Alan Chartock | I, Publius: Team Trump's anti-intellectual bent saps arts, education

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GREAT BARRINGTON — As you probably know, I run WAMC, a network of public radio stations that serve much of eastern New York and western New England.

When the right wing Breitbart organization decided to publish a piece calling for the defunding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) I thought, "Well, that's that."

We know that Breitbart's Steve Bannon is now sitting at the president's right hand as a senior adviser. I said the die was cast and knew that in order to stay alive, WAMC had to get out and fight. I called it for what I think it is — a potential death knell for public broadcasting.

I certainly wasn't shy about it. I knew that the Republicans in the House of Representatives had tried to defund public broadcasting in the past. So I warned our staff and our listeners what was coming. Apparently, a lot of our people heard me because in the annals of the station's history there may never be another fund drive like the most recent, incredible million dollar fund drive. None of us will ever forget it.

We at WAMC are fortunate. We have the support of thousands of people who "get" how important public broadcasting and the arts are for our quality of life and contribute accordingly. But many smaller, rural stations are not so fortunate. They rely on the CPB funding as their lifeblood and without it, many of them will cease to exist.

After the drive we heard from some of the biggest stations in the country, wanting to know how we did it. My answer was that it was all Trump and that all we had to do was to tell the truth — that public broadcasting was in real danger.

I'll be honest with you; there have been hints from others in the system that we should not be talking about the efforts to close down the CPB and the attack on public broadcasting. Apparently there are those who believe that if you don't call it like it is — a war on the arts, the humanities and public broadcasting — the attempts to shut it down will go away.

So where will all of this go? There is always the possibility that the public broadcasting, arts and humanities people will call their representatives in the Congress and the Senate and the Republicans in the House and the Senate will back off. But since these same people have passed such defunding bills in the past, it is unlikely that we can expect them to switch horses now.

From where I sit, I think we have to continue to have the courage to tell the truth. If it means that we have to ask our listeners to support what they love, I am sure that they will. And if it means you raising your voices in favor of the arts humanities by calling your elected representatives to account, so be it.

Putting our heads in the sand is a bad idea. If you read your history you will see that in ages of anti-intellectual despotism, those people who had the courage to fight the fight are the ones who history shines upon.

Ever since Donald Trump said in his campaign that he loved "the poorly educated," it was clear to me that the last thing he would support were those entities that catered to the mind. The war is on against radio and television stations that encourage thinking.

The colleges and universities that own public radio and TV stations will be under attack for the same reasons. They will be loath to give up their public broadcasting franchises but some may have to.

Hundreds of public stations survive thanks to the limited money they receive from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and they will be the most at risk.

What a shame. If we lose these entities, this country will be a lot poorer.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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