Scott D. Pierce: Only extremists — like Trump — want to defund PBS

Pasadena, Calif. • Year after year, poll after poll continues to show that Americans overwhelmingly support PBS.

For 16 years in a row, PBS has been the nation’s most-trusted news source. It’s been rated good or excellent by 70 percent of Americans. And a lot of them are watching — 86 percent of American households tune in to Public Broadcasting every year. And 90 percent of those surveyed said the amount of taxpayer funding PBS gets is either about right or too little.

The high approval ratings come from Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. Even a majority of those who identify themselves as Trump supporters also support funding PBS.

And yet PBS is under continual threat of losing public funding. Two years in a row, the Trump administration’s budget proposal zeroed out funding for public broadcasting (PBS and NPR), even though the $450 million isn’t even big enough to be a drop in the budget bucket — it represents .0001 percent of Trump’s proposed $4.407 trillion budget for 2019; $1.35 per American.

(Courtesy PBS) PBS remains hugely popular among American TV viewers.

And, by the way, that number has remained flat for the past several years; it covers about 15 percent of the total budget for public broadcasting.

PBS is mainstream. It’s hugely popular. The government wastes a lot of money on a lot of things, but helping to fund PBS is not one of them.

You’ve got to wonder about anyone who wants to take that funding away. They are, by definition, extremists. And, quite clearly, the Trump administration is extreme in its views about PBS. This is about undercutting what the administration perceives as a liberal outlet; it’s not about doing anything to balance the federal budget.

Fortunately, even with President Donald Trump in the White House, the Republican-controlled Congress has continued to fund PBS. And the thinking is that, with the Democrats now in control of the House, the funding is safer than it’s been in years.

But PBS President Paula Kerger said, “No matter who is in the White House and no matter what party is controlling the House and the Senate, I never assume that that money is just going to come.”

Taking questions from members of the Television Critics Association, she said, “I’m not sure there will ever be a time that I’ll stand on this stage and say, ‘Look. I’m relaxed. No problems here.’”

Kerger said PBS and all of its member stations must remain vigilant or their federal funding “could very easily fall through the cracks.”

“It really requires, each and every day, for our stations to make sure that their elected officials know that this is important,” she said.

It won’t necessarily be easy for the folks at KUED-Channel 7 to convince Utah politicians to get on board. The current occupant of the White House isn’t the first Republican to express his desire to zero out PBS funding. When he was running for president in 2012, Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney — in a debate with President Barack Obama — famously said, “I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS” despite insisting, “I like PBS. I like Big Bird.”

That was just plain dumb. Public broadcasting funding was about one-ten-thousandth of federal spending in 2012.

Despite decades of high-quality programming, educational shows for children and public service, Kerger said PBS must continually to prove itself. And she wasn't complaining.

“I think we should be asked to prove each and every year that this is important, and this is where the money is invested,” Kerger said. “And we’ll continue to do that.”