The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

U.S. Taxpayers Support Sesame Street... the Pakistani One.


So the latest Obama ad – not running in any swing states, just on cable, presumably an attempt to get free exposure – is all about Big Bird.

First, it turns out that Sesame Workshop (formerly the Children’s Television Workshop), which produces “Sesame Street,” does not actually get direct federal funding, and “very, very little funding from PBS.” So every article, blog post, Facebook graphic, etc. you see about “killing Big Bird’ is flat-out false. If Congress and the president zeroed out PBS funding tomorrow, Sesame Street would go on and on:

You can debate whether 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,” Sesame Workshop exec vp Sherrie Westin scolded the next morning, on CNN.

Of course, the flip side of these little-discussed facts is that headlines on the right joking that “Big Bird is a welfare queen” aren’t correct, either. Big Bird and Elmo and the gang by and large support themselves.

Now, the PBS stations that broadcast the show do receive taxpayer support. But as PBS defenders are quick to point out, only 15 percent of their funding comes from taxpayers. Their point is to emphasize how they’re largely independent and how the sums are so small, they’re not worth much attention in budget debates; of course, if they’re so small, one would assume that PBS could operate on 85 percent of its current budget. In fact, the elimination of the federal subsidy could easily spur “viewers like you” to donate more.

The silly Obama ad above suggests that they’ve found their ground to make their last stand… that ground is Sesame Street.

The debt passed $16 trillion; Romney’s argument is that it’s time to prioritize and ask what government expenses are really our priority. Obama’s stance is that the $445 million to PBS cannot be reduced, nevermind eliminated.

Of course, we’re talking about the U.S. version of Sesame Street. The Pakistani version of Sesame Street received $7 million from the U.S. State Department, before “credible allegations of fraud and abuse” surfaced and Foggy Bottom canceled the remaining $13 million on the contract.

UPDATE: Sesame Workshop: “[We are] a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns. We have approved no campaign ads, and as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Mitt Romney ,


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