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And around we go…

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 18 years ago, in 2006, on the World Wide Web.

At almost this exact time last year, I wrote this in response to a petitioning campaign by MoveOn.org over proposed cuts to government grants to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Don’t get me wrong. I like PBS and NPR is just about all the radio I ever listen to. The issue here isn’t whether they should face a funding crisis or not; I hope that they don’t. Rather, it’s what you should do in the face of that funding crisis. MoveOn just invested an incredible amount of time, money, and energy into mobilizing a bunch of Progressives to whine about it in Congress and beg for the money back. Meanwhile, instead of signing an online petition, calling my Representative, and e-mailing my friends and colleagues to get them to shake the change cup with me, I shut up and put down a pledge of $10 / month to Detroit Public Television.

Now, if 1,091,509 people in MoveOn’s orbit had done what I did, instead of what they did, then by my calculations PBS and NPR would have $130,981,080 more money for programming in the upcoming year. More importantly, they’d have that $131 million no matter what Congress and the Senate decided to do.

You might claim that not everyone who gets MoveOn e-mails will put down a pledge, but a lot more people will put down a zero-cost signature. You might think that MoveOn just can’t command that kind of money. Well, that strikes me as making excuses: we are talking about the group that just threw tens or hundreds of millions of dollars (depending on the as-yet unreleased budget data for their 501(c)(4) branch) down the tubes for electable John Kerry just last year. But fundraising is tricky, and maybe they wouldn’t make as much as they might hope. But think it about it this way: when you give money directly to people doing good work, the economics of failing to meet your goals are different. Lobbying is, more or less, an all-or-nothing game, with very few chances for gains on the margin. Names on a petition may or may not make a difference; but if they don’t make a difference (and, frankly, it doesn’t look like they made much of one here) then the names and pious hopes that NPR and PBS got out of the campaign aren’t worth the electrons that they’re printed on. But if you don’t hit your targets in direct support, the contributions you did get are money in the bank, no matter what. If only half as many people pledged as signed the petition, well, then PBS and NPR would have $65,490,540 that they didn’t have before. If the average contribution was $30 instead of a $10 / month pledge, they’d would have $32,745,270. Maybe that will save Big Bird and maybe it won’t; but even if it doesn’t it’s a darn sight better and more secure than the nothing that failed petitioning campaigns produce.

There’s a general principles here worth mentioning; it’s a principle the Left used to care about. It’s called direct action, and the longer the Progressive wing of the Left keeps ignoring it — the longer that they spend throwing time and organizing effort down the tubes to beg the government to support the institutions that they like — the longer we are all going to be losers.

— GT 2005-06-25: Shut up and put up

image: a hamster runs on its wheel

Above: Mister Buckles is saving public broadcasting!

Hey, guess what showed up in my inbox last week? Quick! Everybody make a massive public outcry!

From: Noah T. Winer, MoveOn.org Civic Action
To: Charles Johnson
Date: 6/8/2006
Subject: Save NPR and PBS (again)

Everyone expected House Republicans to give up efforts to kill NPR and PBS after a massive public outcry stopped them last year. But they’ve just voted to eliminate funding for NPR and PBS–unbelievably, starting with programs like Sesame Street.

Public broadcasting would lose nearly a quarter of its federal funding this year. Even worse, all funding would be eliminated in two years–threatening one of the last remaining sources of watchdog journalism.

Sign the petition telling Congress to save NPR and PBS again this year …

Here’s what Winer was referring to:

Health research, school aid and social services for the poor would bear budget cuts under a bill approved by a House panel Wednesday. … The House Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee approved the bill by a 9-7 party-line vote Wednesday …. The panel’s action also rekindles a battle fought last year over the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The bill would cut by 5 percent previously appropriated funds for the budget year beginning Oct. 1 and eliminate subsidies for educational programs and technological upgrades. The bill also fails to provide future-year funding for public television as is the typical practice.

