Officials address Romney’s PBS comments

By Riley Swinford

While some WSIU Radio and Television staff are concerned about comments Mitt Romney made in a presidential debate earlier this month, others at the university say they support the candidate’s comments.

Romney, the Republican party’s presidential nominee, said in the Oct. 3 Denver debate he would cut funding for public broadcasting as a way to tackle the nation’s debt crisis if he upon electeion.

The comments drew many responses from PBS fans across the country who fear they may lose their beloved radio and television stations.


Some university officials said Romney’s comments also worry them. Two public broadcasting channels are aired at SIU.

Federal funding accounts for about 30 percent of WSIU’s budget, said Greg Petrowich, the executive director of WSIU. Donations, corporate support, university money and state funding account for the rest of its funds, he said.

“(The proposed cuts) would be devastating,” Petrowich said. “I can’t imagine any business where you take 30 percent out of their budget and they still survive.”

Petrowich said WSIU takes the federal money and uses it to generate the rest of its funds.

“The government invests a little bit of money and it grows into something bigger that creates jobs and creates content,” he said. “To me, that seems like a pretty good business model.”

Bill Schroeder, a law professor who also advises the SIU College Republicans, said he doesn’t think Romney’s comments will make any difference in the election.

“The question is not whether public television is a good thing. It is whether, at a time when we are mired in debt, it is worth borrowing still more money to pay for it,” he said. “The people who were offended by the comments would have voted for Obama anyway.”


Greg Todd, the news director of WSIU’s River Region Evening News, said he wasn’t overly surprised when he first heard Romney’s comments because conservatives have expressed desire to cut PBS’ funding before. However, he said the comments are still troublesome.

“I think for the smaller media market stations, it could very well be the death,” he said. “I think an awful lot of NPR and PBS stations would go away across the country.”

Todd attended the university and said the hands-on experience he received through WSIU helped him launch a very successful and fulfilling career.

“I’m not sure I would have had the same success if I didn’t have my experience here,” Todd said. “There are thousands of examples just like it over the 42 years we have done live broadcasting here.”

Joe Tumminaro, a freshman from Chicago studying political science, said he does not favor one candidate over the other. However, he said he supports Romney’s plan to cut PBS funding.

“Our nation is so far in debt that we need to take a look at all the money we are spending, even if it is PBS,” he said.

Petrowich said it would not necessarily mean the end of broadcasting on campus if the public broadcasting cuts were so significant that PBS had to shut down. He said the university owns licenses to broadcast, and those would still be used. However, the makeup of what is broadcasted would change.

Instead, Petrowich said the content would be substantially different if WSIU did not have PBS broadcasts to air. Petrowich said he worries the channels would not generate the same amount of viewership and support because they would have to come up with different programs.

Petrowich said public broadcasting officials are confused at why Romney chose to take on the issue. Most people in public broadcasting feel the public wants to increase funding rather than decrease it, he said.

Philip Habel, an assistant political science professor, said Romney was trying to appeal to conservative voters through the PBS comments.

“Proposed cuts to government subsidized media, PBS and NPR, do have appeal among conservatives,” he said. “Romney may have wanted to communicate to conservative voters that he was sufficiently conservative, and to communicate to a larger audience that he was serious about cutting the deficit.”

Petrowich said he couldn’t remember a time a presidential candidate has used public broadcasting cuts in their platform. He said most other movements concerning PBS funding have been through Congress.

“Single statements such as this one are not likely to derail the Romney campaign unless the Obama campaign can successfully link such comments to a larger narrative,” Habel said.

Movements that range from “Occupy Sesame Street,” to parodies of Romney’s comments on YouTube and Saturday Night Live have debuted since the debate.

Todd said he hasn’t been surprised by the nation’s support for PBS because public broadcasting has always been endearing to Americans. He said public stations play a vital role in communities.

“I see public broadcasting having an important role for years to come,” he said.

Petrowich said the recent PBS support has been nice, but it is unfortunate that it took Romney’s comments to generate it.

Petrowich said PBS is still important even though the television landscape has changed significantly over the years.

While there are now hundreds of channels to choose from through cable and satellite providers, PBS remains a free over-the-air alternative that covers 99 percent of the country, he said.

“I think the assumption that every American is OK with paying $50 a month for television service is wrong,” Petrowich said. “We are still doing it for free, and everyone can get PBS.”