Some time ago, when a spokesman for NRA called National Public Radio to complain about a news report in which we believed that NPR had deliberately misrepresented our views, NPR series editor Larry Abramson responded, contemptuously, "your p.r. is your problem." So be it. If NPR's misrepresentations of the views of NRA are indeed "our problem," our members will endeavor to fix it. On behalf of our 3.5 million members, their families and friends, I am here to ask you to stop using our money to pay for propaganda which is thinly disguised as news -- news which is biased, one sided, subjective, and unreliable; news which, when it comes to reporting on both the NRA and the issue of the criminal misuse of firearms, is frequently false and unfailingly flavored with unmasked hostility to law abiding firearms owners.
First let me clarify one point. The NRA has not come here to speak in favor of censorship. In fact, I was the recipient of the 1990 H.L. Mencken Award for the best editorial in the nation in the previous year in defense of the First Amendment. I had written an op-ed piece which was published in the Washington Post on July 17, 1989, opposing the attempt to amend the Constitution in order to punish flag burners. I supported the right of people to burn our flag, even though I earned two Purple Hearts defending it.
I defended flag burners because I resolutely believe in the right of every American to speak his mind. However, this right has a corollary, which is every bit as sacred: no American should be compelled to support a creed, or belief, or partisan doctrine with which he disagrees. You cannot have one without the other.
In 1967 Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act. Taxpayers were told that public broadcasting was needed in order to provide quality programming that would serve an "unserved or underserved" market. By design, the elites gained control of this creature from the start, then, once inside the castle, using the ruse of "insulation from political interference," they pulled up the drawbridge and left the rest of America outside. We are still out here, and they are still inside. Congress funded it with our money, but they explicitly protected the recipients from any need for accountability to us.
This lack of accountability leaves several questions unanswered. First: why is public broadcasting not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)? Second: why is there no public bidding on public broadcasting contracts? Third: Congress sets the salaries of those who work for the taxpayers in the government, but who sets the salaries of those who work for the public in public broadcasting? Fourth: why aren't members of public broadcasting stations, like the members of the NRA, permitted to vote on the management of their station? Fifth: why aren't public broadcasters, like commercial broadcasters, required to maintain a correspondence file for public inspection? Sixth: when a show makes money, like the Civil War series, and "Sesame Street," where does the money go? We can't answer any of these questions because there is no accountability. In fact, Ervin Duggan, CEO of the Public Broadcasting System, was openly contemptuous of accountability when he recently urged that we take steps to insulate the management of public broadcasting from ". . . the political vagaries and ideological whims of the appropriations process."
Public broadcasting represents the political, cultural, and spiritual values of a tiny minority who think of themselves as elite and sophisticated. They think that they are divinely appointed to enlighten the rest of us. As they strive to carry out this mission, on its airways one can see, or hear, a vast array of colorful characters: dyspeptic misanthropes telling us what they don't like about normal Americans; disgruntled victims; peevish purveyors of assorted reforms, and every other species of hectoring crank that can possibly be found fighting in the trenches of the culture war. Their message is propaganda. Let me give you some examples.
As a Viet-Nam veteran, I remember the thirteen part series on the Viet-Nam war. This series won an award: it was named "Film of the Year" by the newspaper Quan Doi Nhan Dan. This is the newspaper of the enemy North Viet-Namese Army, in case you wonder whether the series was biased. When Accuracy in Media produced a series to set the record straight, they were resisted at every turn by public broadcasting. Many news organizations, which cherish their reputations for honest reporting, would hesitate to be so one sided. But public broadcasting is unique. It is funded, and protected, by the government. It serves a peculiar audience which does not seem to place a high premium on literal accuracy in news reporting.
The NRA has experienced this first hand. In December of 1989 NPR conducted an editorial essay, masked as a "news feature," in support of gun control. In one broadcast NPR reporter Nina Totenberg said "(t)here may be a lively debate about whether the Constitution confers on individuals the right to bear arms, but that debate is not going on in America's courts, its law schools, or its scholarly legal journals. Indeed, even the National Rifle Association could not recommend for this broadcast a single constitutional law professor who would defend the Second Amendment as conferring on individuals the right to bear arms."
No debate in America's scholarly legal journals? An informal survey of the literature suggests that no less than 28 law journal articles supporting the thesis that the Second Amendment protects an individual right appeared between 1960 and 1989; this includes the American Bar Association Journal. No Constitutional law professors who support this view? Hardly. In December 1989, the very month in which Miss Totenberg made this broadcast, University of Texas Professor Sanford Levinson, a distinguished constitutional scholar, had published an article in the Yale Law Review entitled "The Embarrassing Second Amendment." In the article, Professor Levinson says that the right protected (not "conferred", as she would have it), is an individual right. So on these counts, at least, she was demonstrably, flat out, wrong. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe America's premier legal reporter just hadn't visited a reasonably well equipped law library to review the Periodical Guide to Legal Literature, or had not seen the Yale Law Review when she made the broadcast.
