Last night during the first of three presidential debates, Mitt Romney decided to throw public television and Big Bird under the bus. Sure he says he watched public television, but he doesn’t believe it should be funded by the government. But last night wasn’t the first time Romney has attacked public television. Earlier this year in Des Moines, Iowa, Romney expressed his sentiments about wasteful government spending.

“Maybe Big Bird is going to have to have advertisers,” Romney said. Not only does Romney want to kill off Big Bird, but he also has proposed eliminating all federal funding for PBS, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. “They all get money from government,” Romney said. “They are going to have to stand on their own.”

For the record, the United States funds $450 million, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the $3 trillion the U.S has spent so far this year. Want to know how much of that money gets to Big Bird and his crew? Not much. Via the “Sesame Street” website, 93 percent of their costs are covered by trademark licensing and corporate sponsors.

Generations of children and families have grown up on public television. I doubt anyone can say they’ve never watched an episode of “Sesame Street,” “Bob Ross” (and his magical Afro calmly painting away) or an episode of “Nature.” If not for PBS, would we even have Morgan Freeman? He got his start on the “The Electric Company.” If you take a look at the line up on PBS’ website, there’s something for everyone. Filmmaker Ken Burns wrote an opinion editorial last year for The Washington Post in support of public television and its impact:

“In the midst of the Great Depression, our government managed to fund some of the most enduring and memorable documentaries, photographs, art and dramatic plays this country has ever produced. Our need for such cultured and civilizing influences is no less urgent now…. With minimal funding, PBS manages to produce essential (commercial-free) children’s programming as well as the best science and nature, arts and performance, and public affairs and history programming on the dial — often a stark contrast to superficial, repetitive and mind-numbing programming elsewhere. PBS supplements the schedules of hundreds of other channels. It produces ‘classrooms of the air’ that help stitch together statewide educational activities and helps create cradle-to-grave continuing education services that are particularly appreciated in rural states. Alaska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, West Virginia are among the states that depend on PBS shows daily, belying the canard that this is just programming for the rich and bi-coastal.”

The U.S. is in need not only of health care reform, but also education reform, and PBS has spearheaded education in children and adults for decades. A study entitled G Is for Growing showed that children who watched “Sesame Street” in preschool spend more time reading for fun in high school, and they obtain higher grades in English, math and science. Another study conducted by the Education Development Center showed preschool children who participated in a curriculum incorporating PBS KIDS video and games into classroom instruction were better prepared for kindergarten than those who didn’t.

By the time I was 3 years old, thanks in part to “Sesame Street,” I was reading books on my own. Every day, I looked forward to shows like “The Electric Company” and “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” and as an adult I still tune in for “Nature,” “Antique Roadshow” and “Newshour.” In my opinion, public television is one of the best forms of free education that exists in our “free” world. Unlike the superficial shows on network and cable TV, public television provides an array of educational options. What Romney and so many other politicians fail to realize is that in order for the U.S. to prove itself to be a leader and prepare for its future, the last thing that needs to be cut is access to educational programming. But then again, Romney has already spoken of his disdain for the 47 percent. Apparently he thinks Big Bird and his crew are among that population.

  • Pseudonym

    ????!!!! Why would I move to Massachusetts when the schools aren’t #1 in the country as Romney claimed? Wouldn’t it make better sense for me to move to Maryland, since that is actually the state whose schools have been ranked #1 four years in a row?

    …but I now see what you did there and why you were kinda mean when you addressed me:

    you skimmed, misread what I wrote, and thought that I was saying that Romney’s awesome and I want him to be president b/c Massachusetts schools are #1…but what I was ACTUALLY saying is that Romney flat out LIED about how great of an impact he has had on Massachusetts education and focusing on that would shut him down stronger than his feelings about Big Bird. Also, I was more of an Ernie fan, so I didn’t realize people were that gaga over BB (though I still question the priority and emphasis placed on that over stating facts about Romney’s budget or his claims about school systems). I’m not voting for Romney and never came close to saying I want him to be president. You just misread and attacked and then continued to misread and misinterpret and not make sense. …but I was able to put it together what just happened once you told me to move to Massachusetts and implied I was pro-Romney.

    The power of reading.

    I wasn’t angry. I’m just annoyed that BB is sparking more outrage than piss poor schools. To gloss over his lies about being great for education to focus on Big Bird is probably less productive when it comes to catching swing voters and persuading them to vote for Obama.

    So, we’re on the same team when it comes to the election, seems. I’m just more pro-”get swing voters by clearing up lies and focusing on primary issues” rather than pro-”reinforce those already on Team Obama by focusing on Big Bird.”
    No hard feelings, just re-read next time before you go so hard on someone in the Comments section.

  • Mademoiselle

    I support you on this sentiment Pseudonym. Had the man not mentioned Big Bird, people probably would’ve glossed over his aim to cut PBS funding. I haven’t even seen the whole debate yet, but I’m sick of the Big Bird rhetoric as well. The point is Romney plans to pay for his tax cuts by punishing anyone who relies on public services, including the people who watch PBS kids shows because they can’t afford to pay for Boomerang or Sprout.

  • Pseudonym

    “I’m more flabbergasted people aren’t upset with the inaccurate claims Romney mad about the subject at hand. Ultimately, even more to some, folks feel that was a way of telling how he really feels about education.”

    THAT was exactly my point. I’m flabbergasted that people aren’t upset and emphasizing the inaccurate claims made about the subject at hand. I just found it…odd. Like I said, one the spectrum, didn’t see it as that major. I don’t understand all this disagreement from Clutch people b/c I think better school systems are more important than Sesame Street/pop culture.

    And to answer your question: I’d be even more confused if everyone was outraged about “The Electric Company” b/c it’s not even 10% (is it even 1%?) as popular as SS among voters. I’d be looking just as confused, thinking “Since when were people this in love with TEC?”

    I never said I disagreed with the author, I was just trying to figure out why people are repping so hard for Big Bird. The attention he is getting is at Trayvon Martin level! That’s major.

    But if you would rather chance Romney being reelected b/c he claims to have helped his state have the best schools in the country instead of chancing losing PBS and “Sesame Street,” you have a right to that opinion.

    I feel like everyone’s drinking the same BB Kool-Aid except me…we can disagree. It’s cool. But it’s just…weird. I was hoping the take-home message for Clutch readers would be to tell other people that MD has actually been the best school system for the past 4 years in a row. Not crazy rebuttles on behalf Big Bird.

    Today’s discussion was interesting.

  • Rae

    Romney as President, i just can’t wrap my head around that. This dude is so out of touch. Where is McCain when you need him. And Palin not sounding so bad now…throw her into the mix. Lol #TeamObama

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