How Would You Like Big Bird Served?

One of the great lies of public broadcasting is that taxpayer support amounts to only a tiny portion of their budget. For example, here’s what NPR said two years ago:

On average, less than 1% of NPR’s annual operating budget comes in the form of grants from CPB [the taxpayer-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting]  and federal agencies and departments.

Yet the same piece says:

Federal funding is essential to public radio’s service to the American public. Its continuation is critical for both stations and program producers, including NPR. . . Elimination of federal funding would result in fewer programs, less journalism—especially local journalism—and eventually the loss of public radio stations, particularly in rural and economically distressed communities.

One of these statements has to be a lie. Which is it? Probably the first one, which relies on Hollywood-style accounting to obscure that a lot of the station fees NPR collects from affiliates come from taxpayers, but NPR doesn’t count that as “taxpayer” support in its financial reporting. Who would miss 1 percent of their budget? Typical Beltway trickery.

Looks like Trump is going to call their bluff. The New York Times breathlessly reports:

Public Broadcasters Fear ‘Collapse’ If U.S. Drops Support

The potential elimination of about $445 million in annual funding, which helps local TV and radio stations subscribe to NPR and Public Broadcasting Service programming, could be devastating for affiliates in smaller markets that already operate on a shoestring budget.

Patricia Harrison, the corporation’s president, warned in a statement on Thursday that the Trump budget proposal, if enacted, could cause “the collapse of the public media system itself.”

And right on cue, we get headlines about how heartless Republicans want to kill Big Bird. (Actually I’d like Big Bird served up fried in the Colonel’s Famous Recipe.) Politico asks, “Can Big Bird Survive Trump?” Yes, Big Bird can, because Big Bird is Big Business! Big Bird makes money! Investor’s Business Daily reports:

Last year, Sesame Workshop had $121.6 million in revenues. Of that, $49.6 million came in distribution fees and royalties and $36.6 million in licensing of toys, games, clothing, food and such. In 2014, only 4% of its revenue came from government grants.

Despite being a taxpayer-supported nonprofit, however, Sesame Workshop pays its top executives fabulously well.

According to tax filings — the most recent of which covers 2014 — then-president and CEO Melvin Ming was paid more than $586,000 in salary and benefits in the nine months before retiring, which included a $37,500 bonus and $18,700 in benefits. The year before that, Ming cleared $672,391 in salary, bonuses and benefits.

That’s five times the average pay for CEOs at nonprofits, according to Charity Navigator. (It’s twice as much as the CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting gets paid.)

The average compensation for the other 10 top officials at Sesame Workshop in 2014 was a very handsome $382,135 — which is about six times the median household income in the U.S.

Like all the other subsidies that flow out of Washington, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is just another fillip to rich people. Trump should not only kill it off completely, but abolish the Hollywood tax breaks while he’s at it. That should get Big Bird hopping.

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