NPR needs to do what it’s doing—which is keep it’s journalism at the absolute peak. And they need to have self-examination to make sure that their anchors, their story selection, or any other way that bias is creeping in, isn’t. Then they need to let the public speak for them. And the public has been speaking for them. They are a news organization; they shouldn’t be doing anything in regard to public funding or mixing journalism and politics. That was one of my strong themes to Vivian from the day she came on the job: get rid of the lobbying organization. Don’t ever allow yourself to be called up to the Hill to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing.
You often talk about the BBC as a benchmark. Why hasn’t the US been able to achieve what the Brits have in public media?
It hasn’t had a champion. The champion could be political or a lay-leader of some sort. Our federal funding in public radio hasn’t changed, in real dollars, since 1980. If you look at the budget for the BBC or the ABC in Australia, it dwarfs what we’re spending.
The American State Department put an unknown —but I suspect significant—amount of money into the BBC to help it deal with social media in Libya and Egypt. We seem to be willing to fund getting out the message in the name of democracy throughout the world but we have forgotten to look at what that means in our own country. We have taken for granted that Democracy is a solid ethic of the American people. It won’t be if we don’t tend to it.