Green Room

Romney was right: Big Bird needs to find a new nest

posted at 11:06 am on October 5, 2012 by

On Thursday, the day after President Obama received the second shellacking of his presidency, he was back in full smirk mode, telling a crowd in Denver, “We didn’t know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit.” It was meant as sarcasm, but following a debate performance in which he appeared clueless about what does drive the deficit, it was perhaps an ill-advised “joke.”

The reference was to Mitt Romney’s response to a question by moderator Jim Lehrer on what actions each candidate would take to decrease the deficit. The GOP challenger replied that he would cut federal spending on non-essential programs that run up our debt to China, citing public broadcasting as an example. “I’m sorry, Jim,” he said, “I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I like PBS. I like Big Bird.” As an afterthought, he added solicitously, “I actually like you, too.”

His comment touched a nerve at PBS, which released a statement on Thursday that read in part:

The federal investment in public broadcasting equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation’s debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating.

The statement also accused Romney of making public broadcasting a “political target,” though what could be more political than attempting to rally the troops behind your now largely superfluous government-funded job of four decades because it has been threatened?

Yes, PBS, which once provided unique television viewing, has become a redundancy in the age of alternatives to “basic” broadcast service. A study by the Television Bureau of Advertising finds that 90% of all TV households have either cable and satellite hookups. Alternatives to the sorts of cultural, entertainment, and educational programming offered by PBS are available up and down the dial—and, as a bonus, all are blessedly free of the irritating and lengthy donation appeals that heavily pepper many PBS specials.

But what of the 10% of families who have access only to over-the-airwaves TV? Isn’t it worthwhile investing a mere “hundredth of one percent of the federal budget” to keep Big Bird and Jim Lehrer on PBS for their sake? That hundredth of 1% equals $350 million expressed as a percentage of the budget for fiscal 2012. That amount may sound like a drop in the bucket in an era where we have all become accustomed to trillion-dollar deficits and discretionary spending in the billions, but then where do you draw the line?

The PBS statement boasts that 91% of all U.S. television households tune in to their local PBS station each year, and that their service is viewed by 81% of all children between the ages of 2 and 8. If the network is that popular, they should have no trouble finding sponsorship on commercial television.

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“Sesame Street” is probably the most self-sustaining program on PBS, thanks to its merchandising success. If PBS went out of business entirely, “Sesame Street” would probably still remain in production. (In fact, “Sesame Street” is older than PBS — it started on the prior public television network NET.)

J.S.K. on October 5, 2012 at 11:20 AM

The federal investment in public broadcasting equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation’s debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating.

LOL. Yes, it would be devastating to the 10 people who regularly watch PBS.

Bitter Clinger on October 5, 2012 at 11:22 AM

Cuts have to start somewhere. Else./

garnkikaloid on October 5, 2012 at 11:31 AM

It makes no sense.
You can’t have it both ways. How can 1 one hundredth of 1% be “devastating” to anything?

If you have a payment due every month of $1000…that would equal..what? One dollar??

Mimzey on October 5, 2012 at 11:34 AM

It makes no sense.
You can’t have it both ways. How can 1 one hundredth of 1% be “devastating” to anything?

If you have a payment due every month of $1000…that would equal..what? One dollar??

Mimzey on October 5, 2012 at 11:34 AM

PBS is saying that the Federal government spends only 0.01% of its budget on public broadcasting. They didn’t say how much of PBS’s budget comes from the Federal government.

J.S.K. on October 5, 2012 at 11:51 AM

About the only time I watch PBS is during their pledge drives, as it’s the only time they have on interesting shows, such as their Victor Borge special. Then they play bait-and-switch with “if you want to continue seeing shows like these…” then donate.

I get much more enjoyment out of Discovery and the History channel (even though they have way too many advertisements).

sadatoni on October 5, 2012 at 11:54 AM

The federal investment in [ADVANCEMENTS OF TRANSGENDER CZECH POTTERY IN MODERN WESTERN CIVILIZATION] equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation’s debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating.

The federal investment in [EFFECTS OF NICKELBACK MUSIC ON FRUIT FLY REPRODUCTIVE CYCLES] equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation’s debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating.

