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The Truth, Mainly - 01/30/1995

PBS, free market gospel don't mix

"Who's the big guy?" I ask my wife. She's watching TV. A big guy is singing.

"Hush," she says. "Pavarotti. You know. The tenor."

"Sounds like he's just off the boat," I say. "His English isn't so good, is it? If he can't sing better English than that, he ought to go back where he came from."

"He's not trying to sing English," she says. "He's singing Italian because it's an Italian opera."

Then it dawns on me. My wife is watching PBS. That's why O.J. isn't on.

"Why are you watching left-wing TV?" I say. "Why are you rotting your brain with pinko programming?"

"Have you been listening to Rush Limbaugh again?" she asks.

"It's right here in the Sunday paper," I say. "Cal Thomas says PBS 'promotes left-wing and one-sided views.' Says it's 'trashing traditional values and promoting the supposed joys of a Socialist society.' Whaddya say to that?"

"What in the world is left-wing about Pavarotti singing in Italian?" she says.

"Undermines our free-market system, that's all," I say. "Italians have socialized medicine, don't they?"

"Everybody in Europe has socialized medicine," she says. "They're civilized."

"Well, that's their problem," I say. "We shouldn't listen to their show tunes unless they admit we've got the best medical system in the world."

After Pavarotti finishes, it's Louis Rukeyser on "Wall Street Week."

"Another PBS left-wing program," my wife says. "Better not watch. It'll undermine your entrepreneurship."

"Look at him," I say. "See him arch his eyebrow when he mentions Wall Street? He's ridiculing capitalism. And those willing dupes at PBS let him do it."

Then it's the McLaughlin Group.

"McLaughlin's a really rabid pinko, isn't he?" she says. "Yet more promotion of the supposed joys of socialism. Shall I tie you to the mast and plug your ears?"

"Is that some new kinky perversion that PBS is pushing?" I ask. "I'm just glad the children aren't here. I just hope they're watching commercial TV so the grandbabies won't be corrupted."

Then it's Lawrence Welk.

"A little left-wing polka?" she says. "Insidious rascals, aren't they?"

After that, it's a Nova show on ants (thinly disguised advocacy of non-competitive, collectivist cultures), a P.G. Wodehouse Jeeves-and- Wooster story (subtly pimping for a classless society), a "Victory at Sea" re- run suggesting we were actually allies with the Russians in WWII, and a woman's basketball game played by females who should be home tending babies.

"Well," I say, "I guess you can see now what Cal Thomas means. Heh?"

"If you think that's left-wing programming," she says, "you're a troubled aging male."

"Oh yeah?" I say, my massive powers of cause-effect coming into play. "If it's not left-wing programming, why is Newt Gingrich trying to zero out its funding?"

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"Cognitive dissonance," she says. "He's trying to believe two contradictory ideas at the same time. It's dangerous and Newt knows it. Too much cognitive dissonance and your synapses sizzle, sparks shoot out your ears, and you blow a fuse. So he's got to get rid of PBS."

"Huh?" I say.

"Newt's a free market true believer," she says. "His gospel is that the invisible hand of unregulated competition always, without fail, produces the best possible product. But he watches free-market TV and sees crap."

"Crap's what the consumers want," I say, but it doesn't sound right when I say it.

"Not all consumers," she says. "Even Newt, despite his gospel, knows that McNeil/Lehrer is a better news show than Chung/Rather. Twice as long, three times as balanced, ten times as informative. And McNeil/Lehrer didn't trick Newt's mama into saying what Newt called Hillary. But McNeil/Lehrer isn't free-market TV and Chung/Rather is. So there it is. Cognitive dissonance. If Newt doesn't cut off PBS funding, he'll have to stop believing in his invisible-hand gospel —or he'll blow a fuse."

"But PBS wastes tax money," I say, shifting to more familiar ground .

"Costs $1.09 per person per year," she says.

"Well," I say, "$1.09 here and $1.09 there—it adds up."

"Less than half a percent of what you'd pay for free market cable," she says.

That's the argument that finally does me in.

"OK," I say. "I'll admit that PBS is the best TV if you'll admit that the invisible hand of the free market ne'er betrayed the heart that loved it."

"You still have trouble with the cognitive dissonance concept," she says, "don't you?"

Then my synapses sizzle, sparks shoot out my ears, and, just before I blow a fuse, I think about running for Congress.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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