What do you think of the current calls to eliminate public funding of public broadcasting?
We've been through that before. Years ago when I was chairman of PBS and would testify in front of Congress people would say,
Why should there be public funds?
I would say,
Why should there be public parks? Hospitals?
The market doesn't serve everyone with everything.
What are the chances anyone would listen to that argument today?
My predecessor at PBS was a conservative Texas Republican, Ralph Rogers. They were giving him a hard time and he said,
Sonny, I was a Republican before you were born.
Everyone shut up. He saved public broadcasting. This should not ever be a partisan issue.
Who could silence critics of public broadcasting today?
I can't believe
they'll close it down. Every other country does better than we do.
The Carnegie Commission that created public TV in very
early '60s proposed a method of funding which was to charge a fee of $5
for every TV set that was sold, which would go into a trust fund. That
was a pretty good idea. But President Johnson didn't want any increase
in fees and taxes during the Vietnam war. The British pay a license fee, much
more substantial--hundreds of dollars a year. They do that in Japan as
well. We failed to create any mechanism to fund it properly.
When I was in
government, I had three major pieces of legislation and all three
passed. One night President Kennedy called me at home and said,
How did you do that?
said Mr. President, if I can't get it done with the Democrats I work
with the Republicans, and I get as much help from them. I really
don't think these issues are partisan. The regulatory agencies are
bipartisan, by statute. I don't think at the FCC we ever once had a
Hasn't that changed?
terribly. It's a very sad thing, it seems to me. Has been very partisan
for the past 15 to 20 years. A very unfortunate thing. I often wonder
why that's happened. It shouldn't have.
agencies are caught in the same thing everyone in society is.
Partisanship today in Washington is so much more bitter than it was
years ago. I think civil discourse and rational discussion has pretty
President Obama met his wife in our firm and
he was my daughter Martha's student at Harvard Law School, when I met
him. I think President Obama, particularly after the congressional
election of last year, has shown the way to achieve bipartisanship and I
think he can continue.
What do you think of the quality of TV news today?
On big international stories, like what's happening now in the Middle
East, it's excellent. On domestic issues, unfortunately TV seems to
think there are only two sides to a question, and the middle, thoughtful
center is often ignored.
The first President Bush appointed me to a presidential commission. The issue was whether women should serve in the
military in combat. We had open meetings. When there was a break, the TV
people would rush to interview the extremists on both sides, ignoring
the majority of the commission, who were centrists. I think that's
happening too often today. Now you have the view that certain channels
should reflect a certain point of view rather than all points of view.