Accuracy in Media

In his budget released yesterday, President Donald Trump called again for cutting funding to PBS and NPR through zeroing out the Corporation For Public Broadcasting.

“So every time Trump slices CPB out of a budget, he raises the political salience of public broadcasting as an issue,”Joshua Benton of the NiemanLab at Harvard University wrote. The likelihood of the president’s CPB proposal being adopted is small, given he’s already proposed this twice before when Republicans held both houses, and now Democrats hold the U.S. House.

“So Trump’s annual CPB cut is Kabuki theater that doesn’t really threaten funding for public broadcasting,” Benton wrote. “But I do worry about the long-term impact of this annual dance. There’s a large body of political science research that shows public opinion on a given issue varies depending on how closely attached it is to people’s partisan identities — and each ‘statement’ budget strengthens public media’s attachment a little bit more.”

Benton gave the analogy of how public trust toward universities has eroded among Republicans: “In 2015, 54 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Democrats thought higher education was a positive influence. But by 2017, Republican support had collapsed to only 36 percent. (Democrats were steady at 72 percent.)”

A PBS-sponsored survey has found a strong erosion in public trust for PBS in recent years.

Benton says to “take a look at how that ‘trust a great deal’ number has moved, before and after Trump started running for office:

2013: 46 percent

2014: 42 percent

2015: 48 percent

2016: 36 percent

2017: 42 percent

2018: 30 percent

2019: 29 percent

That’s the sort of trendline that you’d see if more Americans were seeing public broadcasting through an ideological lens instead of a civic or user-driven one. And even if Trump’s budgets don’t impact policy, they contribute to shifts in public opinion that someday could.”

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