Knight Foundation Pays for Awful Report Demanding Feds Defund All Public Media

Miami's Knight Foundation has millions of dollars at its disposal, a holdover from its eponymous family's former media empire (which included the Miami Herald during its glory days). Now a sizable piece of that money is devoted to "advancing journalistic excellence in the digital age."

How exactly does the nonprofit do that? Well, this month, the Knight Foundation decided to advance some excellence by sending $5,000 to the conservative Heritage Foundation so the think tank could (1) compile the greatest hits of decades of GOP whining about NPR's and PBS's news coverage and (2) issue a fresh demand that Donald Trump yank public funding from Sesame Street.

The report is both awful and predictable. As local journalism craters and the Federal Communications Commission paves the way for mass conservative takeovers of local media markets by killing net neutrality, how is this possibly a wise use of thousands of dollars earmarked for improving reporting?

"Our goal is to encourage broad debate by highlighting a range of different arguments and interpretations," says Anusha Alikhan, a spokesperson for the Knight Foundation.

Of course, that implies the report offers original ideas about the state of public media instead of regurgitating pages of tired Republican talking points. It also ignores Heritage's wealth of undisclosed financial conflicts in tackling such a subject.

The piece by Mike Gonzalez is headlined "Is There Any Justification for Continuing to Ask Taxpayers to Fund NPR and PBS?" You can save yourself a click because Gonzalez's takeaway is never in doubt.

Before we dive into this basura, it's worth noting there is actually a reasonable debate to be had over tax dollars going to public media. Miami's Mike Grunwald has argued persuasively that the funding gets too much of a free pass from legislators.

But those arguments don't hinge on the absurd claim that NPR and PBS use taxpayer largesse to spew liberal fake news. That's exactly what the Knight-funded paper argues.

Gonzalez's sole piece of evidence that there's a liberal bent to public radio's recent reporting: NPR suggested Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement might not be a great move in terms of addressing climate change. Really!
On the morning of June 2, 2017, one day after President Trump had announced that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, National Public Radio informed its listening audience that the U.S. president’s actions notwithstanding, China, Europe and many private corporations would continue to work “in a sustainable direction.” NPR was not ostensibly giving the opinion of any individual or institution. It was simply reporting the news while also implying that the practices that would follow the President’s actions were unsustainable. .... Public broadcast apologists might counter that with 97 percent of scientists endorsing “the consensus opinion on man-made global warming,”[3] the unsustainability of refusing to follow the Paris Agreement is a scientific fact. That framework would ignore - perhaps because they have not heard - conservative critiques of that assertion
Uh, Mike, it doesn't take a Terry Gross fanboy to think that a guy who calls climate change a "Chinese hoax" is not interested in sustainable policy on the subject. (Also, Knight Foundation, it might be worth a note that the Heritage Foundation is reportedly heavily funded by the Koch brothers, who have spent at least $100 million of their oil-generated wealth paying for scientifically false climate-change denials.)

Gonzalez then spends thousands of words recounting the history of Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes trying to defund NPR and PBS and repeatedly being shot down by Congress, while quoting notably biased thinkers such as Newt Gingrich via insights like “I don’t understand why they call it public broadcasting. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing public about it; it’s an elitist enterprise. Rush Limbaugh is public broadcasting.”

Gonzalez also cites the NRA disliking a documentary about the association's political influence as evidence of rampant bias. (Mike, if the NRA liked a documentary about its tactics, the piece would be an advertorial.)

He even gets basic facts wrong, claiming public media receives a "not insignificant" amount from taxpayers, when it actually accounts for .01 percent of the latest federal budget. And he uses NPR and PBS's basic commitment to hiring a diverse workforce as evidence that "on the live wire issue of national identity, [public media] is all in."

The report is garbage. But worse than that, it's boring garbage — it's precisely what you would expect the Heritage Foundation to say about public media.

Yes, the Knight Foundation commissioned other reports for its public media series, including from more supposedly left-leaning groups such as the Brookings Institution. Those are presumably equally as predictable if not as outright offensive as Heritage's offering.

Unlike the media organizations it wants to "disrupt," the Knight Foundation is still quite solvent and well funded. Spend your money better, guys.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink

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