Big Bird, Jim Lehrer and other components of the Public Broadcasting Service's programming provide an "outstanding return on investment" for the nation and should not be abandoned, PBS told Mitt Romney on Thursday.
PBS was responding to comments by the Republican candidate during Wednesday’s presidential debate that he would end federal funding for public broadcasting.
During the debate, cuts to PBS were the only ones Romney specifically mentioned when asked about his plan to balance the budget.
“I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m gonna stop other things. I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too,” Romney said to moderator Jim Lehrer, who works for PBS.
PBS said it was “disappointed” by Romney's remarks.
“Governor Romney does not understand the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers to our nation,” it said. “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 cited a Hart Research poll that found 69 percent of Americans surveyed oppose eliminating funding for PBS, which it says costs about $1.35 per person per year.
“Numerous studies — including one requested by Congress earlier this year — have stated categorically that while the federal investment in public broadcasting is relatively modest, the absence of this critical seed money would cripple the system and bring its services to an end,” the statement said.
House Republicans tried to cut off funding for PBS during the April 2011 government shutdown crisis, but ultimately backed off. Conservatives argue that PBS can find a path to commercial viability without sacrificing quality.
The makers of Sesame Street earlier this week muddied the waters for PBS funding when Sherrie Westin of Sesame Workshop told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien that cutting PBS funding will not in fact kill Big Bird.
“So quite frankly, you can debate whether or not there should be funding of public broadcasting. But when they always try to trot out Big Bird, and say we’re going to kill Big Bird — that is actually misleading, because Sesame Street will be here,” she said, prior Romney’s remarks.
Sesame Street walked back the comments in a statement Thursday.
“Sesame Street has been a proud partner of PBS for 43 years, and is dependent on PBS to distribute our commercial-free educational programming to all children in the United States. At a time when improvements in school readiness are recognized as being much needed for a significant number of America’s preschoolers, PBS’s ability to connect Big Bird and Friends to these children is essential. We highly value that connection,” it said.
“Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization. We do not comment on political campaigns, but we’re happy we can all agree that everyone likes Big Bird,” the statement said.
PBS is one of the most popular federal expenditures, and it remains to be seen if Romney's comments will hurt him in the end. On Thursday, President Obama mocked him for going after Big Bird, but during the debate chose not to attack Romney for the statement.
"To threaten Big Bird was just over the top," Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Thursday.