When the World Was Wide(r): A Requiem for PBS
by Andrew Grossman
Bright Lights Film Journal
The greatest myth, however, is that public broadcasting is noncommercial, simply because its financing comes mainly from giant, grant-giving corporations. For years, public broadcasting has been aggressively commercial in ideology, if not in funding: the only apparent way to secure an interview on The PBS NewsHour or NPR's All Things Considered or Fresh Air6 is to have a book, film, or other media artifact to hawk. True dissidents and subversives rarely (if ever) appear, for they can hardly promote Simon and Schuster or the Brookings Institution. Shilling now inescapably constitutes the "public interest," and legitimacy is granted only to the shillers.7 The same problem, of course, plagues even more intensely would-be satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who lambaste the entertainment-industrial complex in the first half of their shows and grant amicable, always topical interviews to entertainers, politicians, and oligarchs in the second. They excuse their complicity by claiming their rights as entertainers to indulge in hypocrisy, but their excuse is ignorant, not merely naïve. Satire is a high calling, not a license to sell out, and we don't need our critiques timidly or irresponsibly framed as meager entertainments. One recalls Noam Chomsky's argument that the media's alleged "liberal bias" is in fact the best cover for the status quo, for liberal media tell us that we can go only so far in our critiques and no further. We can joyfully assail Republican intolerance and backwardness, but Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee will always wind up smiling at our roundtable, their religion perhaps corrupted, but never inherently treacherous.
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