Don't Mess with Big Bird!

by Melissa Brunner

It started as a classic exchange in the first Presidential debate that spawned lots of banter - and jokes. Mitt Romney suggested cutting funding to public television even though he does love Big Bird. Pres. Obama took the comment and ran with it, saying Romney won't change things on Wall Street, but will crack down on Sesame Street.

The exchange even sparked an appearance by Big Bird on Saturday night live. The oversized yellow guy stayed above the fray - though he did make one joke: Who likes de-bates? Da-fish! (get it?!)

A move today, though, would seem to suggest the folks behind Big Bird have had enough of making their friendly fowl a political punchline. The Obama campaign released an ad, featuring Big Bird.

Children's Television Workshop offered this response:

"Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns. We have approved no campaign ads and, as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down."

To be fair, the issue over taxpayer funding for public broadcasting isn't new. As a tough economy has lawmakers at all levels crunching the numbers, money budgeted for public broadcasting has often become a target. One version of the FY 2011 federal budget removed all funding for public broadcasting. Kansas lawmakers also have debated pulling the state's operating grants of public broadcasting stations. KTWU head Eugene Williams told me during the course of that debate that he believed local public broadcasters would have to step up efforts to find new business models to support their operations.

It would seem, in some ways, we've been watching the gradual evolution of public television all along. If you watch, you'll find full-blown commercials for home improvement stores before This Old House and extended lists and logos of sponsor mentions before the craft shows. Certainly, the traditional "call in your pledge" drives are a constant. I also saw one person question how much public television makes off merchandising from shows like Sesame Street. Others point out public broadcasting makes up a miniscule percentage of the federal budget.

What do you think?



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