the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio.
Long-simmering philosophical differences over public broadcasting came into sharp relief Thursday at an appropriations subcommittee hearing in Washington. But even some harsh critics had complimentary words for the service. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) called it "thought-provoking." However, he also termed it a "totally unnecessary" subsidy for the affluent and unneeded in light of the "barrage" of commercial television and cable programs.
The subcommittee chairman, Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.), who calls himself a longtime supporter of public broadcasting, said that the CPB budget must be weighed against funding for vaccine and job-training programs for the poor. He did not mention federal subsidies to Illinois farmers.