Public radio aims for fair storytelling

he single most gratifying – but incredibly difficult – thing I do in my life is the WAMC fund drive which starts at 6 a.m., Feb. 6. Our partners at The Berkshire Eagle have been fabulous with their generosity up to now and so have so many of you. One million dollars – the basic amount that keeps WAMC going from drive to drive – is an incredible amount of money. It is necessary because as we approach the fund drive, the larder is empty.

You know that I am passionate about this and I will keep at this business of running the station as long as I can, but it is the fabulous community that has banded together to build and sustain WAMC.

It should come as no surprise to any of you that there is a powerful group of people in this country who have tried to eliminate public radio in general and WAMC in particular. They want us to go away because the last thing they want is an alternative to the Rush Limbaughs, Glenn Becks, and Michael Savages who carry their water. They thought they were clever when they bought so many commercial radio stations and put their vassals on them.

Now, an interesting thing has happened. As this group of ultraconservatives took over commercial radio, it turned out that the public radio audience was rising, while fewer people were listening to the commercial stations. These people who would try to convince us that President Obama wasn’t born in this country and that public radio is a socialist enterprise didn’t know what to do, so they tried to get NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting defunded by Congress. They were shocked when people in their own conservative Republican conference broke ranks and said no. That effort failed.

Why do they want to kill it? They scream that public radio is “too liberal.” Are you kidding? WAMC plays every single member of Congress in our delegation, in order, Republican or Democrat. We play the ultra-conservative Herb London. We have call-in talk shows in which everyone can give their views. We have reaction lines and broadcast listeners’ comments weekly. So, I conclude that those who hate public radio just want to complete the formula. Get rid of it because the 1 percent basically owns the commercial airwaves and we really don’t need an honest broker that can give both sides of a story.

Just listen to the stellar journalism that comes from any of our outstanding bureau chiefs. It is always balanced; it is always well-sourced.

If you listen to Fox television, you will not find those standards.

So in the end, only around 10 percent of the money that supports WAMC comes from state and federal sources. Some people argue that the government should support what the station does. Others, like Eliot Spitzer, have suggested that government should not support media because as soon as it does, it will demand something back for it.

When the government calls the shots it gets dangerous. In the end, when we lose the will to support the station, this grand but fragile enterprise will be over. For those who are a little shy about picking up the phone, there is WAMC.org. Just click on “Pledge Now.”

If you value the station that we have all made together, and if you are a natural part of our family and community, you will do what you can. Every time you read some hateful remark about public radio and the values it stands for, try to consider the source.

My mentor, Dr. Alan Miller, once told me, “Run your own race and forget about those who would bring you down.” That’s good advice for all of us to live by. I’m counting on you.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/30/12

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