How Mister Rogers Saved Public Television

The beloved television star testified before Congress in 1969 on the importance of educational programming.

Posted in , Jan 22, 2020

Fred Rogers in the role of Mr. Rogers

Mister Rogers was more than a talented puppeteer, television host and devout Christian. He was also a vital voice when it came to protecting funding for public television.

When President Richard Nixon proposed cutting the federal budget for public television in 1969, Rogers—whose show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had only recently been syndicated nationally—traveled to Washington D.C. and gave a passionate speech to Congress about the importance of his program, explaining how it helped children navigate their emotions in a healthy way.

“I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique,” Rogers explained to the Senate Subcommittee on Communication.  “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,’”

Doing this, Rogers went on to say in his signature calm voice, provided “a great service for mental health” by making “it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable.”

Speaking to an initially combatant group, Rogers won over the senators questioning him in a matter of minutes. At the end of his testimony, Senator John Pastore of Rhode Island said he had goosebumps and declared, “Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”

The funding that Rogers ensured allowed his show to run until 2001, touching the lives of millions of children and teaching them about kindness and love through play.

For Rogers, who left behind his ordination as a Presbyterian minister to work in television, it was the fulfillment of his spiritual calling.

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is,” he said, “that each of us has something that no one else has—or ever will have—something inside that is unique to all time.”

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