PBS could learn from Crazy Horse

PBS could learn from Crazy Horse by the Plain Talk Members of the South Dakota Newspaper Association recently met at the beautiful Crazy Horse facilities, nestled alongside the giant mountain carving begun decades ago by Korczak Ziolkowski, in the Black Hills.

Participants were even treated to a ride up the mountain, so that they could stand literally a few feet from the rock-carving of the face of the famed Native American leader.

Reporters, editors and publishers, being a curious lot, pelted the cordial Crazy Horse staff who drove them in vehicles up the mountain with lots of questions, such as:

? When will the carving be finished? Answer: Nobody really knows. It depends a lot on cash flow, generated mainly by tourists who visit the monument.

? How much rock has been blown off the mountain? This question was directed to a driver who works at drilling and preparing charges for blasting the stone. Convention-goers were able to witness what was described as a �small� explosion to remove rock from the mountain top. Twenty-five tons were removed by that �tiny� blast.

? Can you sell all of that rock? No. Much of it is ground and used to build and re-build the roads used by heavy equipment to get to the top of the mountain. Sure, the people involved in trying to complete the monument could probably raise some substantial revenue by getting into the �business� of selling the rock that rains down from the mountain each day. However, that would expose the entire enterprise to a tangle of red tape that likely would be counterproductive.

One can only imagine: if the rock was sold, Crazy Horse would probably be subject to the same government regulations as quarries and mines. And OSHA would be constantly sniffing around.

That�s probably why the planners and carvers of the monument have consistently turned away offers of government funding. They prefer to keep this a private enterprise.

One can�t help but wonder if the Corporation for Public Broadcasting couldn�t learn a lesson or two from the people carving Crazy Horse.

Public television recently has been embroiled in political controversy.

The latest flap erupted when the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting hired consultants to parse PBS shows, including Now with Bill Moyers, for political bias. According to national news reports, CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson insisted he just wants programming on the Public Broadcasting System�s 350 or so member stations that �satisfies a broad constituency.� He insisted that his scrutiny of the Moyers show and others � and his finding money to fund a program featuring the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board � were merely means toward that end.

It�s also been reported that liberals are starting to see a pattern they don�t like at all � the beginnings of a conservative coup that seeks to impose a right-wing agenda on public television. This after years in which conservatives fumed about what they perceived as a distinct liberal tilt to some PBS programming.

Back in the 1960s when public television was born and first started getting federal dollars, the arrangement made sense. Viewers were stuck with three TV networks and maybe one or two independent TV stations in each market.

Today, a majority of Americans get their TV via cable or satellite subscription. Public TV must compete for viewers with cable channels including such quality offerings as A&E, Discovery and The History Channel. Money pressures have brought ubiquitous commercial underwriting messages to PBS.

Public TV is no longer unique. But as the Chicago Tribune recently reported, it still gets 15 to 20 percent of its budget � $350 million to $400 million a year � from the federal government. (The rest comes from individuals, corporations, states, colleges and foundations.)

That means it must put up with government meddling and comply with the mandate to air shows that are fair, balanced � and offend no one. Ask most people to describe public TV today and they won�t complain about bias so much as about how boring and unimaginative it often is.

There�s a way to stop dead the accusations of political meddling. Get the federal government out of the business of funding public television. As long as government money flows into PBS coffers, tensions will continue about what gets televised � and what doesn�t � on those public airwaves.

We recognize this likely won�t be an easy feat, especially since PBS is used to receiving hundreds of millions of federal dollars every year.

We suggest the network�s executives start by visiting Crazy Horse. Ruth Ziolkowski, Korczak�s widow who today serves as the grand matriarch of this phenomenal project, could teach them a thing or two.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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