What about the National Rifle Association and the names of the legal scholars? This is a different story. When asked for the names of scholars, NRA spokeswoman Debbie Nauser gave Miss Totenberg the names of three (3) -- count them -- scholars. There is no room for doubt here. In the words of Josiah Royce, the reporter had "willfully misplaced her ontological predicates."
More recently, the CrimeStrike Division of NRA, following the murders of several Korean-American merchants in the District of Columbia, met with a group of these merchants to discuss some legislation which we had proposed for D.C. Following this meeting, during an NPR news magazine and documentary broadcast, an NPR commentator, Bebe Moore Campbell, gave a harangue against the NRA for having attended the meeting. She said that we had gone there to tell Korean merchants that blacks are criminals. She said that our initials should stand for the "Negro Removal Association." She said that we wanted sixteen year old boys to carry Uzis because the gun would probably be used to kill a black person.
This is not responsible editorializing, let alone news; it is vicious libel. The NRA had been formed in 1871 by former officers in the Union Army, men who had fought to end slavery. The first signature on our charter, and the first president of NRA, was Gen. Ambrose Burnside, who had been forced to stand by and watch the men of his division slaughtered during the battle of Sharpsburg, the battle which induced Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Gen. Ulysses Grant and Gen. Phil Sheridan also served as presidents of the NRA. Unlike any other social organization in the country in 1871, African Americans were never excluded from membership in the NRA. An African American member of our Board of Directors, after this broadcast, came to me and told me that as a young boy growing up in the District of Columbia, the only place he could go, where he was always welcomed regardless of his race, was a rifle club run by the NRA. Civil rights leader Roy Innis is also on our Board of Directors. In fact, the meeting with Korean American merchants had been arranged by black NRA members in the District of Columbia, and one black NRA member participated in the presentation.
We have asked every one of the hundreds of NPR member stations for an opportunity to give an adequate response to this scurrilous attack. One, and only one, gave us this right. This is an abuse of the public trust. However, it does serve to help prove our point. Public Broadcasting is designed, by those who run it, to serve as the ever flowing fountain of venom, serving the insatiable desire of the cultural elites to have someone to hate. As America was the arsenal of democracy during two world wars, public broadcasting serves as the arsenal of dyspepsia in the culture war. It is wrong to ask us to pay so that others may tell the world how much they hate us.
The original act required balance and fairness, but this was ignored until 1992. The congress, fed up with the lack of balance and fairness, tried to strengthen this requirement. This, too, was ignored. The message should be clear: public broadcasting is broken and cannot be fixed.
For many years the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforced a "Fairness Doctrine" which required broadcasters to provide balance and fairness on controversial issues. The FCC abolished the doctrine in 1986. It took this step after it had conducted an extensive study in which it determined that there were so many broadcast outlets that the variety alone would assure that diverse points of view would be presented to the public.
If the FCC is correct, then the market is no longer "unserved or underserved." If that is true, then there is no longer any need, if there ever was, for public broadcasting. It may be that commercial stations won't produce the sort of programs that public broadcasting produces. If so, the cultural elites should have to dig down a little deeper to support the culture war, although they should no longer expect us to subsidize them from the Federal Treasury, or let them deduct it from their income taxes.
It would be unfair for me to close without noting a broadcast which I heard last night. NPR reported on a vote by the Fresno, California, City Council, on whether to require the issuance of concealed weapons carry permits to any citizen who is not disqualified. The report was straight forward. There were no sarcastic intonations by the reporter. There were no selected quotes predicting terror in the streets. In fact, the story was reported as objectively as one might hope. There was one minor inaccuracy: the reporter said that the passage of the proposal would have made Fresno the most liberal jurisdiction in the country in issuing concealed weapons permits. The fact is, at least eighteen states are more liberal, and there is one state that does not restrict the concealed carry of weapons. However, given the tone of the report, I recognize that inadvertent inaccuracy is not dishonesty. Frankly, if public broadcasting had made this change in the manner in which it treats the issue years ago, if it had started reporting on us without the hostility and barely masked hatred, we might not be here today. There is, after all, nothing more fundamental to our common American culture than a belief in a second chance, a new beginning.
But I am afraid that is now past. Before the vicious attack by the NPR commentator, Bebe Moore Campbell, our members asked why this institution was hostile toward us. After that incident, they began asking whether there is room for such a thing in a constitutional republic. Information is power. Congress recognized this when it created a public institution, then attempted to insulated it from the influence of elected officials. But information is still power, and if that power, in a public institution, be placed beyond the control of the public, then this power can be wielded by those who are not accountable to the public from whom they derive that power. Power which can be abused will be abused. The abuse of this power, by an institution whose access to public funds makes it unaccountable in the marketplace, and whose insulation from elected officials makes it unaccountable in the voting booth, cannot be avoided.
A public institution which has no warrant in the Constitution, and which cannot be prevented from abusing public power, is an institution which ought not to exist. If ever there were a time for public broadcasting, it is past. On behalf of 3.5 million members of the National Rifle Association, their families and friends, I ask you to pull the plug.