LBJ’s Remarks Upon the Signing

Title Remarks on the Signing of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967

Creator Lyndon B. Johnson

Date November 7, 1967

Source Speakers Notes, 11/7/67, “Remarks of the President at the Signing of the Public Broadcasting Act,” Statements of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Box 251, LBJ Library.

Transcription Signing S. 1160, Public TV Act: Nov. 7, 1967

Secretary Gardner, Senator Pastore, Chairman Staggers, Members of Congress, Ladies and Gentlemen:

In 1844, Congress authorized $30,000 for the first telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore. Soon afterward, Samuel Morse sent a stream of dots and dashes over that line to a waiting friend. His message was brief and prophetic. It read: “What hath God wrought?” Every one of us should feel that same awe and wonderment here today.

For now, miracles in communication are our daily routine. Every minute, billions of telegraph messages chatter around the world; billions of signals rush over the ocean floor and fly above the clouds. Radio and television fill the air with sound. Satellites hurl messages thousands of miles in an instant.

Today our problem is not making miracles — but managing miracles. We might well ponder a different question: What hath man wrought — and how will man use his inventions? The law I sign today offers one answer to that question.

It announces to the world that our nation wants more than material wealth; more that a “chicken in every pot.” We have an appetite for excellence too.

While we work to produce new goods and create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man’s spirit. That is the purpose of this Act.

It will give a wider and stronger voice to educational radio and television by providing new funds for broadcasting facilities. It will launch a major study of television’s use in the nation’s classrooms. Finally — and most important — it builds a new institution: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

This Corporation will assist stations and producers who aim for the best in broadcasting good music, exciting plays, reports on the whole fascinating range of human activity. It will try to prove that what educates can also be exciting.

It will get part of its support from the government. But it will be carefully guarded from government or party control. It will be free and independent — and it will belong to all the people.

Television is still a young invention. But we have learned already that it has immense — even revolutionary — power to change men’s lives. I hope that those who lead the corporation will direct that power toward great, not trivial purposes.

At its best, public television would help make our nation a replica of the old Greek marketplace, where public affairs took place in full view of the citizens. But in weak or irresponsible hands, it could generate controversy without understanding; it could mislead as well as teach; it could appeal to passions rather to reason.

If public television is to fulfill our hopes, the Corporation must be representative, responsible — and long on leadership.

I intend to nominate men and women of outstanding ability. As a beginning, I have called on Dr. Milton Eisenhower and Dr. James Killian to serve as members of the Board. Dr. Eisenhower was Chairman of the first citizens which sought allocation of air waves for educational purposes. Dr. Killian served as Chairman of the Carnegie Commission which proposed the Act we sign today.

What hath man wrought? And how will man use his miracles? The answer just begins with Public Broadcasting.

In 1862, the Morrill Act set aside lands in every state — land which belonged to the people — to build the Land Grant Colleges. Today we rededicate part of the air waves — which belong to the people — for the enlightenment of the people.

I believe the time has come to stake another claim in the name of all the people; a claim upon the combined resources of communications. The time has come to enlist the computer and the satellite, as well as television and radio in the cause of education.

We must consider ways to build a great network for knowledge — not just a broadcast system, but one employing every means of sending and storing information.

Think of the lives it could change: — the student in a small college could tap the research resources of a great university; — the country doctor could get help from a distant laboratory or teaching hospital; — a scholar in Atlanta might draw instantly on a library in New York; — a famous teacher could reach with ideas and inspiration into a faroff classroom, so that no child need be neglected.

Eventually, this Electronic Knowledge Bank could be at least as valuable as the Federal Reserve Bank. And such a system could involve other nations, too — in a partnership to share knowledge and enrich mankind.

A wild and visionary idea? Not at all. Yesterday’s strangest dreams are today’s headlines, and change is getting swifter.

I have already called upon my advisors to explore the possibility of a network for knowledge — and to draw up a blueprint for achieving it.

In 1844, when Henry Thoreau (Thuh-ROE) heard about Mr. Morse’s telegraph, he made a sour comment about the race for faster communication. “Perchance,” he warned, “the first news which will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.”

I am not such a skeptic. I believe we have important things to say to one another — and the wisdom to match our technical genius. In that spirit, I sign the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

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This act has had a host of fathers. But I would like to single out several who worked long and hard ot bring it about: Senators Magnuson, Pastore and Cotton — Chairman Staggers, Congressman McDonald and Congressman Springer.

I would like to send a special word of greeting to William Harley and the National Association of Educational Broadcasters who are gathered in Denver and participating in this ceremony by remote control.

As I mentioned before, Dr. James Killian and the other members of the Carnegie Commission provided many of the ideas and inspiration. At this time, I would like to call on Mr. Alan Pifer, President of the Carnegie Corporation, who has a statement he wishes to make.

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