Walsh’s Wonderings — The case for funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Many of us are suffering from election fatigue this week, so let’s celebrate an important milestone instead. On this day, Nov. 7, Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act in 1967, establishing the nonprofit Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). That week also saw Lulu’s “To Sir with Love” top the music charts, but we’ll get to that later.
According to its website, “CPB’s mission is to ensure universal access to non-commercial, high-quality content and telecommunications services.” It distributes more than 70% of its funding to over 1,500 locally owned public radio and television stations, spending less than 5% of its budget on operating costs. It ensures that 99% of Americans have access to public media at an annual cost of only $1.35 per citizen. It’s a platform that gave rise to offerings as diverse as Sesame Street, Morning Edition, Downton Abbey, Tiny Desk concerts, Ira Glass, Wayne Dyer and and Ken Burns. Still, people love to take shots at anything getting government money.
For a kindly talking canary, Big Bird sure has a lot of enemies.
One doesn’t have to be Count von Count to see how gleefully some people target funding for public broadcasting. Acting White House Chief of Staff (and Office of Management and Budget director) Mick Mulvaney proclaimed in 2017, “We can't ask a coal miner to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” Just before the 2012 presidential election, the editors at the National Review characterized Barack Obama’s attempts to continue to fund PBS and NPR as “clinging to his toys like a frightened child.”
Oh, the irony. It’s our children (and those who think like them) who most need public broadcasting.
Look, I teach your kids, and they need what public broadcasting is offering. They need reinforcement in manners, practice with numbers, modeling in conflict resolution; they need unbiased information from a wide variety of sources on an even wider variety of topics. When I grew up, PBS was the only thing on television specifically designed for kids. My mom could plop me down unattended in front of the TV and know that the worst I’d see might be the cartoonish scuffles of Spiderman on The Electric Company or the poor fashion choices on Zoom.
Today, that younger audience has been fractured by video games and cartoon channels that don’t accomplish the same goals. One need only watch the Cartoon Network programming morph over the course of a day from Powerpuff Girls to Family Guy and “Adult Swim” to realize there are few safe havens on television nowadays. Luckily, a Nielsen NPOWER analysis from last year showed that 72 percent of all kids age 2-8 (20 million children) watched PBS over the course of the year, more than any other children’s TV network.
Oh, and adults desperately need public broadcasting as well, especially the award-winning news gathering of Morning Edition, Frontline, Nova, and American Experience. In a sea of biases, public broadcasting is often an ice floe of less-filtered information (at least, it’s as unbiased as can be hoped for in this era of hyper-partisanship).
According to a survey conducted in January by Marketing & Research Resources, Inc., Americans ranked PBS “the most-trusted institution among a consideration set that includes courts of law, commercial cable and broadcast television, and newspapers.” It was also the news and public affairs network trusted most, ahead of the major broadcast and cable news networks.
All this brings me back to that November 1967 hit “To Sir with Love” as Lulu sang, “How do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume?” It isn't easy, but I'll try: Don’t be a Grouch! The next time someone suggests cutting the funding for CPB, inform them the CPB budget is less than one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. We don’t need Sherlock to tell us there’s a lot more wasteful spending going on at This Old (White) House.