Saturday, May 28, 2005

PBS Watch and How I see It

PBS Watch has a link to himself under my post on Koran desecration. He discusses the Daniel Pipes article and provides an alternate link to the Front Page Magazine version. He also has a copy of a letter he sent to Amazon, complaining about their cowardly response to what PBS Watch aptly calls "cultural extortion". I think he shares my respect for Daniel Pipes.

The PBS Watch position on PBS in general and Bill Moyers in particular, however, is about 180 degrees at odds with my own feelings. Oh I don’t know, maybe 165 degrees. He refers happily to Ann Coulter’s column slamming Moyers. It was, I admit a fun read, but, shall we say, not really part of the world of ideas. She basically mowed down an army of straw men and stood triumphant over their lifeless forms, blowing the smoke from her second amendment approved pearl-handled pistols. (Have I read that line somewhere?) Nevertheless, I was able to extract one very interesting point (from PBS Watch, not Ann Coulter). He suggests that the government could serve the interests of consumers of PBS better by allowing the free market to function without a subsidy. Perhaps the product would be even better if people were free to choose.

As you may be aware, I am a believer in the power of the free market to accomplish great things, but it does have its areas of blindness. The free market provides us with food and clothing of uniformly high quality, exceptional customer appeal and amazingly low prices. That’s because we pay for it directly. Programming provided by broadcast television is not like that. The product is, aside from bursts of brilliance, generally beneath contempt. The mechanism it uses for indirectly extracting money from the consumer, i.e. advertising, imposes itself on us to the exact extent that we can bear. The broadcasters provide us with the cheapest, flashiest product that can catch our attention long enough to inflict the advertising load. This is a market of mutual parasitism.

Cable has a lot of good stuff today. Mostly because people are paying directly for a product. Think of A&E, Discovery Channel, etc. as similar to cupholders in your new car. The cable companies want you to be happy. But these cupholders would never have been included if cable weren’t competing with public television.

The PBS concept is, admittedly, socialist in nature. The government pays for it, or did at first anyway. In my opinion it has worked extremely well over the years, producing such series as Sesame Street, Cosmos, Nova, Frontline, Ken Burns Civil War documentary. There is so much good stuff coming out of public television that I can’t begin to remember it all. It also airs a lot of junk that I can’t stand. But, I recognize it as high quality junk (ballroom dancing anyone) with little advertising. Please note that Fahrenheit 911 was not produced by PBS.

Note also that the government pays for education (for the most part). Why is that? It is because we as a society demand quality in education, and the average consumer of education will not be able to evaluate that quality until long after it is imposed. Even college students who pay directly (some do) have very limited choices in the course content. If they got what they really wanted in the education market, it would involve beer and sex.

PBS is an educator. It is very opinionated about what is good for us. Sometimes we pay its salary against our wills. Sometimes it gets on our nerves, but let us not strike down Socrates just because he annoys us.

5/28/2005 12:38 AM

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