The last thing the GOP really wants is for NPR to get off the government dole. That's the reason there will certainly be a compromise in this budget battle in the end. In the existing environment it's easy to see there will be a cut in funding for NPR and it will cost the Democrats something to keep some lower funding for NPR in place. In fact, it is essential for GOP strategy that NPR is still being funded by the government--even though with less money. The GOP message sent to NPR with a funding cut is, emulate FOX and broadcast from our point of view.
And it will work. It already has worked. NPR has been moving to the right for years now. Each Congressional fight has made the network more and more afraid of an independent point of view. Shows like Market Place espouse a religious view of markets as only prospering when they are "free" of government intervention. References to comments from rightwing think tanks are regularly represented in news stories without being identified as having an agenda. NPR doesn't have anything like a countervailing view. There is no daily, hour long, prime-time-commute show like Market Place that reveals the benefits of government actions or how the GOP intentionally cripples government agencies in order to make government look inefficient. Nowhere on NPR are there shows touting the benefits of union actions in Wisconsin--though there must be lots of places where "balance" is used to show that NPR just can't guess who is right in those actions.
This fight about NPR is one more effort to shove them to the right, again. The correct Democratic response is to let the GOP win this round, let NPR funding fall out of the Federal budget. It will undoubtedly mean pain for the network, but those clouds could have very silvery linings. Just as in Wisconsin, if the GOP plan becomes too visible, the public will react. NPR will have a fund-raising message of a kind that it hasn't ever had, "We're hated by the GOP, do you want to help fund a progressive voice?" And, more importantly, it will suddenly be free to become what it already claims to be, an independent voice.
Should there not be government funds for NPR, it would face a strategy dilemma: should they pander to the right in hopes that the GOP will give them back their funding or should they use their new found freedom from government largess to begin to be truly independent? Unfortunately, the tendency of recent years to drift more and more to the right could win out in the strategy fight. However, moving more and more to the right will cost them much of their existing audience while at the same time having to make a huge gamble they can attract the Limbaugh listeners from the right. On the other hand, should they choose to becoming the strong independent voice they say they'd like to be, it could quickly bring a tsunami of support from progressives. When NPR is faced with these choices, building on their existing message of independence could well win out.
If that happened, NPR would inevitably begin to facedown FOX. The very last thing the GOP wants is a new Edward R. Murrow to attack today's McCarthyism. An organizing progressive voice could give a megaphone to progressive ideas that would begin to frame the national policy debates in much more realistic terms. So, maybe the Democrats shouldn't spend any political capital defending NPR. In fact, if a couple of Democrats supported completely defunding NPR, it could force some in the GOP to rethink this particular budget cut that they really don't want to make. Maybe to win the Democrats back to defend NPR, the GOPers would even have to offer to increase NPR's government funds.
The people in Wisconsin have demonstrated for any Congressional Democrat willing to see it, this fight can be won. However, winning begins with Democrats in Congress understanding the GOP's real objective is to deny progressives a meaningful voice in our national media. Knowing what they want and having the guts to expose it is the key to actually winning this national debate.