THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT IN ADDRESS ON PUBLIC BROADCASTING March 2, 1995 American University Washington, D.C.
VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. What a pleasure it is to be here with you, and may I thank you again for the enthusiastic welcome. And Dr. Ladner, thank you for your very kind words of introduction. I'm very grateful to you. I want to acknowledge your wife, Nancy Bullard Ladner, and also one of my heroes, Fred Rogers. We are very proud that you are here, Mr. Rogers. (Applause.) Mr. Rogers and I are going to be going from here after my speech to talk with some children about the same issue.
Dr. Sanford Unger, Dean of the School of Communication, a longtime friend; Mr. Delano Lewis, President of National Public Radio; Miss Patricia Diaz Dennis, member of the NPR Board of Directors; Mr. Carl Matthuesen, General Manager of one of the stations and Chairman of the NPR Board; and special thanks to all of those who helped here at American University; all of those at the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, and especially Robert Cunrod, Executive Vice President; my longtime friend and colleague with Tipper and Jay and me in the United States Senate, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, President of WETA; and to friends from PBS and NPR and all of the guests present -- thank you very much for attending here today.
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and I'm glad the weather is warming up. A couple of weeks ago, it was so cold I froze stiff -- and nobody noticed. (Laughter and applause.) But I'm here today to talk about an issue that is very near and dear to my heart, and extremely important to President Clinton and to the American people. There are principles at stake.
Most of us think of Thomas Jefferson as our third President, but many of you know that on Jefferson's home list of accomplishments, the presidency finished far down the list. His tombstone doesn't even mention it. The inscription that he wrote for it reads: Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia. He was passionately committed to the university and to learning.
During the first year of the university's existence, there was an incident in which students rioted and then, armed with bricks and canes, attacked the professors trying to restore order. Jefferson was devastated. The next day at a meeting between the students and the University Board, he began to speak -- which, of course, he could do with eloquence unmatched -- but as he tried, he burst into tears, at which point the students were so penitent that the guilty ones confessed, with one of them saying later, it was not Mr. Jefferson's words, but his tears.
It's not surprising that Jefferson cared so deeply about learning, this voracious reader with 12,000 books in his personal library, a collection that later became the foundation for the Library of Congress. He wrote this: If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.
What does this have to do with our subject today? Precisely because at this moment, an all-out attack is being waged against an institution of our modern age borne of the principles that governed Jefferson's life in his age. They are American principles. It is an institution that has done much to enrich the educational and intellectual life of America and that can do a lot more. And that institution is public broadcasting.
So I want to talk today about public broadcasting and describe for you the many in ways in which it serves as a full partner in carrying out our nation's commitment to public education, particularly for children. Next, I want to take head-on the arguments propounded by some to the effect that public broadcasting is somehow a frill that this nation can no longer afford or a luxury that could be "privatized."
And then I want to end up by suggesting some principles that ought to guide those of us who care deeply about education and want to help reshape it for the future. And I want to point out that the attack on PBS has not occurred in isolation. It is part of a broad assault on programs that enrich the lives of American children, offer them hope for a brighter future and care for them when no one else can or will.
The so-called Contract presently being rushed through the House of Representatives will deprive children of programs that can teach them to read. It will deprive them of the healthy lunches they get in the school cafeteria. It will deprive them of inoculations against polio or measles. It will deprive them of programs which help them steer clear of drugs, or get a summer job. This attack is mean-spirited and it is dead, flat wrong. And there is nothing that is more illustrative of exactly what's wrong than the war now being waged by the Republican leadership against public broadcasting.
Frankly, when I talk to people around the country about this attack, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, they're absolutely mystified. This hasn't been a partisan issue. Nobody ran for Congress last year saying, I'm going to eliminate public broadcasting. It wasn't a part of the public dialogue. And in community after community, people of both political parties have joined hands to say, we're really proud of our public broadcasting station. We're really proud of the programs that are available to our children. And they go out and raise money to supplement the seed money from the federal government that makes it possible to keep this service available.
And so when I talk to people on a bipartisan basis, they say, why would anyone want to threaten public broadcasting? It's a mystery. I know that you heard from Fred Rogers earlier, and I hope you will allow me to paraphrase Mr. Rogers when I frame a question for those who want to gut public broadcasting because the American people, when they hear about this assault on public broadcasting, have the impulse to get the Republican leadership in a room and talk to them about why they're wrong. It's as if they want to sit them down and ask them, can you say, "children?" Can you say, "education?" (Laughter.) We want their response. (Applause.)
