The White House's budget proposal includes a $54 billion increase in military spending that ostensibly will be offset by cuts to a variety of cabinet-level departments and lesser agencies, among them the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides funding that helps fuel the Public Broadcasting Service, National Public Radio, some 170 public-TV stations, and 900-plus public radio stations.
CPB's requested appropriation for this year is about $490 million. President Donald Trump and company want to “zero it out,” effectively ending all federal support for the sources of an out-sized share of American broadcasting's smartest, most educational programming – adult series like NOVA, Frontline, All Things Considered and Fresh Air as well as The Electric Company, Word Girl, Peg + Cat and more than a dozen other great children's shows.
So, I have a counter proposal, at once modest and radical: Give CPB the money it's asking for, which is less than one percent of the proposed military increase, and let the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard have a week-long pledge drive every year on PBS.
I'm not being facetious. In the telethon I envision, PBS would schedule a selection of its greatest all-time militaristic hits 24/7 for a week. The program roster would include acclaimed, award-winning documentary series such as Ken Burns' The Civil War and The War (as in WW2), Vietnam: A Television History, the great British import The World at War. There would also be one-shots from PBS's archives, docs about Eisenhower, MacArthur, the Manhattan Project, the design and construction of the World War II Memorial and more.
Come to think of it, PBS over the course of its existence has probably the most military-friendly, patriotic network in the video universe. If it weren't for PBS's annual Memorial Day concert telecasts, where would you ever see and hear the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, the U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters, or the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants?
In breaks between the military programs, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assorted veterans and current service members and perhaps the President himself would make appeals for donations.
I can see the phalanx of ribbon-ed service men and women at the phones and the on-screen crawl: Decorated operators are standing by.
We probably couldn't raise enough money to make the proposed spending increase unnecessary – I mean, $54 billion is a battleship-load of $25 pledges – but surely with a full military press on PBS, we could get patriotic, troops-supporting Americans to pony up the cost of a few jet fighters or 100,000 hours of counseling for vets suffering from PTSD.
To help things along, we could try variations on some of the tried and true public-broadcasting fund raising ploys. There could be Red state vs. Blue state pledge-offs and challenges to VFW and American Legion posts. Munitions manufacturers could match pledges during certain hours. How about boxed sets of the complete works of Tom Clancy and camouflage tote bags?
So there you have it, a rough outline for the first PBS Armed Services Telethon, which ought to draw bipartisan support because it benefits our soldiers, provides tax relief and doesn't grow the government.
As they say in advertising, if not the Army, let's run it up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes.