Patrick Butler's Speech at APTS Capitol Hill Day 2011
So here I was, minding my own business, living in comfortable semi-retirement after a decade in government service and two decades at the Washington Post Company, when Rod Bates called and said: “Have I got a job for you?”
I have been in this job for exactly three months now, but somehow it seems much longer.
No sooner did I get here than powerful people in Congress started trying to defund public broadcasting, or place damaging restrictions on how those funds may be used, or cut our budget to the bone, or make it a federal crime to listen to NPR.
Well, not the last part, but you get the idea.
We are here today and tomorrow to say “no” to all of that.
We are here, representing the 170 million Americans who regularly rely on public broadcasting, to say “we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore.”
We are here to say that the vast majority of the American people -- 70 percent of us – favor continued federal funding for public broadcasting, and in a government by the consent of the governed, that ought to count for something.
We are here to say that millions of Americans across the ideological and political spectrum trust our reporting of news and public affairs more than any other media organization in the country.
If there’s a bias, it’s a bias in favor of civil discourse, comprehensive journalism, a diversity of voices and viewpoints, and the balance and objectivity required of us by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.
We are here to say that we serve everybody in America – rich and poor, urban and rural, black and white and every other color -- for free, with information, education, culture, exploration, history, science, the best of America, and the richest portrayal of American life to be found anywhere in the media universe.
We are Ken Burns and Cokie Roberts, American Experience and American Masters, Great Performances and Austin City Limits, the PBS NewsHour and Prairie Home Companion, Masterpiece and Morning Edition, Diane Rehm and All Things Considered, NOVA and Science Friday, Car Talk and A Capitol Fourth, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and SuperWhy!, Antiques Road Show and This American Life.
And that’s just for starters. We are the student’s window to the world in Maryland and the job training experts in Las Vegas. We are the C-SPAN of Nebraska, the counselor to seniors in Minnesota, the Celebration of Teaching and Learning in New York, the Virtual Learning Center in Hampton Roads, the authority on traumatic brain injury in Washington.
We are the go-to people for GED in Kentucky and 40 other States, the environmental champions of the Bay Area in California, the long-delayed welcome home committee for Vietnam veterans in Wisconsin.
We’re the broadcasters against drunk driving in North Dakota, the transportation experts of Montana, the farmer’s best friend in Iowa, the teacher’s best friend in Massachusetts, the emergency alert system in Wisconsin, the information lifeline for rural Oregon, and I could go on all day, and I’d love to.
We win more Emmys and Peabodys and Murrows than anybody. We have more international news bureaus than anybody. We teach more Hispanic children than anybody. We honor the Native American and his culture. We have helped two generations of African American and inner-city children get ready to learn and to succeed in school.
We are America’s largest classroom and its greatest stage. We talk about religion and rural life, cooking and quantitative easing, policy and public affairs, gardening and global warming, Libya and Lubbock and everything else under the sun with more depth, more intelligence, more sophistication, more civility, more diversity, more objectivity and a whole lot more air time than anybody else even dreams of.
We are in the business of creating a well-educated, well-informed, cultured and civil society fully capable of meeting its responsibilities as the oldest and greatest democracy on earth.
This is not a luxury America can’t afford. This is the most important, most essential thing there is in a country founded on the proposition of self-government.
We are stewards of American civilization, keepers of the national memory, teachers of young and old alike, watchmen in the night, public servants in the finest tradition of the term.
We’re proud of what we do. Our fellow Americans appreciate what we do. And 170 million Americans can’t be wrong.
CNN just released a poll over the weekend which found that our fellow Americans believe public broadcasting claims 5 percent of the federal budget – which works out to about $185 billion a year – and 14 percent, God bless them, thought that wasn’t enough.
Now, despite all this, the House of Representatives a few weeks ago voted to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in its original version of the Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded on a temporary basis.
There wasn’t an up-or-down vote on public broadcasting specifically, as Congressman Blumenauer’s amendment to that effect was ruled out of order.
But in a virtually straight party-line vote, the House voted for a bill that would cut $60 billion in discretionary domestic spending in fiscal 2011, and CPB was one of the casualties.
Then two weeks ago, the House passed “emergency legislation” for good measure to prohibit any federal funds from going to NPR, including funds used by local stations to purchase national programming.
But in the meantime, the Continuing Resolution that actually passed the House and Senate, and was signed into law by the President, provided $445 million in federal funding for public broadcasting, with no policy restrictions whatsoever.
That CR is only effective through this Friday, and we’ve all been a little busy trying to make sure that the next CR – which is supposed to keep the government running through September – will also keep public broadcasting in business.
This situation is fluid, to say the least, and you could not have come to Washington at a more opportune time to make the case for public broadcasting.
But there are some encouraging signs of progress, and the most important of those signs is a statement over the weekend from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the House’s policy rider punishing NPR and other producers of national radio programming was one of the “places we’re not going to go.”
We are hearing intriguing rumors about the funding level for public broadcasting in this final CR for fiscal 2011, and I may have more to report on this tomorrow.
But what you should know today is this:
A very senior Republican in the House of Representatives has told me in recent weeks that the Blumenauer amendment to continue funding public broadcasting would have passed the House – with significant Republican support – if it had been properly offered under the rules of debate on HR 1.
