Well, that’s a totally misleading headline (meaning it would be right at home on Facebook and linking to some Macedonian website). No, Donald Trump is not gunning for Big Bird. I mean, he could be. We don’t actually know. In the pantheon of things which might happen during the Trump administration, the potential defunding of PBS and NPR probably ranks pretty low. On top of that, it might not even happen at all. While doing away with both PBS and NPR has long since been on the conservative wishlist, it’s not actually an issue Trump addressed during his campaign. However, with the Republicans set to control Congress, the Supreme Court and the White House Variety openly wondered if our local pledge drives might be getting oddly more insistent over the next four years as public radio and TV stations across the country gradually lose their federal funding.
The answer: it’s way too early to tell.
Where President-elect Trump stands on this specific issue is a complete mystery, although we know he claims to detest mainstream media. However, some of the key supporting players have made their views well known:
- Current House Speaker Paul Ryan has repeatedly crafted pieces of (ultimately failed) legislation designed to end federal funding of public broadcasting even though it only constitutes 0.01% of the federal budget. In fact, you might have already forgotten Ryan was Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, the election where Romney was briefly mocked after the first debate for saying, “I love Big Bird. I’m not going to borrow money from China to pay for it.”
- Newt Gingrich, who will likely have some role in Trump’s administration, unsuccessfully tried to end federal funding of public broadcasting in the 90s.
So, there’s two big players who might at some point over the next 4 years push forward an agenda of cutting that pesky $445 million the federal government gives to the CPB, which trickles it down to stations around the country, some of whom rely on that money for between 10% and 25% of their annual budget.
Wait. Hold on here. Just 10%-25%? That’s it? What the heck are we even talking about this for? Lose the funding, don’t lose the funding, it sounds like they’ll be just fine. Sell some more damn tote bags.
Yeah, but that wouldn’t work for everyone. The CPB once estimated a complete loss of federal funding would result in the closure of 54 public television stations in 31 states and 76 public radio stations in 38 states, with rural areas (i.e., exactly the type of areas that voted overwhelmingly for Trump) being most affected.
Whatever. Like any of those people actually listen to NPR or watch PBS anyway.
That wasn’t very nice, in fact the complete opposite of the continued pushes for us to stop assuming and Facebook-filtering and instead work harder to understand each other.
And hasn’t Big Bird and the rest of the Sesame Street gang already moved to HBO?
Hold on. What are we even talking about anymore? I fear we’ve gotten off point.
Right: Trump. So, Ryan and Gingrich would happily dance on Big Bird’s presumably big ass grave, but they might have some actual opposition from within their own party. Not everyone wants to move Big Bird to tears:
But public broadcasters believe they have a staunch defender in the uppermost tier of the Trump hierarchy.
As governor of Indiana, Pence restored state funding for public broadcasting that had been previously eliminated. In 2014, APTS gave Pence its Champion of Public Broadcasting Award. Pence wrote his acceptance speech himself and showed it to Butler after delivering it. “I could have written this speech,” Butler said.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is also considered a public-media supporter — a fan of Kentucky Educational Television, his home state’s government-run TV network. And Republican majorities in the House and Senate have continued to approve funding for public broadcasting since they took joint control of Congress in 2014.
“We have good friends and allies and champions on both the Senate and House appropriations committees,” said Patrick Butler, CEO of America’s Public Television Stations.
Huh. So, Mike Pence is officially a Champion of Public Broadcasting? Good for him. Maybe they should put him in charge of preventing Trump from ever seeing Sesame Street’s Apprentice parody from 10 years ago, starring “Donald Grump,” who brags about having more trash than anyone else: