PBS hucksters Biff and Muffy bleated “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” from my TV and radio a couple of weeks back. They’re volunteers who run infomercial plead-athons on WTAX (KTAX west of the Mississippi). Looking weary after a dreadful day in the operating room or maybe on the trading floor— and even though their Pierre Gardins were rumpled and Paco Rabanne was fading—Muffy and Biff still found selfless time to honk the usual high-minded bluster about quality, variety, diversity, excellence, and community service, not to mention motherhood, hot dogs, and the crumminess of commercial broadcasting.

Great stuff, huh? Quick, name one regular show that’s produced by PBS in your town. Now ask your friends if they can. No, not Sesame Street, not Nova, something locally produced for all of those bucks. What is this tony team praising? Fact—PBS is where thousands of people get paid to entertain hundreds of viewers with a grant from our children—make-work for Ivy League semiotics majors. In fact, Nielsen’s data show that the 196 licensed PBS stations are primarily sitters for preschoolers and the aged.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “BBS’s numbers are dwarfed by its commercial network competitors. Its top-rated show [last] fall was the farewell movie of I’ll Fly Away, which didn’t attract enough viewers to survive on NBC. The 5.2 rating, cause for celebration at PBS, would have ranked the movie near the bottom of prime-time commercial shows. On a typical night in prime time, PBS reaches 2.4 percent of American homes.” Need a safe-house for America’s Most Wanted? Star them on a PBS show.

Suppose your cable company carried another distant PBS station and your local outfit went dark tonight . . . who would notice? Why are there local installations at all, when we could beam PBS from a cable-linked satellite like CNN, A&E, C-SPAN, or Nickelodeon? And why do Biff and Muffy keep telling us how much they pay for all that marginal programming? With rarely more than a three-share, why did the feds give a quarter of a billion tax dollars last year to PBS to make that stuff? And since they’ve already grabbed so much of our money, why not just tell them, “Hey Biff and Muffy, we already gave at the office!”

Shallow, small-minded thinking? Take a trip to your PBS affiliate. Marvel at their equipment. And then ask where their capital, not their operating, their capital budget comes from. Imagine if your boss didn’t have to pay a bank note for land, equipment, computers, or even the purchase of the business. Imagine how much more would be left to pay you. On top of that, imagine getting listeners to mail some of their tax dollars to you instead of Washington! Wow, free equipment, then tax-subsidized bonuses (money for nothing and Muffy for free)! Well, what do you think tax-deductible contributions are?

Every buck oozing into a neighborhood PBS money-pit feeds the deficit that your kids will have to pay. Toxic tax spill. Even though Biff and Muffy could never utter it, each of those PBS shows is brought to you, literally, by a grant from your kids. And the fact that they spend about a quarter of all dollars raised to solicit even more pledges confirms that PBS T-shirt, “It is morally wrong to let suckers keep their money.”

And what whimsical programming they’ve got. Take the MacNeil/Lehrer illusion of balance: pit Democratic leftwing columnist Mark Shields against Clinton advisor David Gergen on a weekly political debate during the presidential election. That’s like booking Anita Hill and Lorena Bobbitt to probe the joy of the American housewife. And biased? How can it be when the third-largest source of most operating (and virtually all capital) dollars (after pledges and business gifts) is the federal government, in the form of grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Remember CPB? That’s the independent organization Congress created in 1967 to keep politics out of funding. Listen to Muffy and Biff smugly reveal, “This programming’s not for everybody.” They got that right. Judging by the numbers, you’re less likely to find a true conservative on PBS than in Berkeley’s sociology department.

PBS has a new and potent president, Ervin Duggan, a 54-year-old ex-member of the Federal Communications Commission and its most outspoken critic of TV violence and strongest advocate of federal decency standards. Appointed to the FCC by President George Bush in 1990, Duggan is a Democrat who was a White House aide to Lyndon B. Johnson and who actively worked on creating PBS. He is considered fair-minded. Duggan says he wants to settle the long-standing controversy over the network’s alleged liberal bias, insisting that liberals and conservatives both want the same thing—diversity of opinion and inclusion. However, most people inside PBS consider him a friend with a deep commitment to the institution and some powerful buddies in both Congress and the FCC who could be rough on critics of public broadcasting, especially if they do talk-shows on commercial radio.

Meantime, Public Radio stations are sniffing at talk-show programming. Your tax dollars at work. Most of these stations carry a commercial-free, financial advisor. . . . Bye bye to ABC’s Bob Brinker. And there are the two cool mechanic guys. . . . Adios to American Radio’s Dr. Dre Bumgartner. This is alternative programming because it uses commercial broadcaster taxes to drive commercial broadcasters out of business as an alternative—to them. These guys do not forget to pillage before they burn.

Given the realities of competition, the PBS mission is dead, lying on the carpet, twitching. And when they pull the sheet up over its vacant eyes, Disney will buy Big Bird, Fred Rogers, and Barney in a New York minute. One of the Mr. Turners will snap up MacNeil and Lehrer, while A&E and Discovery are already rerunning old PBS stuff to large audiences. Big steaming slabs of raw meat will be hacked away by networks who service taxpaying audiences between the ages of three and sixty.

How to stop that? Well, who needs mission if you’ve got money? Last year, a group of business leaders convened by the nonpartisan Twentieth Century Fund all agreed that PBS needs financial support. So, why not, they asked, have commercial broadcasters and cellular phone companies pay fees for their use of the public airwaves—you know, the way ranchers pay to graze cattle or sheep on public property? Can you imagine business leaders suggesting that they be charged to finance their weakest competitors? These guys at PBS don’t want

an equal contest . . . they don’t want a contest. And, by the way, what court ever said that the airwaves are public property? Imagine if government claimed ownership of everything it regulated? Under those assumptions, who owns your car or your home—or, for that matter, you?

Calculated on a dollars-per-bleat basis, it is no surprise that PBS stations surround Biff-and-Muffy begathons with Yawny in Concert and whales. If Muffy and Biff are right, and if your neighborhood station is not just draining art dollars away from local musicians, theater, museums, and poets, then ask why Muffy and Biff don’t whine only on locally produced PBS shows. Because these people are the Jack Kevorkians of regional arts, sniffing out politically weaker cultural institutions. While you and your children pay for PBS installations and staffs, even Muffy and Biff don’t watch the few programs PBS affiliates might genuinely make. This proves once again that taxes aren’t raised for the benefit of the taxed.