Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Antonin Scalia and Public Radio

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Antonin Scalia 2

It’s worth noting that back in the early 70s, when President Nixon was looking for ways to curtail federal funds to public broadcasting, he received advice from his then council for public broadcasting, future Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  According to Andrew Giarolo, a doctoral candidate at Seton Hall in 2013 and author of, “Resolving the Debate on Public Funding for National Public Radio”, Mr. Scalia “crafted a policy by which local stations would drive programming choices.”

This was important at the time because there was a division within Congress between those who thought NPR should be a national network vs. those who thought federal funding should focus on stations developing a local-only programming policy.  Both camps knew that the size of the voice affected the spread of the message.  And since public radio had by then gained the reputation of being an “Eastern liberal institution”, conservatives in the White House, Congress and the courts wanted to make sure federal money wasn’t supporting it too strongly.

Programming is key because programming is expensive and needs to be paid for.  Local stations didn’t have the budgets to create the kind of investigative reports that infuriated the Nixon adminstration, but networks and dedicated production facilities did.  So attacking CPB funds was a key strategy by the right.

Although Scalia helped prepare legislation for submission to Congress that contained ideas for local stations to drive programming rather than NPR, it went nowhere.  But, years later, NPR would itself create a system of diversified funding sources that included local stations, that would protect funding for programming and save it from budget attacks in the future.

 

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Written by Interviewer

February 17, 2016 at 01:16

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