The federal investment in [STOP PUBLIC URINATION OUTREACH PROGRAMS FOR AMERICA'S HOMELESS] equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation’s debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating.

The federal investment in [TEACHING TWEENAGERS HOW TO PROPERLY AFFIX CONDOMS TO GOURDS] equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation’s debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating.

Plenty of 0.01% spending that can stand to be cut.

Jeddite on October 5, 2012 at 12:07 PM

PBS is saying that the Federal government spends only 0.01% of its budget on public broadcasting. They didn’t say how much of PBS’s budget comes from the Federal government.

J.S.K. on October 5, 2012 at 11:51 AM

And?

I understand what you’re saying…but so what? Time to cut the useless fat and waste, particularly when tax dollars are being used to support one ideology over another.

That said..what exactly is the importance of npr or pbs etc? What information are they supplying that can’t be found in massive amounts elsewhere, whith those other sources not needing tax dollars??

Mimzey on October 5, 2012 at 12:09 PM

PBS is saying that the Federal government spends only 0.01% of its budget on public broadcasting. They didn’t say how much of PBS’s budget comes from the Federal government.

J.S.K. on October 5, 2012 at 11:51 AM

….actually, on second reading of your point, I think it’s bogus.
Npr etc. ARE claiming the loss of taxpayer support would crush them. But they never state how much of their money comes from the taxpayer.

Mimzey on October 5, 2012 at 12:16 PM

As I told my congressmen, I love pbs, I watch alot of it, and the quicker they get their hands out of my pockets the better.
Besides the good stuff, it’s a state run propaganda station paid for my, ahem, me. I remember Charlie Rose one night leaned over his little table, looking intense when he softly said to his guests, “Obama, he’s so…. wonderful. How to we get… ‘them’ to understand that?”
May not be exact quote, then again it may be verbatum. Get their arrogant, elite, progressive hands out of my pockets now!

onomo on October 5, 2012 at 12:25 PM

Sesame Street makes about $50 million/yr on merchandising. Plus they have live shows, generous donors, a theme park, and corporate advertisers (yes, ‘underwriting’ is just an ad before the show starts). I’m willing to bet Big Bird’s true operating margin is a higher percentage than Exxon/Mobil’s. Oscar the Grouch could take all his federal dollars and burn them in his trash can and they’d still be rolling in the dough.

In short, Big Bird needs gov’t cash about as much as Mickey Mouse, but no one says that Mickey is ‘devastated’ for lack of it.

xuyee on October 5, 2012 at 12:33 PM

As for the argument that cutting CPB wouldn’t make a dent in the deficit. You have to start somewhere. Hey guess what? The Buffett Rule doesn’t raise alot of cash either. Neither does cancelling the F-22. The only big movers are entitlement cuts or middle class tax increases, but Dems scream bloody murder when you suggest those. Well, if you can’t do big things, and you can’t do small things, then you can’t do anything at all. Hence, trillion dollar deficits.

xuyee on October 5, 2012 at 12:40 PM

Get rid of it all. PBS, NPR, department of energy, education, national security, EPA, BATF, social security, medicare, HHS….

The time for half measures is over…we need to take an ax to this thing.

nazo311 on October 5, 2012 at 4:10 PM

….actually, on second reading of your point, I think it’s bogus.
Npr etc. ARE claiming the loss of taxpayer support would crush them. But they never state how much of their money comes from the taxpayer.

Mimzey on October 5, 2012 at 12:16 PM

I hope you mean that PBS’s point is bogus, not that mine is. I also support cutting off the Federal government’s contribution to public broadcasting.

My point is just how the math works. If Bill Gates gave me 0.01% of his wealth, that would very little impact on his wealth, but it would have a tremendous boost for my wealth.

J.S.K. on October 5, 2012 at 4:40 PM

… that would have very little impact on his wealth …

J.S.K. on October 5, 2012 at 4:40 PM

Great post, Howard. Agree wholeheartedly. I do not understand the worshipping of Big Bird.

Libby Sternberg on October 6, 2012 at 7:08 AM

Libby Sternberg on October 6, 2012 at 7:08 AM

Thanks, Libby.

Howard Portnoy on October 6, 2012 at 9:38 AM