Ken Burns: A CPB Cut is 'Purely a Show Trial, and We Don't Do That In America'

AP reports something that's not very shocking: hallowed liberal PBS filmmaker Ken Burns (in between his Kennedy tribute films for Democrat conventions and the tens of thousands in donations to Barack Obama and other Democrats) is decrying Republicans for a "show trial" atmosphere in proposing cuts to public broadcasting subsidies:

"I just don't think they have fully thought through what they're doing," Burns said of House Republicans who want to eliminate or significantly reduce funding for the arts, humanities and public media. Such cuts would devastate film producers, he said.

Burns said Americans should know funding for public media is an "infinitesimal percentage" of the federal budget — less than the cost of a fighter jet each year. Such cuts won't reduce the nation's deficit or balance the budget, he said.

"Anyone going after that is just exercising political expediency," he said. "This is purely a show trial, and we don't do that in America." 

If Burns were on trial for expediency, we might wonder why this man with a deep love for Ted Kennedy ("the little engine that could") would base his wealth-making (oops, film-making) operations in Walpole, New Hampshire instead of Massachusetts. Could it be....New Hampshire has no state income tax? This is how the AP story began:

Ken Burns has a slew of documentary film projects planned for the next six years — from a history of the Dust Bowl to a series on the Vietnam War — and he says they depend on funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Funding for the humanities and for public broadcasting has been targeted for deep cuts in Congress. Burns was scheduled to testify at a House hearing Wednesday, but it was abruptly canceled amid stalled budget talks.

More than a third of the budgets for Burns' acclaimed PBS projects come from grants through the humanities endowment or public broadcasting funds, he said. He has made documentaries on baseball, the National Parks and World War II. A $1.3 million grant helped him make "The Civil War" series in the 1980s, and that money was repaid within two years through sales of his work. 

I would place great emphasis on the millions Burns makes "through sales of his work" -- and be skeptical of the idea that he "repaid" a federal grant. When I testified alongside Burns at a House hearing in 1999, he emphasized how his money mostly came from corporations like General Motors.

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