Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An Open Letter to Michael Moore

Dear Michael Moore,

I owe you an apology.

There was something you frequently did that really bugged me.

It had nothing to do with your political views. In fact, I’m pretty much in agreement with most of them. I think healthcare should be a universal right and that working people should be given a fair break and that access to education should be affordable to all.

And I, too, was an Obama supporter and was thrilled when he was elected.

No, the thing that bugged me was that damned hat you were always wearing. That green one. The one with the white “S” on it. As a lifelong University of Michigan fan, I found that hat to just be so profoundly… wrong. Why were you always wearing THAT hat? Why not a nice maize and blue one? One with an “M” on it?

But then something happened…

Last week, the University of Michigan announced they were no longer going to fund WFUM, the Public Television station in Flint, Michigan. They claimed they no longer could afford it.

Before I continue, I should say in the interest of full disclosure that I am a 26-year employee of WFUM. I will lose my job soon. And while that is personally devastating, that’s not the real issue. True, it’s a horrible feeling to hold your sobbing wife in your arms as she asks “What are we going to do?” and feel sick to your stomach because you don’t have an answer. And to make sure you do your crying in the shower so nobody will see you. And to feel the heart-wrenching sadness of looking at your children working hard on their homework and wondering how the hell you’re going to save for their college tuition when you’re not even sure how you're going to make the house payments.

It's so frustrating to feel that despite doing all the "right things", getting an education, working hard and being a loyal employee things still end up this way.

But let’s face it. There’s nothing that’s happening to my family and I that hasn’t happened to hundreds of thousands of workers across the nation already.

No, the real issue is that of large educational institutions and their role in providing information and education to their surrounding communities. The University said that WFUM didn’t fulfill its “core academic mission”. Which seems to be a polite way of saying “if you’re not paying tuition, why should we bother with you?”

But I believe serving the general public IS and SHOULD BE considered part of an educational institution's core academic mission.

And I also believe that over the last three decades WFUM has helped a community that desperately needed it. We have aired countless hours of educational children’s programming to provide learning resources to families who might not otherwise have access to them. And our station has a dedicated staff member who conducts educational workshops for parents and educators of underprivileged and underserved segments of our population, giving them books and lesson plans that tie-in with the educational content of the television programs.

There is also the use of multicast technology to present "how-to" instructional programs about painting, sewing, crafts, cooking and travel on our new second digital channel.

And then there was our other programming. In fact, I remember the local furor when PBS was going to air “Roger and Me” years ago. Many people, some of them rather prominent, called demanding that we not air that program. I’m happy to say that Jim Gaver, our program director at the time, realized the profound importance of airing it in the city that was the subject of the documentary. And it aired. And I was proud to be an employee of WFUM.

And I also remember the pride I felt when you graciously allowed WFUM to air your series “The Awful Truth” because it was not available on Flint-area cable channels at the time. I still remember the good feeling I had when I took the box of “Awful Truth” tapes to our master control room for air, knowing no other local station would dare air it. I felt we were really doing something for the community.

I also recall the situation a few years back when certain conservatives in the government, apoplectic over the positive portrayal of (gasp!) Lesbian parents in an episode of the children's series “Postcards from Buster” pressured PBS into pulling the episode from their national feed. We made alternate arrangements and aired it anyway. I still recall the satisfaction I felt knowing we were doing the right thing.

And then there are cutting edge informative shows like “Bill Moyers Journal”, “NOW on PBS”, the unflinching "Frontline" documentaries and local political programs like “Off the Record”.

But PBS, since its inception, has always lacked a secure funding source.

This is especially troubling since, in the current media landscape dominated by massive corporate conglomorates, having a strong and independent noncommercial public service media is, I feel, an important source for the information needed to support a strong democracy. Many dedicated people who work in public broadcasting have felt the same way and despite harrowing financial obstacles have done a great job presenting such programs - especially considering the meager funding they have received.

But others, some at the University of Michigan, apparently aren’t as passionate about that sort of thing.

I do wonder, though, why a huge institution like the University of Michigan feels it can’t afford a Public Television station serving the surrounding communities while smaller institutions in this state such as Delta College, Grand Valley State, Northern Michigan University and… yes… even Michigan State University, can.

Don’t get me wrong. The University of Michigan is a great institution that accomplishes many wonderful things in science, research, the arts and technology (though apparently no longer in football, though THEIR funding seems secure). But shouldn’t they also have an obligation to serve their surrounding communities? Many people in Flint and the surrounding area who may never be able to afford a tuition at the U of M can still benefit from the high quality informative programming provided by WFUM.

But that will no longer be the case in a few months.

Which brings me back to that hat.

I forgive you for wearing it.

Because, in all honesty, I have to question why a community should support an institution that no longer supports the community.

And that is why, although I have been a Wolverine since I could walk and although my discretionary income will likely be minimal soon, I plan to take a small part of my final WFUM paycheck and go to the sporting goods store. And I will buy a green baseball cap. One with a white “S” on it.

I will put it on.

And like you, I will wear it with pride.

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