Patrick Butler's Speech at APT Fall Marketplace 2016
Remarks as prepared for delivery on Friday, November 4, 2016.
Thank you, Cynthia. It’s a pleasure to be with you again for the APT Fall Marketplace, and I want to begin with a word of praise for my friends at American Public Television for the consistently high quality programming they provide to our public television system.
It’s very important, not only to the fortunes of our stations and the favor of our audience, but also to the reputation we enjoy among those who make very large public funding decisions on our behalf year after year.
So I’m grateful to Cynthia and her colleagues at APT for the fine work they do – and I’m grateful to all of you in the programming community for doing so much, so well, for the benefit of our viewers, our underwriters, our stations and our system.
I’ve been asked to speak today on the national elections to be held next Tuesday and their impact on public broadcasting.
The first fact to consider is that upwards of 40 million Americans will already have voted before the polls open on November 8.
Early voting has been in process in some States since the end of September, and a greater percentage of our electorate votes early with every succeeding election.
In the battleground State of Florida, four and a half million voters had already voted as of yesterday morning, and fully 60 percent of the electorate may vote before next Tuesday.
The numbers are similarly striking in many other States of our Union.
So the fluctuation in polls that we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks should be viewed in the context that not only are opinions pretty well fixed at this late stage in our election – but also that as much as 40 percent of the vote may have already been cast.
The cable news networks report breathlessly, every hour, on each candidate’s path to the magic 270 votes in the Electoral College that will determine who our next President will be.
But close as this election may be, at both the presidential and congressional levels, the electorate is not nearly as unstable as a minute-by-minute analysis might suggest.
This is actually unfortunate for our country, because at bottom we are today a deeply riven society – more partisan, more suspicious of our countrymen and their motives, less united in our aims for the country we love – and these political fissures are profoundly unhealthy for our body politic.
They lead not only to angry campaigns and bitter elections but also to the very gridlock in Washington that everyone claims to abhor.
Yet these divisions are remarkably stable and have been for many years.
In presidential elections since 1996, the average margin of victory in the popular vote has been 4.5 percent.
The average margin of victory in the Electoral College vote has been 107 votes.
The election of 2016 may well be decided by just such margins – notwithstanding the special characteristics of the two major-party candidates, the presence of two major independent candidates on virtually every State’s ballot, and the ferocity with which this year’s presidential campaign has been waged.
Similarly, it appears that control of the Senate and the House will be decided by narrow margins, as well.
And under these conditions, the prospect for continued political and policy gridlock in Washington in the next few years will remain undiminished, perhaps even exacerbated.
My own guess is that Secretary Clinton will be elected President; the Senate will have a very small Democratic majority; and the House of Representatives will remain under Republican control but with a majority reduced by 10 to 15 seats.
What would such results mean for public broadcasting?
Given her lifelong commitment to children and to the value of high-quality pre-school education as the foundation for a successful life -- and given that we in public television deeply share that commitment -- I believe a President Clinton would be a very good friend to public television.
When she was First Lady in the 1990s, and I was an executive with the Washington Post Company, Mrs. Clinton and I organized a White House Conference on Early Childhood Development to coincide with a special edition of Newsweek magazine on the same subject.
Mrs. Clinton knows this subject very well. As she herself has said, it is the animating issue of her entire public life – and we in public television could look forward to being productive partners with her in making high-quality pre-school education a welcome fact of life for every child in America.
A Democratic majority in the Senate, led by a new Majority Leader, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, is also likely to be sympathetic to our public service missions of education, public safety and civic leadership, as they have been in the past.
And we have every reason to believe that a continued Republican majority in the House of Representatives would support our work going forward as they have done, increasingly generously, over the past few years.
The really remarkable thing about the politics of public television, though it goes generally unremarked, is the growing support we have gained across the political spectrum since our funding crisis of 2011.
Many of you may remember that we briefly became a presidential campaign issue in 2012, when Governor Romney announced in one of the debates that he intended to cut off our funding if he were elected President.
Within minutes, a very large social media campaign began to demonstrate the American people’s broad and passionate support for public television, and political leaders in Washington took note.
