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PBS Should Spend Money on Privatization, Says Gingrich

By Melissa Healy
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Public television stations seeking to win protection from GOP budget cutters on Tuesday released a poll showing an overwhelming majority of Americans support continued or increased federal funding for their operations, prompting new ire from the Republicans' chief budget-cutter, House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Responding to the poll, Gingrich, R-Ga., said he is "offended" by the Public Broadcasting System's use of funds, part of them federal, "to lobby to keep getting tax money." He added that public television should use its money to privatize itself, adding "they would find there's a good market" for such stations.

Repeating an earlier criticism, Gingrich called public television officials "a small group of elitists who want to tax all the American people so they get to spend the money." And he suggested that Americans surveyed might have responded differently if they had been asked whether some $200 million in federal money that now goes to public broadcasting should go to Head Start, an early-learning program for poor children, instead.

"In a liberal world, where all money is free because it comes from taxpayers, therefore let's have everything, that poll may make sense," Gingrich told reporters. "But I'm frankly offended at the idea that PBS is using tax money to run around the country to make publicity and to lobby to keep itself getting tax money. I think that's an example of what's wrong with the current PBS system."

Gingrich said he supports public broadcasting as a private citizen, and has offered to contribute $2,000 per year for the next five years. But he has been the principal voice in a GOP movement to slash all funds for public broadcasting. The organization, he said should be prepared "to join the other 70 cable channels in earning their own money."

But Ervin Duggan, chief executive officer for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, turned Gingrich's words on the house speaker, charging that it would be elitist to make public television programming available only to those who can pay for it.

"Marie Antoinette said, Let them eat cake.' A modern-day Marie Antoinette could say, Let them eat cable,"' Duggan said. "There are 32 million homes that don't have cable, that are economically or geographically beyond the reach of cable. What about them? "