During last Wednesday’s debate, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that he plans to remove the federal subsidy for the Public Broadcasting Service. This statement reveals Romney’s weak and hypocritical policies in two ways.
One, PBS costs next to nothing when compared to other sections of the federal budget, and two, such a plan conflicts with Romney’s education-endorsing rhetoric throughout the debate, especially in light of PBS’s educational value.
Romney’s now-famous Big Bird line was: “I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. … But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That’s number one.”
So how much money would be spent on public broadcasting next year? The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the federal distributor of PBS and National Public Radio’s funding, will receive $445 million from the federal government in 2013, according to the House’s Committee on Appropriations.
This amount is a pittance when compared with $1.5 trillion spent on benefits programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security each year, not to mention the annual $700 billion that the Department of Defense demands. Proportionally, the Department of Defense receives nearly 1,600 times more money than public broadcast services. In other words, the government spends the same amount in one year on public broadcasting as the Pentagon spends in six hours.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a highly respected astrophysicist and frequent PBS contributor, highlighted this point on Twitter the night of the debate.
“Cutting PBS support (0.012 percent of budget) to help balance the Federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive,” he tweeted.
As Tyson’s simile illustrates, to cut public broadcasting funding would accomplish next to nothing. It’s crucial for voters — Obama and Romney supporters alike — to understand that slashing public broadcasting would do absolutely nothing to alleviate federal budget woes.
But beyond the budgetary issue is the importance of maintaining public broadcasting, an incredible educational source. Throughout the debate, Romney asserted his commitment to education several times, stating that, “I’m not going to cut education funding … I’m planning on continuing to grow, so I’m not planning on making changes there.”
Much like many of his ill-formed ideologies, Romney’s statement about PBS in light of this apparent passion for improving education is hypocritical and detrimental.
And public broadcasting is an educational service: Programs from NOVA, a show dedicated to science, to Frontline, a series devoted to in-depth documentaries and investigative journalism, exist to educate viewers on a wide range of important topics.
Additionally, public broadcasting provides an extraordinary amount of programming oriented at young children — which helps build something the nation desperately needs: an educated, prosperous future. Though Romney’s Big Bird reference quickly became a national meme, Sesame Street reaches millions of children across the country in its effort to promote early childhood literacy and quantitative skills. PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger stated in an interview with CNN last Thursday that PBS is “America’s biggest classroom.” When considering that shows produced for PBS Kids dominate Nielsen ratings for children under six, it’s hard to disagree.
If Romney sincerely plans to “[continue] to grow” education, he would know that cutting public broadcasting is not the way to do it.
Neither PBS nor any other public broadcasting program is the cause of the American federal deficit. Romney’s insinuation that public broadcasting somehow significantly contributes to the deficit is a red-herring argument that distracts voters from the real budget issues at hand: an immensely bloated military budget and an inefficient entitlements system.
Though Romney’s statement was made in the haste of a timed debate, voters should not forget its implications in the voting booth come November. Considering all that public broadcasting, such as PBS and NPR, offers — high quality educational programming viewed or heard by hundreds of millions of Americans every month — in conjunction with its remarkably small monetary footprint, Romney’s plans to cut PBS are, frankly, remarkably uninformed.
Matt Tinoco is a freshman majoring in international relations.