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Pierce: Leave Big Bird alone, Romney and Obama

Published October 13, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Politicians of all political stripes tend to sound sort of stupid when they talk about television — because they don't know what they're talking about.

There have been congressional hearings about TV violence that made congressman and senators seem like Keystone Kops because they were so ridiculously uninformed.

And then there was Mitt Romney delivering what may have been his most memorable line in the first debate:

"I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too," he said to moderator Jim Lehrer. "But I'm not going to ... borrow money from China to pay for it."

Romney, who has been short on specifics, singled out PBS? Not only do polls indicate that public broadcasting is overwhelmingly popular, but this is the equivalent of shooting a rubber band at an aircraft carrier.

The total federal subsidy for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — which helps fund PBS and National Public Radio — is about $445 million.

That's 0.00018 percent of the $2.469 trillion national budget.

If you make $100,000 a year, that's $18.

"Sesame Street" got $7.9 million — 0.000003 percent of the federal budget. The equivalent of 30 cents out of a $100,000 income. Less than a drop in the bucket.

You don't have to be an economist to understand this.

So this has to be about something else. It has to be political. Has to be about GOP assertions that PBS is too liberal And, lo and behold, there have been right-wing pundits on cable news networks asserting that "Sesame Street" indoctrinates our children by including lessons about sharing.

Seriously. "Sesame Street" is being called a socialist plot.

That might not be the stupidest thing we've heard this political season, but it's high on the list.

And, we're told, there are commercial networks that do what PBS does. Really? Name them. It's sure not A&E, Bravo, TLC or History, which are overrun with low-budget reality junk.

This would all be funny if it wasn't so sad. If Romney is elected and cuts funding, some PBS stations will close down. Others, like KUED-Channel 7 in Utah, will have to cut back.

Romney has continued to invoke Big Bird's name while campaigning, which is shameful. "Sesame Street" has helped educate American children for 43 years.

Dragging it into the political arena is a cynical move that ought to be beneath any serious candidate for president.

Including President Barack Obama, whose campaign created a 30-second commercial featuring Big Bird and "Sesame Street" to strike back at Romney.

No, Big Bird didn't endorse the president.

None of this matters to the preschool kids "Sesame Street" is aimed at. Unless making this a political issue hurts the show.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.