Mister Rogers goes to Washington

[Audio: English; Captions: Auto-decent]

In 1969, Mister Rogers testified before the Senate to stop then President Nixon’s planned slashing (by one half) of the PBS budget. He prevailed. There’s more background to the story here: Fred Rogers, which includes a partial transcript that I’ve included below. The auto caption is decent — people were much better public speakers back then and he’s pretty clear. I met him once (had relatives who attended Sixth Presbyterian church in Squirrel Hill): this would have been around 1990 or 1991 and he spoke just like that. A very sweet, very wonderful man.

In the late 1960s, the U.S. Senate was considering cutting in half an important twenty million dollar grant for so-called “public broadcasting”. Fred, not yet famous with adults, was invited to speak and submit a paper at the hearing. He would plead his case — what makes public television different, why his program differs from cartoons and violence elsewhere on the dial — and he would do so before the notoriously gruff and impatient Senator John O. Pastore [D] from Rhode Island. Pastore was the first Italian American elected to the United States Senate in 1950.

Senator Pastore: All right Rogers, you got the floor.

Fred Rogers: Senator Pastore, this is a philosophical statement [motioning to a text copy of the essay he’d submitted] and would take about ten minutes to read, so I’ll not do that. One of the first things that a child learns in a healthy family is trust, and I trust what you’ve said, that you’ll read this. It’s very important to me, I care deeply about children, my first–

Senator Pastore: [interrupting] Will it make you happy if you read it?

Fred Rogers: I’d — just like to talk about it, if it’s all right —

Senator Pastore: [interrupting] Fine.

Fred Rogers: This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, “you’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service.

Senator Pastore: [After a long pause] I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy. This is the first time I’ve had goose bumps in the last two days.

Fred Rogers: Well I’m grateful. Not only for your goose bumps, but for your interest in our kind of communication.

Fred spoke for about six minutes total, taking the time to recite lyrics from one of his songs.

Fred Rogers: Know that there’s something deep inside, that helps us become what we can. For a
girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.

Senator Pastore: [visibly misty and touched] I think it’s wonderful. That is just so wonderful. Looks like you just won the twenty million dollars.

Spontaneous applause thundered throughout the courtroom. By that time, National Educational Television (the precursor to PBS) had already started broadcasting Fred’s programs nationwide in black and white. MisteRogers made its debut on February 19, 1968.

BTW, I’m absolutely tickled pink to note that this article goes on to describe Pastore’s seat like this:

Senator Pastore died in 1994. One year later, his Senatorial position would be assumed by another Italian American, the homophobic Rick Santorum [R], also from Pennsylvania.

Click on that link. The Internet is truly… a remarkable thing 😉

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