— Andrew Taylor, The Guardian (2006-06-16): House Panel Cuts Health Research Budget

Four days later, Winer was ecstatic to report:

From: Noah T. Winer, MoveOn.org Civic Action
To: Charles Johnson
Date: 6/12/2006
Subject: Save NPR and PBS (again)

Dear Charles,

I just wanted to share some very cool news with you.

Over the last couple of days, over 300,000 people (including 80,000 who are totally new to MoveOn) have signed on to our petition to save NPR and PBS. That brings the total number of signers to over 1,400,000–making this not only our largest petition ever, but one of the largest petitions anyone’s done.

But the next vote in Congress will be as soon as tomorrow. To stop Congress’ budget cuts, we need to go even bigger: we’re aiming for 1.5 million of us to sign on by tomorrow. Can you join us by adding your name to the petition to protect NPR and PBS? It just takes a minute, but it’ll make a real impact.

The real impact that this made was to send over 1,400,000 copies of the following note to members of Congress:

TO: Your senators and representative
FROM: (Your Name and Email)

Dear senators and representative,

(Your personal note)

Congress must save NPR, PBS, and local public stations. We trust them for in-depth news and educational children’s programming. It’s money well spent.

This strong show of public outrage produced the following real impact on June 13:

WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday to restore $20 million of proposed cuts in federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides money to local public television and radio stations.

The Bush administration originally proposed to cut about 37% of the federal funding for public broadcasting, and a subcommittee last week proposed a cut of $115 million, or 23%.

A net cut of $95 million, if passed by the House and the Senate, would go into effect Oct. 1. It would result in the elimination of some educational programming, including Ready to Learn, a literacy program, and Ready to Teach, an online resource for teachers, according to a National Public Radio spokesman.

Los Angeles Times (2006-06-14): Smaller Bite Sought Out of Corporation for Public Broadcasting

WASHINGTON (Hollywood Reporter) – The House Appropriations Committee voted on Tuesday to slash funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and refused to fund the service for 2009.

— Brooks Boliek, Reuters (2006-06-14): House panel votes to slash public broadcast funds

Meanwhile, I shut the fuck up and made an annual contribution to my local PBS station at the $40 membership level. If those 1.4 million people in the MoveOn orbit had done what I did, instead of what they did, public broadcasters would now have over $56,000,000 to put in the bank, no matter what Congressional Republicans say or do or think about it. The time, energy, and money wasted on throwing 1.4 million nearly identical notes about money well spent managed to salvage a bit more than a third of that in reductions to the budget cuts, and it leaves PBS and NPR at the mercy of next year’s round of government budgeting. (Oh, but don’t you worry–when that happens I’m sure that MoveOn will mount another massive public outcry to save PBS and NPR again, again.)

We can do this ourselves, so quit begging. Shut up and put up.

8 replies to And around we go… Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. brownfemipower

    holy smokes YES YES YES!!!! I got chills reading this!! It is time for us to stop relying on the government (who is going to use that appropriated money to retain control over PBS and NPR) start relying on ourselves, especially when it comes to control over the airwaves. Thanks for the great analysis! PS. thanks for the link too! I linked you on my site as well–Ypsi geeks gotta stick close, huh? :)

  2. Anthony Kennerson

    Oh, but I have an even better idea than that…why not take that $20 that you were going to throw away to NPR or PBS (and considering their current turn to the Right, I would definitely consider it to be a waste of my money if you are looking for genuing progressive reporting), and use it to….gasp….DEVELOP YOUR OWN RADICAL MEDIA!!!!!!

    That way, you don’t have to worry about depending on either the government OR the corporations who run “public radio/TV”..and you get to see YOUR views run over the airwaves. It worked for the Christian Right, why not for the Left???

    Other than that, great analysis.


  3. Rad Geek


    Sure: I’m not under any delusions about the independent (ho ho) programming from PBS and NPR. I do enjoy some of NPR’s news programs and PBS’s documentaries and children’s programming, so I contribute to them when I can afford it, but I don’t think they’re any more politically valuable than, say, HGTV. I’m all for direct action to support radical and (actually) independent media, too.

