THE ISLAND OF DOUBT
An irregular exploration of the ongoing struggle between the power of rational discourse and the scientific method on one hand, and the forces of superstition and dogma on the other.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
by Carl Sagan
The Doubter's Companion:
Skeptic Magazine: www.skeptic.com
Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal: www.csicop.org
A poem by Yehuda Amichai:
Chris C. Mooney
The Meaning of
the Island of
Random Douglas Adams quote
CASTRATION OF PUBLIC BROADCASTING
NPR's devastating exposé detailing attempts by drug maker Merck to cover up evidence that its painkiller Vioxx could be dangerous had just wrapped up last Friday when I heard the news that House Republicans are trying to gut government support for public broadcasting.
The vote by members of a subcommittee of the House Appropriations committee is only the latest assault on the last refuge of respectable journalism on American airwaves. In the past few weeks, we've seen the appointment of two right-leaning ombudsmen to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the agency that supplies vital funding for NPR and PBS. And in April, the chair the corporation, Kenneth Tomlinson, recommended Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, for the job of president of CPB.
I'm not the only one on the verge of apoplexia. One of my friends says he thinks he'll have to become "a resistance fighter for independent media" if this stuff goes answered. Meanwhile, the Association of Public Television Stations calls Harrison "a political partisan" (New York Times, June 10). NPR spokesperson Andi Sporkin made similarly disparaging remarks in the Washington Post when asked to comment on the proposed funding cuts.
A couple of days later, my favorite public radio station (WNCW) sent me yet another appeal for a donation. The station's e-mail plea makes explicit reference to the House Appropriations subcommittee's vote to cut the CPB's budget by 25 percent now, and eliminate the remaining $300 million within two years.
Also to be axed are $39 million needed to help stations convert to digital programming and $50 million for upgrading the PBS satellite network.
Anyone who sincerely believes that a corporate broadcaster would have run a 50-minute documentary on a campaign by a one its own sponsors to hide the lethal effects of one of its products, please take a reality pill. When was the last time any of the major corporate networks took on such a target?
(Yes, 60 Minutes has run exposés on the tobacco industry, but the network's recent record is hardly worthy trumpeting. Consider that the essentials of their story on the president's failure to show up for military duty was true, and they still screwed it up.)
America needs All Things Considered and the rest of NPR's journalistic lineup. America needs Frontline and other PBS programs. The world needs them. Without publicly funded journalism, we're doomed.
Yes, it's true that the U.S. is suffering through one of the worst debt-and-deficit crises in its history. That's the excuse the Republicans use to justify the cuts. But whose fault is that? Maybe if more of us were listening to NPR, we wouldn't have let Bush get us into the war is draining the treasury in the first place. Besides, public radio and televison only adds $1.30 to each American's yearly tax burdern. By comparison, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost each U.S. citizen more than $670 -- so far.
And that still doesn't explain the partisan appointments. Republicans claim NPR and PBS are biased against them, but polls of listeners and viewers consistently fail to find anyone who agrees.
The appointments we may have to live with. But there are still some Republican senators who believe in public broadcasting. Let's hope they have the cojones to tell their colleagues in the House to at least pretend they do, too.