Patrick Butler's Presidential Address at the 2018 Public Media Summit

Remarks as prepared for delivery on Monday, February 26, 2018.

Please take a moment to watch the video of Patrick Butler's speech.

Lonna Thompson, the beloved chief operating officer of America’s Public Television Stations, isn’t here today. 

She had back surgery on Friday and will need about a month to recuperate.

All of us at APTS Global Headquarters, together with all of you, wish Lonna a speedy and complete recovery.

When we gathered at this Summit a year ago, some of you may well have wondered whether any of us would be here today.

A new President of the United States had already declared his intention to eliminate federal funding for public broadcasting.

The President’s party had maintained control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

And no one knew how faithfully they would follow their President’s lead, in matters large and small.

It was the most serious threat to our funding in a decade.

And your anxiety was justified.

We were about to find out:

  • who our real friends are;
  • how resilient our system is in the face of serious challenge;
  • and how powerfully our public service missions of education, public safety and civic leadership would resonate in the new Washington.

Today I am pleased to report that we passed every test, and our funding has been secured.

In the fiscal 2017 appropriations bill enacted by a Republican Congress last May:

  • Ready To Learn received $27.7 million – a $2 million increase.
  • Our new interconnection system received $50 million – a $10 million increase.
  • And instead of the zero the White House proposed, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting received $445 million.

It sounds so easy to recite this success now.

But it wasn’t easy.

Success required a concerted and comprehensive effort involving everyone in our system.

It took a well-organized outpouring of support from our millions of friends around the country and across the political spectrum.

And it summoned a courageous stand by our champions in Congress, on both sides of Capitol Hill and both sides of the partisan aisle.

Public broadcasting has defended itself, its missions, its viewers and listeners against extraordinary odds, and we have won.

Dozens of public television general managers launched on-air campaigns reminding their audiences how much they value our service.

Hundreds of Leadership Council members and other lay leaders mobilized as effective ambassadors for public broadcasting – in Congress, in newsrooms, with strategic partners in our public service missions, and in town halls throughout America. 

We have a mighty contingent of those lay leaders right here in this room — and I would ask you all to stand right now and let us thank you for your service.

Our army of Protect My Public Media grassroots supporters almost doubled in response to this existential challenge, from 400,000 to 720,000.

And they overwhelmed Capitol Hill with an avalanche of advocacy that left congressional offices — friend and foe alike — marveling at our organizational strength.

In the wake of your visits to the Hill a year ago, the congressional letters urging the Appropriations Committees to preserve our funding attracted a record number of signatures: 45 Senators and 166 Representatives, from both parties.

As the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, John Thune, told his fellow South Dakotans last year, “public broadcasting has a big following, not only here in South Dakota but across the country.

“It delivers services, and news, and information in places around the country where it’s hard to find other sources,” the Senator said. “That’s …been its role, and its function, and its mission over time.”

And Congressman Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee controlling our funding, told Variety just two weeks ago:

“There is strong bipartisan support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 

“The House has funded it fully in the past two years and I would expect it will happen again in the omnibus bill” to be enacted by Congress by March 23.

“I don’t see Congress having the desire to cut (this) funding,” the Congressman said, “because they reflect the desire of the American people.”

This growing bipartisan support has fully justified the years of effort we have invested in convincing our lawmakers of the essential nature of our work – and its positive influence on our country and the world.

And if we continue this good work and this awesome advocacy, we can look forward with growing confidence to the day when support for public broadcasting will be as near-universal in the halls of Congress as it is in the hearts of our countrymen.

There is power in such passionate and widespread support, power in the work we do every day in every American community.

And it is altogether appropriate that the theme of this 2018 Public Media Summit should be:  The Power of Public Media.

We will need to exercise that power again this year, as the White House has once again targeted our funding for elimination in the 2019 budget proposal submitted to Congress two weeks ago. 

We are ready for the battle.

Since the President's proposal, Protect My Public Media has recruited almost 40,000 new advocates to our grassroots army -- and that army now exceeds 750,000 of our fellow citizens. 

Those advocates have already placed thousands of calls, and sent more than 100,000 emails and social media messages, to their representatives in Congress, demanding that our federal funding be maintained. 

This early bombardment has prepared the ground for your own invasion of Capitol Hill this week.

And your presence in Washington is a welcome reinforcement of the work well done every week by my 14 amazing colleagues at APTS Global Headquarters.

You should go to the Hill on Wednesday with the confidence that the overwhelming majority of Americans go with you in spirit. 

A new public opinion survey out just this month ranks public television as the most trusted institution in America -- for the 15th year in a row. 

And 78 percent believe public television provides excellent value to their communities.

Other polls have found that 76 percent of voters want your federal funding maintained or increased.

And 83 percent -- including 70 percent of those who voted for President Trump -- would tell their elected representatives to find other places to save money.

We can take encouragement from the fact that Congress declined to accept the President’s recommendation last year.