  4. brownfemipower

    ok, well next mr anthony’s biting comment, i look like a freaky school girl, jumping up and down with simple joy, so i’m going to clarify my happiness–i am very happy to have finally met another radical in ypsi. few and far between in my opinion. so, anyway. I agree with you mr. anthony, about supporting radical media–but in the context of this post and the issue at hand, which I see as so-called progressive leaders (who are supposedly about challenging the status quo) not even doing the slightly progessive thing of countering government neglect with grassroots basebuilding, I think that radgeek offers a viable alternative for progressives. Radicals, of course, are going to demand radical media, but moveon isn’t radical–and as rad geek pointed out, move on is just barely progressive. critiquing the progressive support of online petitions versus radical support of NPR/PBS are two entirelly different things…And rad geek, you bring up an interesting point about kids programs–that’s about the only reason I support PBS is for the kids programming–and yet kids programming is something that radical independent media rarely if ever does. I think the only “radical” kids programming i have ever seen is “Free to be you and me” with marlo thomas back in the seventies. If creating alternative structures is what radical/progressive movements are about, shouldn’t we be addressing the fact that radicals/progressive have children who we’d like programming for? Why is radical/progressive programming only about the alternative news story’s that mainstream media won’t cover? Shouldn’t we be using media to build a new generation? I would love to see free speach t.v. offer radical kids programming in the morning–

  5. labyrus

    brownfemipower->Great point. Independant media means more than just space for analysis, and kids deserve something better than what the corporate media is offering.

    In a lot of ways, I think much of children’s programming that exists, even in the corporate world, is pretty radical. There’s still a lot to be desired, but for awhile Disney ran this show for preteens on the Family channel about some kids who ran their own Pirate Radio station in an abandoned building. Many of their shows aimed at girls offer preteens a (watered down) feminist perspective. Most shows for young children anywhere emphasize kindness, and sharing, and often fighting against some sort of authority (often personified in a bully).

    The anarchist bookstore here in Calgary has started carrying children’s books recently, which is a move I think is great.

  6. Rad Geek


    Thanks for the kind words!

    There are a couple things that I really wish I could convince the Left of; one of them being that the good old radical Left values of mutual aid and direct action really mean something important and ought to be put into practice, and that the State is not just a tool we can pick up and use to our ends; it is, by and large, the concentrated force and deception of our enemies, and clamoring for more of its smothering patronage just means capitulating to their control for a pittance, and an unreliable pittance yet. I’m always happy to find out that I’m not the only one out there ranting about these sort of issues around State control (which is part of the reason I’ve enjoyed following your weblog so much, incidentally).

    You’re also totally right about children’s programming and the lack of attention to it from independent media types. My suspicion is that part of it has to do with the fact that radical media usually thinks of itself as, or at least acts as, an institution that’s trying to meet the demands of a particular counterculture (radical politics wonks) rather than trying to mount a systematic challenge to the hegemonic culture around it. Thus it caters to a particular demographic, dominated by young folks, and young single men in particular, rather than putting out material that challenges or replaces anything other than the news analysis programs that young, mostly male politics wonks are obsessed with. Thus material for children gets relegated to the Yeah, sounds good, but we’re not going to make any effort about it ghetto. The same place that pretty much anything related to women and to feminism gets relegated to by the same men, if it can’t be hitched to the latest anti-globalization demo.


    Those themes are common, and it’s interesting how widespread they are, but how radical they really are is something that needs to be judged by their success. The kind of anti-authoritarianism, feminism, etc. that kid’s media encourages is pretty carefully limited and often sealed off from the real world (how many shows for young children provide any useful information on how to create your own pirate radio station? how many effectively pass off that sort of thing as a fantasy for consumption rather than something that actual children might actually do?) I think there’s a lot of interesting foundations for something that are already in place, but they still need a lot of building.

  7. Vardaman

    Good point, Mr. Johnson.

    I was wondering, though, something that it brought to mind, that I thought you might know: How much of PBS’ and/or NPR’s funding comes from “viewers like you” rather than the State?

· July 2006 ·

  1. Wild Pegasus

    What the hell is an anti-war group doing trying to save state media? Did the war end and everyone forget to report it?

    • Josh

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