Mr. Rogers' passionate defense of PBS from 1969 is more relevant than ever


As President Donald Trump's newly-released budget proposal threatens to decimate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, many are pointing out the vital service public television provides to Americans across the country.

One of the best defenses of public television, though, was already made nearly 50 years ago by one of PBS's most beloved icons: Fred Rogers.

"Mister Rogers," as he was known to millions of children from his long-running show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, went to Washington, D.C., in May 1969 to speak in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce's Subcommittee on Communications and advocate for $20 million in federal funding for the then-new CPB. 

In his speech to subcommittee chairman Sen. John Pastore, Rogers offered a passionate defense of public television and its children's programming, which would be further transformed just a few months later with Sesame Street's debut in November. To assert the programming's importance, Rogers pointed to his own show as a teaching tool for children and their mental health.

"I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique," Rogers said in his speech. "I end the program by saying, 'You've made this day a special day, by just your being you. There's no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.'"

Rogers continued:

And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health. I think that it's much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger ... than showing something of gunfire.

Rogers' assertion of his show's importance quickly won over Pastore, who seemed to have no previous knowledge of Rogers or his show. 

"Well, I'm supposed to be a pretty tough guy," Pastore said in response to Rogers' defense, "and this is the first time I've had goosebumps for the past two days." 

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To close out the speech, Rogers quoted from one of his children's songs, which offers an important reminder about how children can respond to anger when they feel mad.

I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish, Can stop, stop, stop anytime, and what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there's something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.

In response to Rogers passionate recitation, Pastore had just one thing to say: "Looks like you just earned the $20 million."

As the CPB's federal funding comes under scrutiny once again, we'll have to wait and see whether current members of Congress will recognize the vital importance of this programming for themselves.