News & Politics

Mike Pence Loves Public Broadcasting

He was a big "Downton Abbey" fan.

Photograph by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

President Trump’s proposed budget eliminates the federal government’s funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The reduction signals what Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney calls the goal of “ending federal involvement with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

One interesting dimension to this goal is that in 2014, the Association of Public Television Stations gave its “Champion of Public Broadcasting” award to one Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

In his acceptance speech for the award, Pence, now the Vice President, revealed he’s a huge Downton Abbey fan–“there is to be no discussion or tweeting among our children about what happens with Edith, what exactly Mr. Bates is up to, or whether Mary will pick a new suitor,” he said. He also loves Ken Burns and spoke fondly of meeting the filmmaker at the Capitol Hill Club when he was a member of the House of Representatives: “Had to take a picture of that,” he enthused. He also noted that Super Why made an appearance during his inaugural events.

Pence said he saw in his state the huge role public broadcasting played in early childhood education as well: “Frankly, when we were going line by line through our budget proposal, when came to deciding whether to include funding for public television in our budget, I want to tell you, it was an easy call.” Public television, he continued, “plays a vital role in educating all of the public, but most especially our children.”

When Ronald Reagan left office, Pence said, he “talked about how the nation had a good feeling, but it wouldn’t count for much, it last very long if it wasn’t grounded in thoughtfulness and in knowledge. He called on the American people then to embrace again informed patriotism.” Pence again cited Burns as “emblematic” of the kind of civic education he said public broadcasting was uniquely situated to provide: “You more than anywhere else seem to be the place that most authentically tells the American story to the American people.”

Some conservatives have dreamed for years of the government getting out of the Big Bird business and forcing public broadcasting to find other sources of funding. At NPR, CPB funding accounts for about 1 percent of the annual operating budget. But as Ben Mullin reports at Poynter, “it comprises about 9 percent of revenue for public radio stations across America, and dues from member stations provided about 39 percent of NPR’s revenue from 2014 to 2016.”

A 2012 study by Booz & Company done at Congress’ request found that “there is simply no substitute for the federal investment to accomplish the public service mission that Congress has assigned to public broadcasters and that the American people overwhelmingly support.” In a statement, PBS says the “cost of public broadcasting is small, only $1.35 per citizen per year, and the benefits are tangible: increasing school readiness for kids 2-8, support for teachers and homeschoolers, lifelong learning, public safety communications and civil discourse.” And, of course, Downton.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.