We can also take heart that Congress earlier this month approved legislation raising the spending caps for both fiscal 2018 and 2019, ensuring more financial resources for both defense and domestic programs going forward.

The House Appropriations Committee has already recommended $445 million for CPB in fiscal 2018, and $25.7 million for Ready To Learn, though nothing for the third installment of our interconnection fund. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee has also proposed $445 million for CPB, and $27.7 million for Ready To Learn -- plus another $20 million for interconnection and system infrastructure on an annual basis going forward.

The higher spending caps give us cause for hope that the final numbers will be closer to the Senate than the House version.

We believe those decisions have already largely been made, though we don't know what they are -- and probably won't until very close to March 23.

In addition, Chairman Greg Walden of the House Energy & Commerce Committee – a Republican from Oregon and a 2013 Champion of Public Broadcasting -- has reported out of his committee by unanimous vote a bill to increase the funds for repacking our channels in the aftermath of last year's spectrum auction.

It is possible this legislation will be attached to the omnibus appropriations bill, solving a big problem for us and saving some of our stations from the prospect of going dark for insufficient funds. 

But with all of this, we still don't know exactly what the 2018 appropriations process will yield for public media -- five months after this fiscal year officially began, last October 1.

The fiscal year 2019 appropriations process will follow close behind -- and we'll have to do all of this, all over again.

Indeed, we must understand that this work of advocacy and education will never be over, as the dynamics of our politics and the membership of Congress – and state legislatures -- change significantly with every election.

Since 2010, 55 percent of House seats and 50 of the 100 Senate seats have changed hands at least once.

Fifty-two Members of the current House — including 8 committee chairmen — have already announced their retirements this year, and more such announcements are likely.

In both the House and the Senate, we face the prospect of new chairmen of the Appropriations Committees next year – whichever party is in control.

Rodney Frelinghuysen, Republican of New Jersey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and a friend of public broadcasting, is among those retiring.

And Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi – and as steadfast a champion as we have ever had in Congress – will come to the end of his six-year term as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee at the end of this year.

Every member of the House of Representatives, and one third of the Senate, is up for re-election in November, and early polling suggests an energized electorate ready to vote in record numbers.

Since World War II, the party not controlling the White House has picked up an average of 25 seats in the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections of a new President's first term. 

If this tradition holds in 2018, the Democrats would win control of the House this November -- by one vote.

In the Senate, the record is more complicated, and Democrats are defending far more seats in this election than Republicans are.

Whoever wins the majority in the House and Senate, we expect those majorities to be small -- and the prospect of continued gridlock here in Washington will be high.

At least half of the new members elected this fall will probably have served in state government.

We have worked very hard to educate the nation’s Governors and state legislators about the work of public media.

That work helped us secure more than $200 million in state funding last year in 36 states -- including 22 states where Republicans control both the executive and legislative branches of government.

The consistency of our message at both the state and federal levels – that public funding of public media supports our public service missions of education, public safety, and civic leadership – will lead, we hope, to a consistency of support as the future unfolds.

And our greatest strength, as Congressman Cole suggested, is that the American people value us, trust us, depend on us, and see us as a force for good in their communities and their country.

We will spend the next three days examining the dimensions of this power, and we could not have had a better start than with Paul Siefken’s memorable tribute to Mister Rogers a few moments ago.

While it is the stuff of legend that Mr. Rogers was a Marine sniper before he was an ordained minister, I do love the idea that the most effective single advocate for federal funding we've ever had was a ferocious Presbyterian.

And if that’s not enough to strike fear in the hearts of our critics, the part of Mr. Rogers will soon be played on the silver screen by Tom Hanks.

You can’t get more all-American than that, and there’s so much more to reinforce this enviable reputation.

Tonight we will salute our friends at Sesame Workshop, who with the International Rescue Committee are about to embark on what's been called "the largest early childhood intervention program ever created in a humanitarian setting."

With a $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, Sesame and the IRC will launch an initiative to save a generation of war-ravaged children in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq –

improving their educational prospects today and their intellectual and emotional development in years to come.

This is the power of public media:

to transform the lives of the most desperate children on earth, 

to give them hope they've never known, 

to give them help that no one else will, 

to bring five decades of experience, and genius, and healing to bear on a crisis of unspeakable cruelty.

Tomorrow we will examine the power of public media to influence the national conversation and, occasionally, to pierce the nation's conscience.

This mission of civic leadership encompasses so much:

reporting on the opioid crisis in West Virginia and Maryland and Pennsylvania,

addressing the water crisis in Michigan,

saluting veterans across the country,

keeping kids in school until they graduate and helping them qualify for jobs when they’re grown.

Civic leadership means:

Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and 1A, FRONTLINEWashington Week and PBS NewsHour -- the gold standard of civil discourse, and telling a nation the deeply moving story of America's deeply rending involvement in the Vietnam War.

Who else but public media would devote 18 hours to such a subject, or bring to it the extraordinary talents of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, or make it an educational tool for generations to come?