I count at least 10 Republicans in the United States Senate who will stand with us for continued funding of public broadcasting, and depending on the final package of budget proposals having nothing to do with us, there may be more.
And the President of the United States, in the midst of all this talk about cutting and defunding, proposed on Valentine’s Day to increase our funding in his budget submission for fiscal 2012. Thank you, Mr. President.
The chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, will reveal his own federal budget plan for fiscal year 2012 tomorrow that will take aim at trillions of federal dollars through a bold program of entitlement reform. The mere billions under debate in recent weeks will pale by comparison, as will the one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget committed to public broadcasting.
The Senate Democrats and the White House are eager for this larger debate, as well, and you will begin to see it unfold while you are here today and tomorrow.
Public broadcasting may well see its budget cut in the final version of this year’s CR, and we have said from the beginning that we are prepared to do our part in dealing with the federal deficit.
But as our legislative team will describe for you later today, public broadcasting has already sacrificed quite a lot in recent years, considering all the federal accounts from which we draw resources, and the case we should be making this week is “enough is enough.”
We are making the case for public broadcasting with unprecedented coordination at the national and local levels.
The heads of the national organizations have never worked more closely than now, and while CPB cannot lobby, Pat Harrison has been a resourceful partner with Paula Kerger, Joyce Slocum and me to ensure that the remarkable story of public broadcasting is told remarkably well in these days of challenge.
The staff of this Association has been working as hard as I have seen 14 people work in my life to defend public broadcasting in this perilous hour, and I’d like every one of them to stand up and let us thank them.
These good people have welcomed me to their ranks with a warmth and generosity that makes me wonder if I’m still in Washington.
And I want to thank especially the wonderful Joyce Burgess Horton, who arranged and re-arranged this gathering under extremely trying conditions, and who this year celebrates her 35thanniversary in public broadcasting. Thank you, Joyce.
We have a new Public Media Association, under which public television and public radio have joined forces to speak with a single, powerful voice in this funding crisis. The man who made that happen is NPR’s board chairman, Dave Edwards. Dave, would you take a well-deserved bow?
Through the good offices of the legendary Bill Kling of American Public Media, we have launched the most successful grassroots campaign in the history of public broadcasting: 170MillionAmericans.org.
Nobody ever deserved the David J. Brugger Award for grassroots advocacy more than Bill Kling, Jeff Nelson and 170 Million Americans.
But the most important weapon we’ve had in this fight of our lives has been all of you: the station community, general managers, board members, the Leadership Council, government relations officers, and others who have done everything we could have asked, and more, to save public broadcasting in 2011.
You’ve gone on the airwaves with powerful appeals. You’ve recruited your viewers and listeners to join 170Million. You’ve called and visited your Senators and Representatives time and time again as this never-ending drama plays out.
And you’ve all had a tremendous impact. Members of Congress have been calling me to say, “We got the message. Would you please back off?”
And I have replied, “No, I don’t think we will.”
We will fight this good fight until it is won. We will fight until our funding is secure, until our freedom of expression is secure, until the overwhelming support of the American people for what we do is recognized and ratified in the Congress of the United States.
I think that day is coming soon, if we will only keep on keeping on as we’ve done these last few months.
But I don’t want to have to do this every year, and you don’t either.
I don’t want to make the case for public broadcasting a partisan cause.
I don’t want us to be gasping for air or grasping for support year after year from people who don’t understand us nearly well enough.
And I don’t want to have to defend public broadcasting against people in our own ranks who betray our values and put us all in peril.
We have our own challenges to meet, and it will be the business of the Association of Public Television Stations to help you meet them.
This means more than lobbying on your behalf.
It means helping you make the most of the technological opportunities which this new century affords us.
It means helping you develop new fundraising techniques and new streams of revenue, and I am proud to announce today that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will provide a generous new grant to APTS to expand the APTS Grant Center and make it possible for us to help you not only identify but secure new funding from both public and private sources.
It means helping you keep your commitments to your communities, in education, job training, public safety, news and public affairs, health care and every other kind of public service we can offer.
It means serving as a clearinghouse for the best practices in our industry in all of these endeavors.
It means promoting what we do, at both the local and national levels, more effectively than ever, so that our friends in Washington, in the State capitols, in the media and in the donor community can better understand the work we do and the worth of it.
And it means working closely with you to ensure that the future of broadcast spectrum unfolds to your advantage.
In this spectrum work, as in all the work of this Association, I am proud to have a perfect partner in APTS’s long-time general counsel and new Chief Operating Officer, Lonna Thompson.
These will be the essential services to which APTS dedicates itself in the years to come.
We are deeply grateful for your support, and we ask you to encourage other stations to join our membership ranks, because we never needed each other more than now.
These are tough times, but we are tough people. As my hero Ruby Calvert of Wyoming might say, “This ain’t our first rodeo.”
We are in this together. We will win this together. And public broadcasters will be symbols and servants of America at its best in the 21stcentury and beyond.
Thank you for coming, and as Teddy Roosevelt said to his Rough Riders, “Let’s go take that Hill!”