Every year for the Labor Day issue this reporter acknowledges the joy I have for being a journalist. I love my job. With a relentlessly positive attitude I interview VIPs, celebrities, and otherwise normal people to share their stories.
But I’ve put my writing on hold for the past couple of months while my husband Frank has been in the VA hospital. That is a more important job right now, to try to give him a happy day every day. After all, it was Frank (former editor of The Hollywood Reporter) who encouraged me to be a writer after we got married, and brought a profound sense of fulfillment to my creative spirit.
As a journalist, in addition to meeting interesting individuals from all walks of life at events and shows around town all year long, I am lucky to have the opportunity to chat with a variety of creative and famous individuals during the Television Critics Association’s press tours twice a year. I’ve been doing that for more than 30 years and I am still excited about asking questions that spark great replies.
Sometimes during the panel interviews special moments happen that turn into a real connection with an important issue. That happened during the PBS session for Ken Burns, who was there to talk about the upcoming broadcast of The Vietnam War. It’s a new, 10-part, 18-hour documentary film series, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, starting Sunday, September 17 on PBS. But I connected with Ken when I asked him to talk about the importance of funding Public Broadcasting.
Paula Kerger, PBS President and CEO, has called vital federal funding for the network “a dynamic situation, and the outcome is uncertain. …We were not included in the administration’s budget…For roughly $1.35 per citizen per year, we present content that cannot be found anywhere else on television, including in-depth journalism, arts and culture and programs that help viewers better understand the natural world around them.”
With PBS as the steadfast home base of his films for more than 30 years, Burns has explored the Civil War, World War II, baseball, jazz, prohibition, the West, National Parks, the Roosevelts and more. Those documentaries have educated and enlightened audiences.
Ken Burns was the perfect person to ask about fighting for PBS funding, and there was fervent passion in his voice when he said, “I have testified many times on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts, but also the National Endowment for the Humanities. They go together, and particularly for all of us in public broadcasting, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that provides a significantly greater percentage of the money per budget on average than the endowments. The National Endowment for the Humanities, for example, was responsible for a third of the budget for the Civil War series. I’ve testified on the Senate and House side many times…appropriations or authorization for all of those entities. And I think they’re hugely important right now. Having a free press and an independent press, having free history, an independent history, is incredibly important, particularly as we begin to feel the sort of quicksand of those who are willing to manipulate the truth and have alternative or false facts and things like that.”
Burns continued, “I remember testifying in front of John McCain’s subcommittee on the Senate side in the mid-1990s, which initiated my friendship with him. And he plays an important part in this film (The Vietnam War) and has played, recently, a hugely important part in the history of our republic. I don’t think there’s an American out there that doesn’t wish him the best.”
“Now we’re trying so hard as a network to reach out to all Americans with a brand that they can feel comfortable with. While we can count on the marketplace to do lots of things in our lives, and it’s a wonderful, positive element in our lives, the marketplace doesn’t come to your house at 3am when it’s on fire. The marketplace does not have boots on the ground in Afghanistan at this moment. And while I wouldn’t ever suggest that public broadcasting has anything to do with the defense of the country, I think with every fiber of my being that it makes our country worth defending by what it has added to our national conversation.”
After the interview session Burns took the time to wish my husband well and thanked him for his service as a World War II vet.
I personally want to thank Ken for his service as America’s storyteller.
Margie Barron is a member of the Television Critics Association and has written for a variety of top publications for more than 35 years, and is half of the husband and wife writing team of Margie and Frank Barron.