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Federal cuts to public broadcasting would unfairly hit Alaska

Scott Woodham
Aaron Jansen illustration

To: Lisa Murkowski, Mark Begich, Don Young
CC: Corporation for Public Broadcasting
BCC: Big Bird's Avenging Angels
Subj.: Learning, America's newest entitlement.

Dear Team Alaska,

You may have been too busy to notice, but Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney last week singled out for cuts a service that is important to the lives of nearly all your constituents. We figured since you are always quick to defend Alaska's interests, you'd like to know about it. No, no -- Romney didn't say he'd try to cut rural post offices, the bypass mail program, domestic violence funding.

And he didn't suggest Air Force pilots should just stop being so sensitive about how potentially deadly the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world's history is. Nor did he suggest the Alaska District U.S. Coast Guard should just suck it up and make do without a heavy icebreaker.

He became the latest person to suggest, and then reaffirm, a conviction that the federal government shouldn’t give any money to public media.There's almost no better way to wrap up the so-called “culture wars” and the staggering deficit into one neat little straw man for people to bat around during an election.

Oddly enough given the history of that idea, Romney himself mentioned Big Bird as he took a swing at public broadcasting. Usually, mentioning Muppets is a tactic used by defenders of yours. They deploy puppets to humanize the proposed cuts, connect them to childhood education, and make critics sound like big meanies for attacking creatures that are so defenseless they're actually imaginary. But that's the first we've heard of a public-media opponent hanging a plush, googly-eyed albatross around his own neck.

Unfortunately, this argument has been taken up in public discourse as a partisan issue when it is nothing of the sort. Public media is hyper-vigilant about being non-partisan and about providing real value for America's present and future. That's why Americans consistently name it the most trusted or valued source of programming on the airwaves. And that's why government support of public broadcasting has continued despite regular political attacks.

Now, public radio or television may not seem as obviously important to living as cheaper air shipping or a way to break through sea ice. But the genius of our nation is the ability of its diverse populace to innovate and build its own future. Public media enables that most American impulse. That genius has its fullest expression on the frontiers of understanding, and it has its fullest expression at the frontier of existence. Alaska, we needn't remind you, is just such a frontier.

As you may know from experiencing rural Alaska yourselves, public media is absolutely essential. In many far-flung communities, especially those lacking cell phone or Internet service, it's the only easily available and consistent conduit to events of the day that impact regional concerns. It's also a way for people to communicate in an emergency.

Romney's not the first to suggest that public broadcasting is an unnecessary luxury, or a non-essential social entitlement. Maybe it is to people who live in a city and can afford cable TV or satellite radio. But to Alaska, and rural Alaska especially, it's quite important.

We The Concerned have long known all three of you to be strong defenders of Alaskans' interests, and at times you're fierce teachers of people who unfairly attack the people of the Great Land out of ignorance or malice. But you've been silent on this issue so far. We get that this is an election, and the two of you who are Republicans might not want to take a shot at your party's guy just before the election. But still, keep an eye out. This notion of doing away with public media will come back eventually.

Maybe some people in this country have forgotten how good pride in making something feels compared to pride in just owning it. And maybe some people have forgotten that not being able to afford your own sweater doesn't mean you can't afford two needles and some wool. But we know you haven't forgotten.

America used to be a nation of builders, of innovators; blue collar engineers. We made this country great by chafing against necessity, not by quickly satisfying manufactured wants that masquerade as needs. Now look at us. We're not even insulted when someone running for president suggests that we don't deserve what so many of us have come to depend on.

Next on Springer,

The Concerned