Despite the profusion of commercial channels, the answer is still: only public media.

The original power of public media is education.

This Summit will celebrate the first anniversary of the PBS KIDS 24/7 channel and live stream, which you and our friends at PBS have made a phenomenal success.

There are many metrics of this success, but the one I like best is this:

Since the launch -- announced at our Summit last February -- time spent viewing PBS stations is up 85 percent among low-income families.

The difference you're making for children who could use a leg up in life is very nearly incalculable, yet for you it's all in a day's work.

We're still the only pre-school education there is for 54 percent of America's 3- and 4-year-olds.

And with PBS KIDS, PBS LearningMedia, and all the work you do with schools and students in your local communities, it's a power for good that grows more effective and important every year.

The power of public media extends further every year into the field of public safety, as well.

This Summit will explore:

our pioneering work in early earthquake warning, 

our growing expertise in first responder communications,

our expanding partnerships in homeland security,

and our dedication to serving people in distress long after the cable news networks have moved on to other news.

This past year alone, tragedy struck — by the force of nature and at the hands of evil men — in California, Nevada, Texas and Florida, to name but a few.

In all of these emergencies, public television and radio stations warned, informed, explained, and brought stricken communities together, in a magnificent display of civic leadership.

If there is one person in our family who personifies that commitment more completely than any other,

it must surely be the woman who simply wouldn't quit when Hurricane Irma, and then Hurricane Maria, laid waste her beautiful Virgin Islands:

the heroic general manager of WJTX, Tanya-Marie Singh. 

We will hear Tanya's story tomorrow, and you will never forget it.

The power of public media can also be vividly seen in our embrace of new technology -- and the new opportunities for service and entrepreneurship that come with it.

This is a rich tradition in public television.

We were the first broadcasters to adopt closed captioning for the hearing-impaired;

first to provide descriptive video for the blind;

first to offer multicast channels on digital spectrum.

The spectrum auction concluded last year is only the latest in a long parade of regulatory challenges we’ve converted into opportunities for greater service.

In the end, the auction benefited a few public television stations, enticed and then disappointed many others.

It risked leaving gaping holes in our national coverage -- a risk that thankfully never materialized -- and distracted an entire industry for five years.

But at the end of this process stands a public television system well positioned for the future.

And the future has just shown up, in the form of a revolutionary new broadcast standard: ATSC 3.

In addition to the breathtaking advances in picture and sound quality this IP-based Next Generation standard makes possible,

there are remarkable breakthroughs in store for:

mobile service,


additional channel capacity,

signal penetration,

audience customization,

constant technical innovation,

and greatly enhanced spectrum efficiency

that offer potentially transformative opportunities for your stations.

Managing this voluntary transition from the current ATSC 1 standard to ATSC 3 will require a special commitment of your time and talent for years to come.

The transition will be market-by-market, unlike the transition from analog to digital a decade ago.

But the rewards of a successful passage to this new standard will be more than worth the effort.

Our public safety data casting capability will be substantially upgraded by the mobile capabilities of ATSC 3 --

and by the new ability we'll have to "wake up" cell phones and broadcast receivers to warn of imminent danger.

Because the new standard combines broadcast with broadband platforms,

our education mission will be enlarged by our new capacity to send huge files of content to students in their homes --

including in the most remote areas of our country, where traditional broadband coverage may be many years away.

And because of the new standard's greatly improved spectrum efficiency, your stations and our system stand to benefit significantly from the leasing of the spectrum capacity remaining after all your programming and public service commitments have been met.

America's Public Television Stations have been invited to join the Spectrum Consortium organized precisely for the purpose of aggregating and marketing this spectrum.

We are actively exploring this opportunity, as well as others that will present themselves as the new standard permeates the market.

This entrepreneurial approach to spectrum management, long encouraged by Congress and the FCC, is about to become very important in the new world of ATSC 3 -- and we will be ready for it.

It may well presage new financial power for public media, helping us:

create new programming,

provide new public services,

modernize our technology and infrastructure,

and stop living in chronic financial distress,

as too many public media licensees have done for too long.

Fortified by this progress and promise, we have it in our power to make the world of public media over again,

to create a world in which:

our political fortunes are more secure,

our public service missions more systemic,

our potential for growth more expansive,

and our connection to the American people even more profound than it is today.

And in a country as riven as ours,

in a world bristling with danger,

a strong and vibrant public media system, with its civilizing influence -- the greatest power we have --

may be more important now than ever before.

That's why we need all the ferocious Presbyterians we can get to join forces and save our funding.

Our calling is to teach the children,

to help keep our neighbors safe,

to inform the world’s most important democracy,

to serve those whom no one else will serve,

"to stand for those things," as Mister Rogers said, "without which humankind cannot survive.

This is the purposeful, benevolent power of public media,

the cause of our lives,

the work we are honored to do

and determined to defend.

Thank you for your leadership, and God bless you all.