NPR is currently in their spring pledge drive. Today, I heard the sales spiel from Ira Glass, host of This American Life. It was appalling.
Ira explained to we listeners how normal TV and radio work: There are $42 billion spent every year on advertising in those media. Where does that money come from? From you and me, every time we buy a product. That works out to $208 per person, every single one of us, whether we like it or not. He then contrasted this to public radio where you have the choice to support the exact station you want, your money doesn’t go to places you don’t want it to go.
This has to be one of the most deceptive and plain stupid arguments ever promulgated on the airwaves. And I’ve listened to Rush Limbaugh.
1) The money comes from corporations, not people. If you’re going to follow the chain back from where the companies got the money to the people who gave it, it’s only fair to see where the people got the money. Hey, they got it from companies (either in the form wages or investments)! Gee, it’s like we got ourselves some kind of Economy boys and girls! Can you say Economy?
2) Sure, when I buy a rotisserie chicken, I’m funneling a couple cents of profit to Kroger or Costco, who can then, if they choose, spend some of that on advertising to me on TV and radio in the hopes I’ll buy more chickens from them. I chose to buy the chicken, the company chose to pay for advertising, the media choose to view it, I chose to watch it, and then I choose whether to respond to it or not. What’s so anti-choice about that?
3) The math is based on a figure of 200 million people. No idea where that came from, current US Population is at 300 million or so. Ira’s show is called This American Life, but these companies are mostly multi-nationals, so you can’t make any kind of per person estimate without figuring in the world population, where companies spend money, what percentage of revenues Americans contribute, etc.
4) Worse than the math is the warped conclusion he draws from it. If we accept the specious claim that the average citizen spent $208 on advertising last year, this does not mean that each person actually spent $208! C’mon Ira! If this thinking made any sense, the problems of poverty and iniquity would have been long since solved. After all, every person in America made over $37,000 in 2003, that’s plenty! On the other hand, the average American family has over $9,000 of credit card debt, so by Ira’s logic I should be worried although the Muttrox family lives debt-free.
5) Lastly, the element of who I support. I loathe Clear Channel and Sinclair Broadcasting, and I’m sure some of my money is going to them. On the other hand, Car Talk is one of the most annoying shows ever created. If you edited out all the laughter and rambling stories, you are left with a five minute show. It could be stuck in between other shows, like the excellent Moment of Science. But Ira, if I give my money to NPR, some of it goes to Car Talk. How anti-choice! The horror, Ira, the horror!!
(But I’ll give money anyhow. It is my hope that NPR [really the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in this context] will get enough money to eliminate government funding so the Republicans can finally quit their whining. $60 million dollars a year. Whoopee. That’s about two hours worth of the Iraq war. Or take a look at the Porker of the Month archives to see what else the feds decide to spend $60 million on.)