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Big Bird, Mitt Romney, and how PBS is actually funded
Even if public television funding were cut, would Sesame Street be in jeopardy?
Storified by Digital First Media · Thu, Oct 04 2012 11:41:04
Will Mitt Romney’s reference to Big Bird andcutting off funding to PBS during Wednesday night’s presidential debate shine anew spotlight on government funding for public broadcasting?
ABC News declared Big Bird to be
thebig loser from Wednesday’s debate. Immediately, variations of Big Birdhashtags and handles sprung up on Twitter, including the @BigBirdLives handle,which pouted:
I guess I should have seen it coming; I am part of the 47% after all. #savebigbirdBig Bird
#1 rising search term for tonight’s #debate: Simpson Bowles. #2 Dodd Frank #3 Who is winning the debate #4 Big Bird http://pic.twitter.com/Si7h7ElNGoogle Politics
But would an elimination of funding truly cripple public broadcasting, or make much of a dent in the federal deficit?
On its website, PBS says its
funding comes from several sources,including member stations’ dues, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,government agencies, foundations, corporations and public citizens. The federalappropriation for 2013 is $445 million. The Nieman Journalism Lab says mostpublic radio stations receiveonly 10 percent of their funding from federal money.
In 2011, some members of Congress wanted to cut CPB funding afterthen-NPR CEO Vivian Schiller resigned following political controversies involvingher subordinates. Paula Kerger, PBS president and CEO, put together this video to lobby for the continuation offunding:
A Message from PBS President Paula Kergerpbs
PBS calls public television “America’s largest classroom”and says it is provided
at a cost of $1per person per year. It says the government appropriation “equals about 15 percent of our system’s revenues,” although it points out that at some smallerstations it amounts to 40 to 50 percent of theirbudget.
Thursday, Kerger said it was “
stunning”that Big Bird became a focus of the debate.
PBS CEO: We are America’s biggest classroomcnn
commissioneda survey in March 2011 by the bipartisan polling firms of Hart Research andAmerican Viewpoint which it says showed 83% of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicanswere opposed to eliminating federal funding for public television.
According to a
CNN pollconducted in March 2011, Americans grossly overestimate how much of their taxdollars helps fund public broadcasting. Although the Corporation for PublicBroadcasting receivedabout $420 million in 2010 from the federal government, CNN’s survey saidthe median guess as to what percentage of the federal budget goes to publicbroadcasting was 5 percent — which would put funding at about $178 billion — 424times higher than the actual amount. The actual funding represented about.014 percent of the federal budget.
So far, politicians have yet to wade into the Big Bird fray.But conservative
HenryD’Andrea at The Washington Times wrote,“Kill Big Bird? Why Romney is right to cut PBS funding.” He says, “It is fair toassume that private entities will help take up the tab that the governmentcurrently subsidizes…”
President Obama today
mockedRomney’s Big Bird reference: “Thank goodness someone is finally gettingtough on Big Bird. It’s about time. We didn’t know that Big Bird was drivingthe federal deficit. But that’s what we heard last night. Elmo, too?”
A similar perspective:
Cutting PBS support (0.012% of budget) to help balance the Federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard driveNeil deGrasse Tyson
And as far as Big Bird and “Sesame Street” go, the potential cutting off of funding may beirrelevant. Sherrie Westin, executive vice president and Chief Marketing Officer of Sesame Workshop, told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien the idea of killing BigBird “is misleading” and that “Sesame Street will be here — Big Bird lives on.”She said Sesame Workshop receives very little funding from PBS.
Sesame Workshop: ‘Big Bird lives on’cnn
Sesame Street itself was staying out of the debate:
We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. We do not comment on campaigns, but we’re happy we can all agree that everyone likes Big Bird!Sesame Workshop
Regardless, PBS appears to be gearing up for a potentialassault on its funding, tweeting today:
PBS is trusted, valued and essential. See why at http://www.valuepbs.org. (please retweet!)PBS