And they would like very much -- the American people would like very much to educate the Republican leadership with some basic facts about why public broadcasting is important to the children of this country and important to the future of America.
Here are some basic facts about public broadcasting as a an instrument of education. And I'm not even -- I'm just going to skip over some of the crown jewels of public broadcasting like MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, Bill Buckley's Firing Line, or Scientific American Frontiers, Talk of the Nation on NPR. They're all great programs. But I want to focus on ones that children watch and listen to.
Close to 90 percent of the 70 million children in this country from all areas, all ethnic groups, all socioeconomic strata, have regular exposure to at least one of the many PBS programs. Those numbers are so big that even the Count from Sesame Street would have trouble arguing with them. (Laughter.)
The fact is, public television is often the first exposure that many young children receive to numbers and letters -- the joy of counting to 10 for the first time, or spelling their name. I talked this morning the young mother of a two and a half year old, and partly because I was making this speech today, I asked about public broadcasting. Oh, yes, she said, that's the only channel my daughter can watch. She's two and a half. They're trying to eliminate it, I said. What, she replied. And it's a common response.
For older children there are programs like NOVA. Stanley Johnson, a local junior high teacher who is with us today -- Stanley, where are you? Stanley Johnson -- (applause) -- you didn't know I was going to make you a celebrity here with this audience today. But I single out Mr. Johnson because he has been using NOVA to teach his students for years. And there are junior high teachers like Stanley Johnson all across the United States of America. There are countless other programs which have transformed our living rooms into classrooms.
And, of course, there's also a side to public television for children that many of us never see. But it's a side that's well known to day care providers, to classroom teachers and to hundreds of thousands of Americans trying to prepare themselves for the future. For example, PBS and dozens of public television stations around the country have launched a service called "Ready to Learn," a program designed to ensure that our children are, in fact, ready to learn on the day they start to school. "Ready to Learn" combines an energetic outreach program with the very best preschool programming in the business, featuring the great icons of educational television, like Fred Rogers and Burt and Ernie and the Count and others.
The result: Parents, day care providers, and teachers who know how to use these programs to help children learn through television, are helping them absorb information and keep learning once the television is turned off. Public television's a learning tool once a child is in school as well. It reaches about 70,000 elementary and secondary schools throughout the United States. It is the number one resource for instructional classroom programming. And they want to cut that out? Or make devastating changes that have the clear result of cutting it out and try to pretend that people aren't going to notice?
And what I talked about so far is just television. National Public Radio has been indispensable to its local listeners across the country. Each station across America tailors its programming to meet local needs. For example, when school funding for classical music training was cut, it was KUER in Salt Lake City that produced a series introducing elementary school students to classical music. In Kodiak, Alaska, on KMXT, children learn about life and earth sciences by tuning into "My Green Earth," a program hosted by a local science teacher. On "Treehouse Radio," kids in Urbana, Illinois, have the opportunity to reach their own poetry and play music on WILL, AM-FM. WCBE's "Kid's Sunday" allows children in Columbus, Ohio, to take part in all aspects of production, from sound effects to news reporting. And it sheds light on yet another way public broadcasting influences and teaches children and adults, even when it is not seen and heard. The backbone to public broadcasting is, after all, community involvement.
And who knows that more than the people on this particular campus, WAMU -- a public radio station provides forums for students to talk about violence in local schools and volunteer recruitment drives, in addition to all the wonderful programming that it makes available for this particular community, the entire Washington area. And it's the same in every city in America.
And yet there are some who argue that public broadcasting is somehow elitist. Well, that is simply absurd. And if you don't want to take my word for it, ask Daniel Castro, the host of the Sancho(?) in Pasadena, California. His radio show, which has been running for over 10 years, teaches kids in poor minority communities the value of staying in school. That's the opposite of elitism.
Ask the 40 percent of all Americans who don't have cable, many because they can't afford it or because they live in rural areas where they don't have access. Ask those who depend on public broadcasting as their lifeline to news and culture, whether or not they think it's elitist.
