D.C. PBS Station Insists Its 'Call Congress' Ad Doesn't Take Sides -- As It Warns of 'Devastating Effect' on Kiddie Shows

The Washington Times took up the issue today of how PBS and NPR stations exploit their own airwaves to lobby against Republican budget-cut proposals. Reporter Seth McLaughlin and Stephen Dinan reported that spokesmen for PBS superstations WGBH in Boston and WETA in Washington “said their appeals never told their audiences which way to lobby Congress, but only to call and let their feelings be known.”

A look at WETA’s ad (which we recorded after the February 22 Frontline) shows this is simply and obviously untrue. The announcer clearly insists the House Republicans are putting kiddie programs at risk and cuts “will have a devastating effect on WETA and the television programs you and your family rely on.” Do they really expect people to agree this isn’t an advocacy ad? Do they think someone would say "I'm so glad they've inspired me to call and say "I hate WordGirl and Sid the Science Kid. Please defund those little jerks.'" Here’s the whole script:

(video, audio and transcript after the jump)

(MP3 audio)

ANNOUNCER: As you may know the House of Representatives has passed a bill to eliminate all federal funding of public broadcasting. They want to completely eliminate the federal funding that supports educational and commercial-free children's programs.

[Over images of children’s TV characters comes the exploitative graphic: “Eliminate special children’s funding."]

Shows like Sesame Street, WordGirl, and Sid the Science Kid are at risk. These cuts will have a devastating effect on WETA and the television and radio programs you and your family rely on - like Masterpiece. Mystery! NOVA. And the PBS NewsHour. Do your elected officials know how you feel about funding for public broadcasting?Call your representatives in Congress today and let them know where you stand. And for more information visit our Web site at WETA.org.

The 2009 CPB Annual Report shows WETA’s combined radio and television efforts received over $7.5 million from CPB. There was no line item for "special children's funding." All the aforementioned shows are made by profitable private entities: Sesame Street by Sesame Workshop, WordGirl by Scholastic, and Sid the Science Kid by the Jim Henson Company.

McLaughlin and Dinan added that some stations are more blatant in arguing against budget cuts on their taxpayer-funded airwaves: WQED in Pittsburgh urges on its website to "Stop the Senate From Cutting Funding for Public Broadcasting and WQED!" The station's also airing a TV ad featuring historic footage from a 1969 hearing in which Fred [Mister] Rogers testified for Lyndon Johnson's original $20 million grant for the new CPB. Rogers died in 2003.

[Hat tip to MRC's Geoffrey Dickens for finding the ad.]

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis