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NPR Responds

4:57 PM, Feb 13, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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A note from Anna Christopher, Senior Manager, NPR Media Relations:

I read your post last night, and would like to correct your misconceptions about NPR:

NPR is not "government-funded" - and since that misconception provides the basis for your argument, your entire post is inaccurate. NPR receives less than 2% of its funding from competitive grants sought by NPR from federally funded organizations (such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts).

If you'd like to check any additional facts, I'm always available. I appreciate you updating your post to accurately reflect NPR's sources of funding.

I appreciate the smug, condescending tone of this letter, but I'm unconvinced. As one former CPB official I spoke to explained, "they love to claim they're insulated, but they're very much dependent on the public tit." The other 98 percent of NPR's funding comes from a mix of donations, corporate support, and dues from member stations. The fees and dues paid by member stations comprise more than half of NPR's budget. Where does that money come from? In large part, from the federal government.

Take the local NPR affiliate in Washington, WAMU 88.5. That station paid NPR in excess of $1.5 million in dues, the station's largest single expense outside of fundraising and personnel. The station also took in $840,000 in public funding and grants from the CPB. The station spent nearly $4 million on "fund-raising and membership development," with a return of just $6 million. Fundraising is expensive -- public money isn't.

As this former CPB official explained, "they like to contend they get little direct money, but they get a hell of a lot of indirect money." He also notes that the FM spectrum on which public radio stations broadcast is itself a government subsidy -- a valuable public resource provided by the government at no expense to the stations. "The importance of federal funding to their operations can be seen," our friend said, "whenever someone threatens to cut the CPB budget -- and they scream like a bunch of stuck pigs."

If NPR truly wants to be regarded as an independent entity, they should send back to the Treasury every dollar that's been set aside by Congress to support public broadcasting in this country. Otherwise, NPR survives only through the generosity of the American taxpayer, and should act accordingly.