Congressional Republicans are proposing eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, setting up a battle not just for federal funding of public television but perhaps its very existence. Here’s my Variety profile of a key figure in defending CPB, its new chairman Bruce Ramer, a prominent entertainment attorney who also is a well-known Republican donor and fund-raiser:
Just after entertainment attorney Bruce Ramer was elected chairman of the Corp. for Public Broadcasting in November, he quoted Winston Churchill to the rest of the nine-member board: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
That he was citing a historic figure who faced impossible odds was no accident, as his words came just days after the leaders of President Obama’s deficit commission called for eliminating the CPB, and congressional Republicans cast a critical eye on future funding for National Public Radio following the firing of commentator Juan Williams.
What was not lost on many observers is that Ramer, 77, a Hollywood attorney with a client list that includes Steven Spielberg, is a well-known Republican in an industry of Democrats and liberals.
But to hear him talk at length is to hear a vigorous defense of public media
— he says it “really carries on the conversation of the nation” — and a sense that, despite calls for elimination of federal funding, support on Capitol Hill is deeper than the headlines would have you believe.
“I think we are going to have, despite a lot of Sturm und Drang and noise, a receptive audience both on the Hill and in the administration to maintain the system,” he says. “They may cut some. I hope it is not to the bone. I hope it doesn’t hurt too much. It has been too valuable a system through the years.”
Ramer is a prolific donor and fundraiser for GOP candidates, and a tenure as president of the American Jewish Committee took him to Capitol Hill to testify on national security issues. Ramer’s connection to public broadcasting goes back nearly 20 years to when he joined the board of KCET-TV in Los Angeles. He served as chairman from 2001 to 2003, and President George W. Bush, whom he knew from his campaign work, appointed him to the board of CPB in 2008.
The board comprises four Democrats, four Republicans and one independent. Its president and CEO, Patricia Harrison, is a former State Dept. official and former co-chair of the Republican National Committee.
Ramer obviously disagrees with the conclusions of Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the co-chairs of the deficit commission, noting, “One of the things that they perhaps didn’t focus on is this: There is a lot of leverage that comes with federal funding of public media. In the context of the overall budget, while every dollar counts, we are talking about $450 million here. That is a lot of money. However, that amount is not going to balance the budget. That is not going to have any noticeable impact on a deficit, which is in the trillions. It would eliminate employment (wages) of almost a billion dollars of Americans who are working in public media.”
Although the CPB is prohibited from spending money on lobbying Capitol Hill lawmakers, Ramer is cognizant that perceptions of public media can be just as powerful as reality. At the November CPB board meeting, he spoke of public broadcasting as being “irreplaceable,” but “also in need of repair.”