Yesterday, FoxNews.com published an article outlining the recent public spat between National Public Radio and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) over his recently reintroduced bill to defund NPR. After playing stenographer to both Rep. Lamborn and NPR, the article concludes:
NPR says only 1 percent to 3 percent of its $166 million budget is funded by taxpayer dollars. But a recent report by the Congressional Research Service found that taxpayers fund at least 4 percent of NPR's budget, while an analyst at the conservative American Thinker estimated it was closer to 25 percent.
So, we have a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service being placed on equal footing with an unnamed "analyst" at a conservative blog.
The "analyst" in question is Mark Browning, who probably does not fit most readers' definition of that term: he teaches English at Johnson County Community College. After he published his piece at American Thinker and a similar op-ed in the New York Post, Browning appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss NPR. The chyron during that appearance billed him as an English professor, and made no mention of any other experience which might qualify him to accurately estimate the funding sources of NPR's budget. To uncritically bill him as an "analyst" implies a level of credibility that simply does not exist, given the available details about his background.
Further, the comparison between these two completely leaves out a number of assumptions Browning makes in his so-called "estimate." Browning contends that federal funds trickle into NPR's national budget in several ways, among them grants from publicly funded organizations, tax-funded university dollars, and deductions for donations. Browning tries to estimate the sum of those funds, and in doing so runs fast and reckless with the numbers. From Browning's article:
At first glance, this distribution of funds seems to confirm that public radio's support does not come in large amounts from the direct allocation of tax moneys. After all, 5.6% is not a gigantic portion of the budget, is it? But let's look more closely. That 10.1% that comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is 99% provided by -- you guessed it -- the federal government. Those university funds, whenever they are provided by a public university, represent taxpayer-provided dollars. We can safely assert that three out of four university-supported stations are publicly funded, which means that more than 10% (three-quarters of that 13.6%) is taken from the taxpayer's pockets.
99 percent of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's budget comes from the federal government? That would come as news to the authors of the Fox article that cites Browning's estimate, seeing as how they report that only 13 percent of CPB's budget is federally funded:
NPR issued a statement this week blasting Lamborn's two bills, one which would defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which receives 13 percent of its funding from taxpayers and awards NPR some grant money. The other would eliminate federal funding just for NPR. Local public radio stations are more dependent on federal funding than NPR is.
Who would have thought we'd see the day when Fox News published an estimate relying on data debunked in its own reporting? Browning continues:
Those university funds, whenever they are provided by a public university, represent taxpayer-provided dollars. We can safely assert that three out of four university-supported stations are publicly funded, which means that more than 10% (three-quarters of that 13.6%) is taken from the taxpayer's pockets.
Uh-huh. That might make sense, if one could credibly argue that public university budgets were entirely comprised of tax dollars. Apparently, despite working for an institution of higher learning, Browning is unfamiliar with the concept of tuition, or donations from graduates. More from Browning:
Obviously the support by individuals, businesses, and foundations does not constitute taxpayer funding, right? Not so fast. These donations are tax-deductible; thus, they are subsidized by the government. Granted, not every gift is actually reflected on an individual or business tax return, and not all of those that are itemized wind up offsetting high marginal tax rates. Still, it is reasonable to believe that on average, these gifts result in deductions at the 25% tax bracket. Since these three categories add up to roughly 64% of station funds, we can reasonably argue that 16% of that money (64% x 0.25) is subsidized by the tax code.
If one considers tax-deductible donations to be a federal subsidy, then all manner of organizations receive so-called federal funding: The Heritage Foundation, Save the Children, The American Civil Liberties Union, and (Gasp!) Media Matters for America. Representatives of conservative organizations would likely balk at the suggestion that their acceptance of tax-deductible donations constitutes federal funding... because that's ridiculous.
If FoxNews.com is going to put an American Thinker post on the same level as a CRS report, they should at least explain how that post arrived at its absurdly higher number.
So to review the entire process chronologically: (1) Browning writes flimsy, hole-ridden estimate of NPR's funding. (2) Fox & Friends, a Fox News opinion program, brings Browning on to discuss NPR. (3) FoxNews.com cites Browning's work, as that of an unnamed analyst, on par with that of the Congressional Research Service, in supposedly straight news reporting. In other words, this is one more time Fox has used opinions from its commentary programming to manufacture so-called straight news.