ABSTRACT

There is an often-told story in public media lore about the time in May 1969 when Fred Rogers, creator and host of the beloved and influential children’s television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications. The Nixon Administration was eager to cut the appropriation for the newly formed Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Fred Rogers was asked to talk about how the cut would impact his work (Rogers, 1969). Most people focus on the end of the story when subcommittee chairman Senator John O. Pastore, clearly moved by Rogers’ remarks, said, “Looks like you just earned the 20 million dollars.” While that was a seminal moment in the history of federal funding for public broadcasting, what makes it more remarkable is how Rogers made his case. His persuasive argument was not about the need to produce a daily, half-hour television show. Rather, he talked about the need to provide, what he called, “a meaningful expression of care” that helped very young children deal with “the inner drama of childhood” and taught them that their “feelings are mentionable and manageable.” Fred Rogers’ method for helping young children, especially those most in need, happened to be through a television show, but it was the need he was meeting, not the medium, that carried the day.