Can you imagine Super Grover from Sesame Street followed by a super PAC ad from K Street? Neither can Bill Moyers. In this essay, Moyers talks about the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to allow political and issue advertising on public TV and radio channels. “Just say no,” Moyers urges station managers across the country — but they need your help.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Imagine if you turned on your TV set someday soon and were greeted by this:
SESAME STREET CHARACTER #1: HI! Welcome to Sesame Street!
SESAME STREET CHARACTER #2: Hola!
BILL MOYERS: But first, this message…
CAMPAIGN AD #1: This time Romney’s firing his mud at Rick Santorum…
CAMPAIGN AD #2: Starring Barack Obama as President Flexible…
BILL MOYERS: Sesame Street—brought to you by the letter C, for creeping campaign cash corruption. Okay, perhaps we’re exaggerating a bit, but as the late William F. Buckley, Jr., used to say, the point survives the exaggeration. Because a startling decision from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down the federal ban against political and issue advertising on public TV and radio. This means potentially, that super PACs, special interests, and the rich who want to influence elections could buy ad time on your favorite public television or radio station.
The Public Broadcasting Act was signed into law in 1967. It uses the term “noncommercial” 16 times to describe what public television and radio should be. It specifically says, and I quote, “No noncommercial educational broadcasting station may support or oppose any candidate for political office.” We’ve taken that seriously all these years, and most of us who've labored in this vineyard still think public broadcasting should be a refuge from the braying distortions and outright lies that characterize politics today.
In its majority decision, the circuit court did uphold the rule that forbids public stations from carrying ads for commercial products and services, but it said it seemed logical to the judges that the decision on political advertisers wouldn’t cause stations to dilute their noncommercial programming. Logical? Sorry, your honors: this is the same so-called logic that led the U.S. Supreme Court to issue its notorious Citizens United decision, that’s the one that opened all spigots to flood the political landscape with cash and the airwaves with trash. “To be truthful” one former PBS board member said, "it scares me to death.” Us, too.
With our stations always in a financial pickle, frantically hanging on by their fingertips, it won’t be easy to turn down those quick bucks from super PACs and others. But if I may, hang in there my brothers and sisters in the local trenches: if ever there was a time for solidarity and spunk, this is it. Stations KPBS in San Diego and KSFR, public radio in Santa Fe, have already said they won’t take these ads. If enough of you say no, this invasion might be repelled. And viewers, our stations need to know you’re behind them.
This message was paid for by our uncoordinated Super PAC: Americans at the Crossroads for Wall Street Prosperity and Restoring the Future on Our Terms Only Who are People Like You.
I’m Bill Moyers and I both approve and disapprove this message.