The conservative rallying cry: We want our NPR

The conservative rallying cry: We want our NPR

From Idaho Falls, Idaho, to the heart of Appalachia, conservative country folk have at least one thing in common: They want their National Public Radio.

Sure, they like a little Rush once in awhile, even a little Glenn, but at the end of the day it’s just not enough. They also want their crop reports, their state legislative coverage and, yes, their CarTalk.

Writing in today’s New York Times, Timothy Egan says the conservative attack on NPR is misguided at best and counterproductive at worst.

POCATELLO, Idaho – It gets pretty lonely out here on the lava beds of the Snake River Plain if you’re looking for something other than a right-wing rant for company on the car radio. From Twin Falls to Idaho Falls, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Glenn Beck rule the airwaves. Beck is on two stations in Pocatello, case you missed one of his conspiracy theories.

The public airwaves that brush over this beautiful piece of high country carry a monopoly of thought — that is, until you pick up the first scratchy sounds of KISU-FM. It’s run by a proud conservative, Jerry Miller, but he serves up something different for Eastern Idaho.

You get a music program called “Potato Head Blues,” maybe some city hall news — up to 30 hours a week of home-grown programming. On top of that, KISU-FM delivers “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered,” “Car Talk,” “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” from the stellar lineup of NPR. Late at night, the crisp, authoritative tones of the BBC can be heard in the Idaho Rockies.

It seems illogical that when the Republican Congress took aim at public radio, they were going after an audio lifeline much loved by their own constituents in Red State America.

The amount of money at stake in targeting small stations — about $430 million — would have zero effect on the budget deficit, the Congressional Budget Office reported.

By comparison, the state of Idaho got $2.7 billion in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies from 1995 to 2009, according to the excellent data system compiled by the Environmental Working Group. This at a time when crop prices are at near-record highs and big corporate farms are flush.

So why go after such a meager sum for public radio, when it means so much to the least-populated areas of America?

Spite. Ideology. Choose your poison, it’s there. Some conservatives just hate public radio. They think it’s elitist, snooty pants, full of borrrrrrrring civil discussions and, OMG — that 20-minute piece on chanterelle mushrooms! Surely no one in Idaho Falls cares what the BBC World Service has to say about Ivory Coast.

He notes that urban public radio stations would survive without the federal subsidy, but that the rural stations, one of which serves an area the size of Ohio in the heart of Republican Alaska, would be off the air without federal money.

So, the people the attacks on public radio will hurt most are those who tend to vote Republican, while listening to the best radio friend of Red State America — and see nothing inconsistent about it.

In Colorado, Rep. Doug Lamborn has been one of the most vociferous members of Congress in attacking NPR, but the rest of the Republican delegation has followed along. Meanwhile, urbanite Dianne DeGette has said enough is enough and stood squarely with rural conservatives who want a little news and culture in between blasts of bombast.

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About the Author

Scot Kersgaard

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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