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Debate thrusts Big Bird into presidential campaign

By David Bauder

AP Television Writer

LAST UPDATED: 01:37 p.m. HST, Oct 04, 2012

NEW YORK >> Big Bird has never been so hot.

"Saturday Night Live," Jimmy Fallon, Piers Morgan, the "Today" show and "Good Morning America" all asked for appearances from the "Sesame Street" character on Thursday after he was unexpectedly thrust into the presidential campaign by Mitt Romney.

Sesame Workshop says the giant yellow Muppet is declining all appearances, but there was this tweet from Big Bird on the Sesame Street account: "My bed time is usually 7:45, but I was really tired yesterday and fell asleep at 7! Did I miss anything last night?"

Yes, Bird. During Wednesday's debate with President Barack Obama, Romney called for cutting federal funding to PBS, despite saying, "I love Big Bird." It renewed a long-running debate over subsidies to public broadcasting.

"I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS," the former Massachusetts governor, a Republican, said during a deficit-cutting discussion. "I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too, Jim (Lehrer, PBS newsman and debate moderator). But I'm not going to ... keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it."

Obama brought up his opponent's plans for Big Bird during a campaign stop today in Madison, Wis.

"I just want to make sure I've got this straight: He'll get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he's going to crack down on 'Sesame Street,'" Obama said of Romney. "Thank goodness somebody's finally cracking down on Big Bird! Who knew that he was responsible for all these deficits! Elmo's got to watch out!"

PBS chief Paula Kerger said she "just about fell off the sofa" when the issue suddenly came up during the debate. She said that if the subsidy goes, so will some PBS stations.

Federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting totals $450 million this year, accounting for about 15 percent of the CPB's budget, she said. Federal money supplements the budgets of PBS' 179 stations nationally. For some of the smaller stations in rural areas, this subsidy accounts for more than half of their yearly budget, so many can't operate without it.

Considering Romney stressed the importance of education, she said she hopes he realizes the extent of educational programming that PBS offers. Four out of five children under age 5 watch public television, where "Sesame Street" is a long-running hit, she said.

"To me, public television is like mom and apple pie," she said. "Maybe it's because I'm just too close to it. Maybe it's because I talk to so many people for whom public television is a lifeline."

But public broadcasting funding has been a frequent target of congressional Republicans, who believe PBS and National Public Radio favor liberal points of view.

"It is demoralizing to have our work put in the middle of this debate," Kerger said. "We don't belong here."

The issue quickly became a hot topic on social media, where Twitter reported a peak of 17,000 tweets per second about Big Bird. The hashtag (hash)SaveBigBird quickly sprouted up.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tweeted: "Hey, I figured out how Romney will balance the budget: sale of TV rights to broadcast the decapitation of Big Bird."

For several years, "Sesame Street" has produced videos and other materials for the Pentagon to help children deal with parents' absences during tours of duty as well as other stresses suffered by the children of troops. Asked at a Pentagon briefing whether the Defense Department wants to see its relationship with the program continue, press secretary George Little sidestepped the question.

"I will say that we've had a long-lasting and effective partnership with 'Sesame Street' and they have supported military children," Little said. "But I'm not going to get into politics here — I wouldn't want to ruffle any feathers, so to speak."

Sesame Workshop, the producers who make "Sesame Street," noted that while it is not part of PBS, it depends on the stations to distribute its work.

"Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organization," said Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop spokeswoman. "We do not comment on campaigns, but we're happy we can all agree that everyone likes Big Bird."


Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.

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busterb wrote:
Poor Big Bird going get outsourced to China and die of SARS!
on October 4,2012 | 02:14PM
Holomua wrote:
No, not SARS. Bird flu.
on October 4,2012 | 02:26PM
busterb wrote:
My bad, I thought they were related. Didn't know mammals could carry SARS... learn something new everyday.
on October 4,2012 | 03:46PM
frontman wrote:
PBS is nothing more than a mouth piece for the democrats and the taxpayers should NOT have to pay for it.
on October 4,2012 | 02:30PM
Dizzle wrote:
Oh really? "Nothing more..." Your ridiculous comment makes me wonder if you've ever even watched PBS which has a legacy of outstanding programs. Yes, you definitely do not seem like a "Masterpiece Theater" kind of guy. I'm thinking Fox News and Jerry Springer fan with a GED. frontman take a back seat......
on October 4,2012 | 03:15PM
honopic wrote:
Props for giving frontman credit for a GED. I was thinking 7th grade, tops.
on October 4,2012 | 06:34PM
Sista4 wrote:
No worries, Big Bird - you've got lots of friends....welcome to the 47%!
on October 4,2012 | 02:54PM
busterb wrote:
42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47! 47%! Ar Ar Ar Ar
on October 4,2012 | 03:05PM
SteveToo wrote:
Our president is such a lying a-s-s. He said this today. ""I just want to make sure I've got this straight: He'll get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he's going to crack down on 'Sesame Street,'" Obama said of Romney. "Thank goodness somebody's finally cracking down on Big Bird! Who knew that he was responsible for all these deficits! Elmo's got to watch out!" Romney didn't say Big Bird was a problem. He said funding PBS is a problem. If PBS is putting out a good product and people are watching/listening then they should find sponsors to pay for it. NOT ME.
on October 4,2012 | 04:50PM
Dizzle wrote:
Steve, what an erudite analysis of Romney's comments. Assume you don't watch PBS either, you strike me as a "Hardcore Pawn" type with strong cut-and-paste skills....
on October 4,2012 | 05:38PM
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