Patrick Butler's Keynote Speech at APT Marketplace 2012
Remarks as prepared for delivery on Friday, November 9, 2012.
Thank you, Cynthia, and congratulations to you on another great Marketplace.
I come bearing glad tidings: We have had the closest thing we’ll ever have to a national referendum on public broadcasting, and we have won.
Governor Romney made us an issue in the Presidential campaign just concluded, pledging to eliminate our federal funding and require us to accept cornflake commercials on Sesame Street to finance our operations with entirely private resources.
This proposal, by definition, would have meant the end of public broadcasting in America -- all to reduce the federal budget by one hundredth of one percent.
President Obama, who has been a stalwart champion of public broadcasting throughout his presidency, rose magnificently to our defense time and again on the campaign trail, making clear it was more important to reform Wall Street than to defund Sesame Street.
Even more important, millions of our fellow Americans rose to our defense through social media, in an extraordinary, spontaneous outpouring of support that caught the attention of everyone in Washington.
Immediately after Governor Romney’s call for our defunding, the American people were registering their displeasure at a rate of 17,000 tweets per minute.
Over the next few days, more than 1.3 million tweets in our defense would follow, and there were millions more expressions of support on Facebook and other social media to follow.
Fifty thousand new recruits signed up at our 170 Million Americans grassroots advocacy site in a week, and we now have 500,000 volunteers ready to call their congressmen on Capitol Hill at a moment’s notice.
And that’s not all. A public opinion survey commissioned by the conservative Washington Times newspaper just after the first debate found that the American people support continued federal funding of public broadcasting by a margin of almost two-to-one.
This finding confirms what public opinion researchers have been telling us for years.
The American people place great value in public broadcasting.
We are among the most trusted institutions in American life – more than our courts of law.
And we are considered a better investment of federal funds than any other program, with the sole exception of national defense.
This support runs right across the political and ideological spectrum, including nearly half of all self-identified Tea Party activists.
170 Million Americans are regular viewers, listeners and learners of public media, and these are numbers big enough to get any politician’s attention.
And in the last month, they have.
We have done our best to make Governor Romney’s challenge a ‘teachable moment’ for our political leaders, and we have succeeded.
National Journal, the ‘bible’ of government and public policy in Washington called our ‘news-jacking’ of the Romney challenge one of the most effective pivots from defense to offense in this new era of social media.
So are our funding problems over?
No, they are not.
There are still far too many members of Congress who have ideological, philosophical or budgetary concerns about federal funding of public broadcasting. And our task in the months and years ahead is to educate them about our work and persuade them of our worth.
As a result of the elections of 2010 and 2012, nearly one third of the membership of Congress is new.
WE have a lot of ground to cover, and many people to convert, and only a small band of professional advocates at APTS to pursue this mission.
Luckily, we also have you – you and thousands of your colleagues at television stations and production houses across America, and millions of passionate donors, viewers and community partners who appreciate what you do and want very much to see your work continue.
Our challenge now is not to gear up for a single funding fight but to gird ourselves for a permanent campaign to demonstrate our value to the owners of public media in America: the American people themselves.
We need to show them – clearly, compellingly and constantly – what we’re doing in education, public safety, community engagement, promoting good citizenship, preserving the national memory and celebrating the American culture in all its extraordinary dimensions as no one else in the media world would ever think to do.
This is why what you do as programmers is so very important, why the programs offered here at American Public Television’s Fall Marketplace are so essential to our strategy of being America’s indispensable public service medium. A feast for the mind is set before you here: political biographies, historical events, cultural explorations, social issues and scientific inquiries.
This is not mere ‘content’ – and it is certainly not the same as “Ice Road Truckers”, “Cajun Pawn Stars”, and “The Adventures of Honey Boo Boo” that are the standard fare of what used to be educational cable networks.
This is the substance of civilization itself.
These are the stories that explain who we are, and why we’re here.
And if public television weren’t here, the Khardashians would have inherited the Earth a long time ago.
That’s the message we must constantly convey to the American people, and that’s a message that will resonate with conservatives, liberals and moderates alike in the halls of Congress.
Ken Burns and I had lunch not long ago with some very conservative members of Congress, and they were particularly struck by two things he said:
The first was that after PBS broadcast Ken’s film on the national parks – “America’s Best Idea” – attendance at those parks increased by ten million in the next year alone.
That’s impact, and a federal investment made it possible.
The second was Ken’s encounter almost 25 years ago with President Reagan – the God of these Latter-Day conservatives – when Ken was finishing his masterpiece, The Civil War.
Ken was telling the President about his series, and the President interrupted him with a comment and a question.
The comment was that when President Reagan was a little boy, growing up in Dixon, Illinois, the town would have a parade every Fourth of July at which veterans of the Civil War would march.
Reagan told Ken he had never felt so close to the history of his country than on those long-ago parade days – and he had worried for most of his life that America was losing its national memory.
“And here you are, preserving it,” said the aging President to the young filmmaker.
And then the question: How are you paying for your production?
To which Ken replied, “With a little seed money from the government, which generates larger contributions from private donors”.
Whereupon Reagan grabbed Ken by the shoulders and said, “That’s exactly the way public television ought to work in this country – the government provides the spark, and the private sector does the rest.”
Well, you can imagine the impact that story had on these conservative Congressmen who revere Ronald Reagan, and I am increasingly hopeful that encounters like this – coupled with the good work that you do – will win us new allies in Congress in the months and years ahead.
I said earlier this week that we in public television hope these elections of 2012 will mark a turning point for our industry and a restoration of the bipartisan support for our work that has been a hallmark of our experience since President Eisenhower first made a national commitment to “educational television” in the National Defense Education Act of 1958.
We’re hoping for a partnership that transcends partisanship and advances our country’s educational and other public service goals in effective, efficient and enduring ways.
And we’re hoping that everyone in America has a connection with public television as strong as Galicia Malone’s – a 21-year-old woman from Cook County, Illinois, who made her way to her polling place on Tuesday despite the fact that she was great with child, her water had broken, and her contractions were only five minutes apart.
“This is my first baby, a girl,” Ms. Malone said, “And I wanted to make a good impression. I want to have a story to tell her.
“I grew up on Sesame Street and PBS,” she said, “And Governor Romney wants to cut that.
“What will my daughter grow up on?”
This isn’t ‘content’ folks. This is power – the power to educate, to inspire, to change lives for the better.
That’s what we do in public television. That’s why Americans by the millions rose up in our defense on Election Day, one Galicia Malone at a time.
Time is the gift we’ve been given in this election of 2012.
Elections have consequences, and one unmistakable consequence of this election is a new lease on life for public broadcasting.
We became a presidential issue for the first time, and the candidate who supported us is returning to the White House for four more years.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman who proposed to eliminate our federal funding ran for the Senate in Montana- and lost.
Washington takes note of such things, and we now have an opportunity to reintroduce ourselves to the policy-making community on very positive terms.
With this very real, very public, very specific support, we will have the opportunity to explain our work more fully to all the powers that be in Washington and throughout America.
We will be able to build up our army of advocates into a powerful political force marshalled all across the ideological spectrum.
We will be able to concentrate more directly and comprehensively on making improvements in our system that will help us serve the American people even better.
And my fondest hope is that we will never be a political – much less a Presidential – issue again.
Last Tuesday was a very good day for public broadcasting, and there are more good days - - and much hard work - - ahead.
Please keep up your good work. Thank you for what you do every day in the service of our industry and our country.
And in the words of the old civil rights anthem, Let’s “Keep on a’walkin, keep on a’talkin, ain’t nothin’ gonna turn us around”.