Monday, March 14, 2011

We In America Have An Appetite For Excellence

"Today our problem is not making miracles--but managing miracles. We might well ponder a different question: What hath man wrought--and how will man use his inventions?

The law that I will sign shortly offers one answer to that question.

It announces to the world that our Nation wants more than just material wealth; our Nation wants more than a 'chicken in every pot.' We in America have an appetite for excellence, too.

While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man's spirit.

That is the purpose of this act.

It will give a wider and, I think, stronger voice to educational radio and television by providing new funds for broadcast facilities.

It will launch a major study of television's use in the Nation's classrooms and their potential use throughout the world.

Finally--and most important--it builds a new institution: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."

President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered these comments on November 7, 1967, as he signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 into law. The goal was to create TV & Radio broadcasts which could entertain, enlighten, and inform an American audience without depending on corporate sponsorship.

Over the years, Public Broadcasting has been labeled as a liberal news source. This label motivated House Republicans to eliminate public funding for NPR & PBS, in a proposed version of the Federal budget. Such an elimination, if passed, would cost Public Broadcasting $445,000,000 by 2013 and effectively cripple small rural affiliates.

First of all, I have to question the perception of a liberal bias. OK, if all you hear on Public Broadcasting are politically themed episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross, the perception of liberal bias is impossible to ignore. She's had conservative guests storm off her show, after being befuddled. Yet, political segments make up only a fraction of the show's content. Gross, interviews musicians, actors/asctresses, directors, writers, and other celebrities from all genres of music, TV, movies, and books.

Likewise, Public Broadcasting delivers more than news. Boasting shows such as Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Masterpiece Mystery, Boston Pops Concerts, The Splendid Table, The Writer's Almanac, Prairie Home Companion, Science Friday, and multiple other shows which educate and entertain while treating the audience as intelligent. Most of these shows don't lean politically one way or the other. I've never heard Lynne Rossetto Kasper push a political agenda; both sides of the aisle eat the same cookies, after all. If anything, it could easily be said that, Prairie Home Companion contains multiple conservative Christian undertones.

Fortunately, the Senate defeated the budget proposal this week, leaving hope alive for the future of NPR & PBS. While I'm happy Senators have done the right thing, for the moment, I have to wonder if our elected representatives will eventually be able to acknowledge the value of intelligent programming, beyond its monetary cost to produce? Isn't exposing citizens to information, arts, and ideas part of "providing for the general welfare?" Finally, I have to ask, would conservative lawmakers be considering taking Big Bird away from little Timmy & Suzie if Louis Rukeyser, a hardcore conservative and long time PBS fixture, was still alive to do his show?

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