Sixty percent of public television viewers live in families that have as the total family income less than $40,000 a year. That's not elitist. Ask Wanda Cromer if public broadcasting is elitist. Where is Wanda Cromer -- I'll tell your story in just a moment, Wanda. She has a job, a husband and two children. And soon she'll have an associate of arts degree, earned through distance learning telecourses offered on television. She is one of 2.8 million people who have jobs and children and have earned credits by way of telecourses. Doesn't sound elitist to you, does it, Wanda?
And ask the parents and teachers of our young children if Mr. Rogers is elitist or if Sesame Street is elitist. Their kids will tell you right quick they don't want any epithets applied to Mr. Rogers. (Laughter.) Public broadcasting is the only source of educational programming available to every American -- every American. That's the opposite of elitist. What does sound elitist is trying to take away a valuable resource from the people who need it the most. What sounds elitist is the small group of ideologues in Washington, DC, telling the American people that public broadcasting isn't good for them. When the overwhelming majority of the American people say, we support it; leave it alone. (Applause.)
Could such programming exist without government support. (Applause.) And the people who say leave it alone know that it can't exist without government support. The administration's record on this issue is clear. President Clinton and I believe in federal funding for public broadcasting. We view it as crucial to the enterprise. And we see it as a sound investment and a sound federal policy and a great value.
The fact is, all of public broadcasting, all of the programs, all of the stations, and all of the marvelous educational services that help our children and many of their parents, all of that costs a grand total of $1.09 per year for each American, about a dollar.
Now, if you're Oscar the Grouch, that might be something you would complain about. (Laughter.) If you live in a garbage can and you are an angry green male -- (laughter and applause) -- you might complain about a dollar a year. (Applause.) But if you're like most Americans, you will see what a great value this is. And most Americans do see, and do understand, and do support public broadcasting. As the President of PBS, Irvin Dugan, points out, a Sunday newspaper in any city in America will cost you more than all of public broadcasting does for an entire year.
If you don't have children, you still benefit from living in a community where the children have access to public broadcasting. If you don't listen to National Public Radio, you still benefit if you live in a community that is enriched by the programming available on National Public Radio.
Our federal investment in public broadcasting may be the most highly leveraged dollar that the government puts into any educational effort. Public TV and radio stations raise $5 or $6 from private sources for every single public dollar that they receive. And people in the community, without regard to political party, get out there and raise that money. They are, in fact, doing exactly what the federal government has expected them to do for more than 25 years; take a small share of public money, leverage it into generous private support, and produce excellent, diverse and universally available services that all Americans can use every day.
So why continue federal funding at current levels? Why not require even more leverage of public broadcasting? Well, the answer is because the small amount of seed capital that the government provides, about 14 percent of the total public broadcasting budget, is what makes all of the rest of it possible. Without it, many radio and television stations would fall immediately and the entire super-structure of public broadcasting would begin to crumble. It's like baking bread, yeast makes up a very small percentage of the total ingredients, but if you don't sprinkle that little packet of yeast into the bowl, the bread will never rise.
And that's why I must vigorously disagree with those Republicans on Capitol Hill who are trying energetically to kill off public broadcasting, or to throw it into the marketplace as just another commercial alternative. Some of them have suggested that we privatize the funding arm of public broadcasting, the Corporation for public broadcasting. This idea simply would not work. Privatizing CPB would mean selling off its assets in the open market. But CPB doesn't have any assets. As Richard Carlson, its President, pointed out in his testimony before Congress, CPB is merely the instrument through which federal funding passes on its way to nearly 1,000 public radio and television stations across the country. For that reason, privatization is just a code-word for stopping the flow of federal dollars to small and local stations; the small town rural stations who need this money most and who will die quickly if this money is taken away.
As for PBS and NPR, they are already private. Those who propose privatization really mean commercialization. That's what they're talking about. And we all know that commercial broadcasting is vastly different from public broadcasting.
I've noticed in one of the morning newspapers today, this clipping headlined, ABC Cans Kids Educational Show. The network has cancelled Cro, one of two educational children's programs on its Saturday morning schedule, and will add a cartoon version of the hit movie, Dumb and Dumber. That's really the issue --(laughter)-- right there. (Applause.) It doesn't get any clearer than that. (Laughter.)
And I don't want to single out ABC, the other commercial networks respond to the same commercial pressures, the same market dynamics that has led them historically to take Captain Kangaroo off the air; to take quality educational children's programming off the air. And instead, aim for Dumb and Dumber.