We began to stress the public service missions of education, public safety and civic leadership that America’s public television stations pursue in common, in every American community, and the fact that it is these missions in which federal funds are invested – with very impressive returns.
That message, combined with the hard work that stations do every day to bring it to life, has won new friends and allies for public television, even among some of our strongest erstwhile critics.
Governor Mike Pence, now running for Vice President with Donald Trump, is a convincing case in point.
In 2005, while serving in the House of Representatives, then-Congressman Pence proposed to reallocate funds supporting public broadcasting to recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
That effort failed, but it was clear Congressman Pence was not a fan of what we do – until he actually began to understand what we do.
I had known Congressman Pence in my previous life with the Washington Post Company, and we had worked together on legislation to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, and when I joined public television I took it upon myself to convert Mike Pence from a critic to a champion of our work.
When I explained how our public funding actually worked, and how it was actually invested in the communities of Indiana and the rest of America, he began to see the issue in an entirely new light.
And after he was elected Governor of Indiana in 2012, he put funding for public television in his own State budget – for the first time in eight years.
For this dramatic Damascus Road conversion, we gave Governor Pence our Champion of Public Broadcasting award in 2014.
In his acceptance remarks he said he could not hope to find a more cost-effective or higher-quality solution to early childhood education than what we in public television provide to America’s children every day.
He’s also become a fan of our work in public safety, commending our work to the Department of Homeland Security and encouraging a partnership between America’s public television stations and the nation’s public safety community to provide life-saving information to our fellow citizens throughout America.
So if my prediction is wrong and there is a Trump Administration rather than a Clinton Administration, I believe we will have a strong champion in the White House in any event – and that is exactly the way public television ought to operate in this country.
Republican majorities in the Senate and the House last year agreed with the proposal of a Democratic President to provide $445 million in federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, $25.7 million for our pre-school Ready To Learn program, and $40 million for the next-generation interconnection system for public television.
We are hoping for similar success in this year’s appropriations process, and we will know a great deal more about that when Congress returns to Washington for its post-election lame-duck session later this month.
State governments are also increasing their support for public television on a bipartisan basis. For the first time since the Great Recession, State funding for public broadcasting this year surpassed $200 million.
Among the 35 States providing funding for public broadcasting, 15 increased their funding this year, 11 provided level funding, and nine reduced funding (though only five States reduced funding by more than 3 percent).
Sixteen States with both Republican Governors and Republican legislatures provided level or increased funding.
And Pennsylvania reinstituted State funding for public broadcasting after a ten-year hiatus.
Our ambition, of course, is to have every political leader, in every party, in every State, at every level of government supporting the work of public television – and we’ve come a long way in that direction in the past six years.
Years ago there was a commercial featuring the jingle, “I love baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.”
I want to add public television to that list of universally appealing American icons.
We’re far enough along that path that I don’t fear the outcome of next week’s elections, whatever it is.
But it’s very important that we continue the work we’re doing, that you continue selecting and producing great programming that educates, informs and inspires your audience, that APT continues to be a source of immense creativity and service to this system, and that all of us think of ourselves as public servants first.
As this campaign season comes to its merciful conclusion, I’d like to pay special tribute to you, as public television’s programmers and producers, for the extraordinary work you have done in fortifying our third pillar of public service: civic leadership.
You and your stations have hosted more candidate debates, at more levels of office, than anyone else in the 2016 election cycle, and you have demonstrated that you are trusted by candidates at every point on the ideological spectrum to present the issues fairly, comprehensively and with a civil tongue.
With your public affairs programming that is a highlight of your schedule every week, in every year, you prove constantly that we in public television treat our viewers as citizens rather than consumers – a crucial distinction between us and our commercial brethren.
The documentaries that you produce on local history, local culture and local issues bind your communities together in ways increasingly rare in our age of consolidating media, and those ties that bind are more important than ever in these times of political bitterness and social alienation.
I cannot tell you how proud I am of this work, how helpful it is to our cause, how essential it is to the health of our body politic.
The election is almost over, but your good work must never end.
I am honored to celebrate it with you today, and I am confident that the best is yet to come.