O'Reilly wrong about PBS, Bill Moyers

››› ››› GABE WILDAU

FOX News Channel host and radio host Bill O'Reilly recently claimed that the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is going bankrupt and that it had fired Bill Moyers -- host of PBS weekly news program NOW with Bill Moyers. Both claims are false.

During the June 30 broadcast of The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, O'Reilly and co-host E.D. Hill had the following exchange:

O'REILLY: Joan Kroc, the McDonald's babe, died and left her -- all her money to PBS, right?

HILL: That's right.

O'REILLY: And they're still going bankrupt over there, because nobody will watch it. Did you know that? PBS is going bankrupt.

O'REILLY: Nobody'll watch them. Gee, I wonder why nobody'll watch Bill Moyers. Whoa, I wonder why. Anyway. He got fired, Moyers, so we don't worry about that.

The truth is that Joan B. Kroc, widow of McDonald's founder Ray A. Kroc, left the bulk of her fortune -- more than $1.5 billion -- to the Salvation Army to establish a network of community centers across America. Though Kroc also donated $200 million to National Public Radio, O'Reilly seems to be referring to the $5 million Kroc left to one local PBS affiliate, San Diego's KPBS. Though PBS itself received nothing from Kroc, the broadcasting system is not going bankrupt.* According to its website, "PBS' operating revenue has grown from $262 million in FY98 to a projected $324 million in FY03, a 24 percent increase in just five years, largely from non-member revenue sources."

Though its 2004 budget is not readily available, PBS's 2003 annual report disclosed net assets in excess of $184 million. On January 10, the Associated Press reported: "The flow of corporate money to PBS has increased after a three-year dry spell."

Also, there is no evidence that Bill Moyers was fired. Rather, he announced in February that he planned to leave NOW with Bill Moyers voluntarily after the November elections. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Gail Shister reported on February 23 that "[w]ithin hours of PBS's announcement Thursday that Moyers, host of NOW with Bill Moyers, would step down after the November elections, he got pitches from three networks."

Plenty of people watch PBS. Citing the Nielsen Television Index, PBS's website reports: "Over 87 million people in 51 million households watched public television during an average week of the 2002-2003 television season." They also note that "Americans continued to watch public television in greater numbers than any cable network during the 2002-2003 season," which means more Americans watch PBS than the FOX News Channel.

Correction: 

When this item was first published, it incorrectly stated that Joan B. Kroc "left the bulk of her fortune -- more than $200 million -- to National Public Radio." In fact, the Salvation Army received a much larger share of Kroc's fortune than did NPR. Ray A. Kroc's middle initial was also omitted in the original version.

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