It is peculiar how certain red-meat issues among Republicans travel poorly between Washington and Georgia.
Last year’s health care overhaul obviously incited GOP angst in both D.C. and the state Capitol. Abortion continues to prompt near-universal condemnation from Republicans. Gay marriage, too — though that may be slowly changing.
But it is the Republican attack on public broadcasting that has landed with something of a dull thud in Georgia.
Two weeks ago, the GOP-controlled U.S. House voted 228-192 to block federal funding of National Public Radio. Among many tea partyers, public broadcasting — including Big Bird — has become one of the most glaring symbols of government excess.
“In an age when there are almost limitless outlets from which Americans can get the news, even bordering on information overload, there is no reason for taxpayers to be subsidizing NPR,” declared U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell.
U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, the Republican from Ranger, made the defunding of “snooty” NPR the topic of a fund-raising letter.
“As I travel across Georgia, I tune in to hear Glenn Beck or Rush [Limbaugh], [Sean] Hannity or catch the news or just relax to good ole country music,” Graves wrote.
But it is not a unanimous opinion. U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, another newcomer to Congress, was one of only seven House Republicans to vote against the NPR defunding measure — because, he said, it represented no actual decrease in federal spending.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss was more forthright. “You know, an awful lot of conservatives listen to NPR,” the senator said — in an interview on WABE (90.1FM), Atlanta’s NPR affiliate. “I think total elimination of funding is probably not the wisest thing to do.”
Such opinions grow even stronger on red clay.
Far from shrinking in Georgia, public broadcasting’s reach is about to grow. The Federal Communications Commission this month gave final approval to the state’s newest Georgia Public Broadcasting affiliate — WUGA-TV in Athens, owned and operated by the University of Georgia.
Two years ago, the university bought struggling WNEG-TV in Toccoa “for a song” of $1.2 million in private funds — and attempted to run the station as a commercial venture, said Tom Jackson, UGA’s vice president of public affairs.
But the Great Recession was a poor time to invest in media. The venture failed.
GPB affiliation will cost the university about $600,000 a year, Jackson said, which will be paid for — again — with private funds.
The station will give journalism students a place to practice their craft and researchers a venue to display their discoveries in documentary form. And it will give UGA sports not bound by contract — think women’s softball — statewide TV exposure.
The Legislature is about to wrap up work on an $18.2 billion budget. Included will be the state’s 46 percent share of GPB’s $29 million budget. The agency endured a 4.7 percent cut, but not one GOP soul argued publicly that the state should abandon its 50 years in the broadcasting business.
Possibly this is because Republicans in the state Capitol have a sense of ownership in GPB. Two years ago, Gov. Sonny Perdue named former CNN executive Teya Ryan as the head of Georgia Public Broadcasting — putting a professional in a position usually filled with patronage in mind.
Gov. Nathan Deal has kept Ryan in place, which implies some confidence in her performance.
One of Perdue’s last acts as governor was to appoint his former communications director, Bert Brantley, to GPB’s seven-member governing board.
“The discussion nationally is not the same as the discussion here,” Brantley said. “My Republican friends, they actually like GPB. At least, they’re not telling me if they don’t.”
Branding has something to do with the difference, Brantley said.
“The reputation that GPB has is much different than what you hear about the rhetoric about [national] public broadcasting and NPR. GPB is seen as a neutral arbiter.”
Like Chambliss, Brantley also argues that GPB programming fills a void — particularly for Georgia’s rural communities — that goes unduplicated by commercial TV.
A spokeswoman for GPB said more than 500,000 viewers watched the 2010 high school football championships on GPB — a 22 percent increase over 2009.
Ryan has also beefed up GPB’s 7 p.m. political coverage. (Full disclosure: I occasionally appear, gratis, on “Prime Time Politics” as a commentator.)
That coverage is important in an economic climate, Brantley said, that has ravaged TV stations in Georgia’s hinterlands.
But the bottom line is that we’re far less suspicious of the things that lay within our own control. “If my Republican pedigree helps in some way, then that’s great,” Brantley said. “But mainly I think I’m just a fan of what they’ve done.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider