When did PBS become the Plutocratic Broadcasting Service? by David Sirota
Feb 13, 2014
Proof our public media is doomed: Former Enron trader John Arnold is using the network to wage his war on pensions
In a world of screaming cable television hosts and partisan media outlets, PBS is supposed to be the last refuge for honest news. This is ostensibly why taxpayers still contribute money to the public broadcasting system. That money is appropriated to try to guarantee that there remains at least one forum for unvarnished facts, even if such facts offend those with money and power.
The problem, though, is that because our government spends so little on public media as compared to many other industrialized countries, our most prominent public media outlets are becoming instruments for special interests to launder their ideological agenda through a seemingly objective brand. Starved for public resources, these outlets are increasingly trying to get their programming funded with money from corporations and wealthy political activists — and that kind of cash comes with ideological expectations.
Case in point is the Public Broadcasting Service, as evidenced by the major report we published this week at PandoDaily. In that story, we meticulously documented how PBS’s flagship affiliate, WNET of New York, solicited funding from former Enron trader John Arnold. The $3.5 million Arnold contributed was earmarked for a “Pension Peril” series now airing in PBS NewsHour broadcasts on stations throughout the country.
If that was the entire story, it might not be much of a story. However, at the same time the billionaire Arnold is funding PBS’s pension-related coverage, he is also sponsoring the nationwide legislative push to slash public employee pension benefits. Indeed, with his massive contributions to super PACs, think tanks and local front groups, Arnold is financing a national movement to convince legislators to, in the words of his foundation, “stop promising a [retirement] benefit” to public workers.
This is likely why the Arnold-backed PBS pension series has loyally echoed the billionaire’s anti-pension themes. Knowing its benefactor’s message, PBS has echoed the Arnold foundation by promoting cuts to public workers’ retirement benefits as the primary solution to state budget problems. PBS has done this in its “Pension Peril” segments without mentioning that pension fund shortfalls are dwarfed by the amount state and local governments are spending on taxpayer-funded corporate subsidies. PBS has also done it without explicitly disclosing its connection to Arnold.