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Awkward: Public stations broadcast McDonnell’s death message

“I like PBS, it airs great programs, including, if I do say so myself, tonight’s speech.”

Awkward moment of realization there for Gov. Bob McDonnell, who apparently plans to balance the $36 billion state budget by cutting the $4 million a year that Virginia contributes to public broadcasting.

OK, it’s not that the budget needs to be balanced on that $4 million. It’s actually a matter of philosophy for McDonnell, based on what he had to say in his State of the Commonwealth speech.

“With hundreds of options in the free market, radio and television programming is not a core function of government requiring $4 million.”

Ah, the free-market argument. Talk radio, largely appealing to a conservative audience, does well in the free market. Local TV news, largely appealing to people who await the breathless reports of car accidents and ongoing court cases, does well in the free market. PBS, NPR, not so much, so … let them die on the vine.

The sad truth is, that’s long since been happening. Conservative politicians have been starving public broadcasting for years, to the point where the local PBS station, WVPT, has cut almost all of its local programming.

I know this firsthand. My wife and I have both hosted local-affairs shows on WVPT that were cut because of budget issues. My wife’s show won a national award. Posthumously. We’re back at it – working with WVPT to develop a low-(read: “no”)-budget show featuring interviews with local newsmakers shot with a Canon camcorder that we had to go out and purchase ourselves in a makeshift studio that we built in an empty office downstairs.

I happen to dwell in a market practically devoid of over-the-air local news and views. Just one local radio station, in Staunton, a handful of preprogrammed stations with local call letters that I guess count as their local programming the local ads that they run, and two TV stations that, God love ’em, go breathless over crimes and the weather, and local high-school sports, but other than that …

Broadcasting is not a core function of government. OK, gotcha. But those airwaves are public airwaves, and it is a core function of government to ensure equal access to all public resources. McDonnell would earn my support if he’d back up his call for the discontinuation of public support for PBS and NPR with a promise to push the FCC to enforce the Fairness Doctrine guaranteeing equal access to the use of our airwaves.

I’m not going to put that column in the can for the day that will not come. McDonnell isn’t doing anything other than playing to the far right, whose motivation isn’t fairness or balance or even the free market, but rather the kneecapping of the left at every opportunity.

For a governor elected by a solid bipartisan majority, it’s not exactly the wisest move, not if he expects to get another large bipartisan majority for another run for public office here in the future.

Column by Chris Graham. More from Chris at