Recently I ran across a message on the Internet from a humorist who suggested a new schedule for a commercialized PBS, and he went through a long list of programs as if it was a programming guide. And it included Sesame Street, this week Jerry Fallwell teaches Big Bird to be more judgmental. (Laughter.) Where is the world is Carmen San Diego, this week guest detective Pat Buchanan helps kids build a wall around the U.S. (Laughter.) (Applause.) I won't go through the whole list, I've probably made enough people made already. (Laughter.)
But some of these Republican leaders argue that privatizing public broadcasting would be a good example of reinventing government. The marketplace, they say, should determine what our families watch on television. Well, we've seen what the marketplace determines our families should watch on television, and a lot of Americans have had it up to here with what's on commercial television. There are a lot of good programs, but when it comes to what is being fed to children, American families are saying, hold the show, this is not right. And one of the only alternatives available to families that want their children to see something that's good form them; that's clean, educational, enlightening and uplifting -- one of the only alternatives available for kids is public broadcasting. (Applause.) Now, let's keep it. (Applause.)
Public broadcasting has already been reinvented. I gave the figures earlier about how the money is leveraged from the private sector. And incidentally, there is no one more interested in streamlining government than President Bill Clinton and me. We want to increase efficiency, introduce market forces and privatize where it's appropriate. And after all, it was the Clinton administration that has already cut the federal bureaucracy by 100,000 positions, with many more reductions to come. It was the Clinton administration that has cut the deficit by $700 billion, reducing it for three years in a row for the first time since Harry Truman.
But there is a big difference between cutting government and killing government. I'm reminded about the veterinarian and the taxidermist who went into business together, and they put a sign out in front of their joint establishment that said, either way you get your dog back. (Laughter.) Well, there's some who want to kill government and stuff it as a trophy to put it on the wall. We want to fix it.
We want to reinvent government so that it works better and costs less. And there is nothing that works better and costs less than public broadcasting; that's already the fact. Some say, well, sure, public broadcasting does some good things, but why do we need government involvement when we have an alternative in the private sector? Well, what about libraries. There are bookstores all over Washington, D.C. and in cities throughout America. But just because there are Daltons and Borders, does that mean we no longer need libraries? Is the next proposal going to be to cut libraries out?
Well, the support for public broadcasting is just about as high as the support for public libraries. Of course, we need libraries; that's why we have made a commitment as a nation to supporting these institutions that are open to all citizens, that provide all citizens, regardless of income, with access to books.
And that's not the only example. We don't have turnstiles or ticket booths at the Smithsonian. Art in the National Gallery isn't pay per view. (Laughter.) Public broadcasting fills a similar role as part of our system of universal education. It is a national treasure. Mark that phrase well: Public broadcasting is a national treasure, and one that is increasingly important as we enter the Information Age.
Are there ways to make it better? Sure there are. But, first, you have to believe in it. And we will make it better. But we can't do that if the extremists win in their crusade to scrap it.
And let me say this: When I said earlier that the attack on public television was no isolated event, I meant that. I don't want to mince words here. Anybody who picked up a newspaper this week or watched MacNeil/Lehrer could hardly feel otherwise. I said earlier there's bipartisan support for public broadcasting, but the attack by the Republican leadership on public broadcasting, an attack on our children's opportunities to learn, is part of a pattern that I think is disturbing to the American people. You see this pattern when they go after everything from school lunches to national service to summer jobs.
Of course, when public broadcasting was founded, it was founded by a bipartisan coalition. And it has been sustained by a bipartisan coalition. Those in the Republican Party that are attacking it are in the minority in their own party, but they happen to be in the leadership of the Congress. And so we have to ask Democrats and Republicans all across America to join in an effort to make certain that the Republican leadership does not succeed.
Even though it has been bipartisan, I want to say this with partisan overtones, or perhaps I should say political overtones, because I aim the comments not at members of a political party, but at those who are trying to kill public broadcasting.
Public broadcasting is a part of American culture. People have grown up with it; we rely on it. It has educated millions of American children at a yearly cost to families of what we spend on two candy bars. And if you try to kill it, we will fight you every step of the way. (Applause.)
Now, for those who are mystified by the attacks, as I mentioned earlier, let me suggest an answer to the mystery. If you make a million dollars a year, have a very comfortable life, belong to a country club, you may not think that you will ever encounter in your life a problem that you can't solve with your own resources and wherewithal, you may think that you will never have to depend on your connection to your neighbors, to those who live in your community, to those who live in your nation.
But whether you make a million or the minimum wage, if you have children, you sometimes will face problems that money alone simply cannot solve. You will face problems that can only be solved if we work together, if we recognize our obligations to one-another as members of a national community with concerns and values and hopes and dreams, that we want to reach out for together.
You're going to need help from time to time, from your neighbors, from your community and from this self-government, designed by our founders. And one of the problems that families face in 1995 is how they can find for their children television programming that is high value, that doesn't hurt them, that doesn't fill them with images of violence and premature sexuality, and values that are very different from those they would like to transmit to their children. They face problems finding programming that can provide education.
For over 25 years, public broadcasting has been there to answer that need, and to help parents solve that problem. They can't solve it on their own. Most of them look to our country with pride and with a feeling that we as Americans, in spite of all of our problems, have done some things right. And in the head-long rush to condemn everything that has been done with public money, many are in grave danger of overlooking the fact that there are some success stories. And public broadcasting is one of them. If it did not exist today, we would be trying very hard right now to create it, to create something like it.
But you just can't create overnight a Sesame Street or a Mister Rogers Neighborhood; we're lucky to have something very special right now that is important to American families. And they want to take it away? It doesn't make sense. And they're making a political mistake as well as a substantive policy mistake.
Now, to stand for this institution is not to ignore the need for change, and we must begin to think about principles that might guide public broadcasting in the future. I believe any reform of public broadcasting -- and I mean reform, not extinction -- should be mindful of the following principles:
Number one, public broadcasting must retain its noncommercial character. That is what it has prevented it from following in the train of the commercially available public programming. Trying to combine commercial imperatives with the educational and instructional mission of public broadcasting is a recipe for failure.
Second, public broadcasting should go back to its educational roots and further improve its service for children, for adult learners and for teachers. And I want to make special note of the fact that on both of these first two principles I've mentioned, Mr. Rogers has been silently clapping. (Applause.)
Now, third, we need to ensure that public broadcasting is operating with maximum -- (gap in tape) -- (laughter) -- now we have many children and no theories. But we do have some observations. And one of the things we've observed is how children learn. In our culture, much of learning comes from television. For some children, that means an endless diet of robot superheroes flattening people with punches and kicks, punctuated by ads for plastic toys and cereals with very high sugar content. (Laughter.) That's why I'm so grateful for public broadcasting as a parent. It's made a tremendous difference to our family.
About 10 years ago, I told Fred Rogers on the telephone last night, I reminded him that Tipper and I and our children had a picture taken with him, and one of our children has that up on her wall at a prominent place to this day. And it is symbolic of what these programs have meant to so many millions of American families who have watched them.
If you ask me where Oscar the Grouch lives or what the Count sounds like, or who lives in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, I don't have to do any research; it's all in my head -- the result of 20 years of watching these programs with each child successfully -- successively and watching the positive effect that it has had on them. And what a blessing it is for parents to be able to watch programming of that kind with a young child, knowing what the positive effect is.
Now, my children don't watch Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers anymore; they're growing up. But as they have developed, so has their taste in programming. And so we watch together and discuss programs like "The Civil War," or "Joseph Campbell," or "The Five Senses," or "Nova." And what I hope very much is that in the future, when they are old enough to have children of their own, they'll sit down again to watch Oscar and Big Bird, and watch the next generation learning how to count to 10 and spell their name.
When Mr. Jefferson offered his library to Congress, he said this about books. He wrote, "I cannot live without books." And as soon as the last wagonload of his books left Monticello bound for Washington, he immediately began collecting them again. In our age, one in which whole libraries can be entered from thousands of miles away by pushing a few buttons, the tools are very different, but the thirst for knowledge remains the same.
So let us preserve a system that has worked so well for so many. And let us use our representative democracy to stimulate education and make it available for all Americans in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson. And let us remember that if we take away a tool our children use to learn, we lessen their ability to achieve. But if, instead, we enhance it, whether through Big Bird or Bill Buckley, there is no limit to what they can achieve. Let's save public broadcasting.
Thank you very much.