Debate thrusts Big Bird into presidential campaign

Associated Press
FILE - This Aug. 30, 2009 file photo shows Big Bird, of the children's television show Sesame Street, in Los Angeles. Big Bird is endangered. Jim Lehrer lost control. And Mitt Romney crushed President Barack Obama. Those were the judgments rendered across Twitter and Facebook Wednesday during the first debate of the 2012 presidential contest. While millions turned on their televisions to watch the 90-minute showdown, a smaller but highly engaged subset took to social networks to discuss and score the debate as it unspooled in real time.  (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)
.

View photo

FILE - This Aug. 30, 2009 file photo shows Big Bird, of the children's television show Sesame Street, in Los Angeles. Big Bird is endangered. Jim Lehrer lost control. And Mitt Romney crushed President Barack Obama. Those were the judgments rendered across Twitter and Facebook Wednesday during the first debate of the 2012 presidential contest. While millions turned on their televisions to watch the 90-minute showdown, a smaller but highly engaged subset took to social networks to discuss and score the debate as it unspooled in real time. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Big Bird has never been so hot.

"Saturday Night Live," Jimmy Fallon, Piers Morgan, the "Today" show and "Good Morning America" all asked for appearances from the "Sesame Street" character on Thursday after he was unexpectedly thrust into the presidential campaign by Mitt Romney.

Sesame Workshop says the giant yellow Muppet is declining all appearances, but there was this tweet from Big Bird on the Sesame Street account: "My bed time is usually 7:45, but I was really tired yesterday and fell asleep at 7! Did I miss anything last night?"

Yes, Bird. During Wednesday's debate with President Barack Obama, Romney called for cutting federal funding to PBS, despite saying, "I love Big Bird." It renewed a long-running debate over subsidies to public broadcasting.

"I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS," the former Massachusetts governor, a Republican, said during a deficit-cutting discussion. "I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too, Jim (Lehrer, PBS newsman and debate moderator). But I'm not going to ... keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it."

Obama brought up his opponent's plans for Big Bird during a campaign stop Thursday in Madison, Wis.

"I just want to make sure I've got this straight: He'll get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he's going to crack down on 'Sesame Street,'" Obama said of Romney. "Thank goodness somebody's finally cracking down on Big Bird! Who knew that he was responsible for all these deficits! Elmo's got to watch out!"

PBS chief Paula Kerger said she "just about fell off the sofa" when the issue suddenly came up during the debate. She said that if the subsidy goes, so will some PBS stations.

Federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting totals $450 million this year, accounting for about 15 percent of the CPB's budget, she said. Federal money supplements the budgets of PBS' 179 stations nationally. For some of the smaller stations in rural areas, this subsidy accounts for more than half of their yearly budget, so many can't operate without it.

Considering Romney stressed the importance of education, she said she hopes he realizes the extent of educational programming that PBS offers. Four out of five children under age 5 watch public television, where "Sesame Street" is a long-running hit, she said.

"To me, public television is like mom and apple pie," she said. "Maybe it's because I'm just too close to it. Maybe it's because I talk to so many people for whom public television is a lifeline."

But public broadcasting funding has been a frequent target of congressional Republicans, who believe PBS and National Public Radio favor liberal points of view.

"It is demoralizing to have our work put in the middle of this debate," Kerger said. "We don't belong here."

The issue quickly became a hot topic on social media, where Twitter reported a peak of 17,000 tweets per second about Big Bird. The hashtag (hash)SaveBigBird quickly sprouted up.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tweeted: "Hey, I figured out how Romney will balance the budget: sale of TV rights to broadcast the decapitation of Big Bird."

For several years, "Sesame Street" has produced videos and other materials for the Pentagon to help children deal with parents' absences during tours of duty as well as other stresses suffered by the children of troops. Asked at a Pentagon briefing whether the Defense Department wants to see its relationship with the program continue, press secretary George Little sidestepped the question.

"I will say that we've had a long-lasting and effective partnership with 'Sesame Street' and they have supported military children," Little said. "But I'm not going to get into politics here — I wouldn't want to ruffle any feathers, so to speak."

Sesame Workshop, the producers who make "Sesame Street," noted that while it is not part of PBS, it depends on the stations to distribute its work.

"Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organization," said Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop spokeswoman. "We do not comment on campaigns, but we're happy we can all agree that everyone likes Big Bird."

___

Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.

View Comments (485)

Recommended for You

  • Police officer shot after responding to wrong home

    ATLANTA (AP) — A police officer was shot and critically wounded Monday when he responded to a call of a suspicious person and showed up at the wrong house, authorities said.

    Associated Press
  • Man sentenced to life with no parole walks free in Missouri

    JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man sentenced to life in prison without parole on a marijuana-related charge walked out of a Missouri prison a free man on Tuesday, after spending two decades behind bars.

    Associated Press
  • Woman Becoming Nun Needs Friend's Interest, Not Concern

    DEAR ABBY: I was best friends with "Joanne" after we met in middle school. She comes from a conservative Christian family and has three successful siblings. This has made her quirky, media-driven pursuits and city life a disappointment to her family. When we were teens and she learned that I was a…

    Dear Abby
  • Play

    Decaying bodies found in unlicensed funeral home

    Police are investigating a funeral home in West Philadelphia for allegedly operating with an expired license.

    KABC – Los Angeles
  • Video of Israeli soldier arresting boy becomes latest in war of perception

    A soldier pins a boy down and is assaulted by his family: The scene might have gone unnoticed if not for footage that has turned it into another weapon in the Israel-Palestinian war of perception. Palestinians see it as proof of Israel's abuses in the occupied West Bank, while many Israelis say the…

    AFP
  • All eyes on Manchester United as deadline day dawns

    Manchester United were the centre of attention as the Premier League's transfer deadline day dawned on Tuesday, with moves involving David de Gea and Anthony Martial awaiting completion. Goalkeeper De Gea had appeared on the brink of a move to Real Madrid worth between 30 million ($33.8 million)…

    AFP
  • Big guns in east Ukraine fall silent, two more die from wounds in Kiev protests

    Sporadic shelling and shooting, which each side has blamed on the other, had ensured a steadily mounting death toll despite the ceasefire called as part of a peace plan worked out in Minsk, Belarus, in February. More than 6,500 people have been killed since a separatist rebellion erupted there in…

    Reuters
  • Sheriff: Suspect kills mother, stepfather, grandmother

    Outfitted in camouflage and armed with a high-powered rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition, Robert Seth Denton fatally shot his mother, stepfather and grandmother while six children witnessed the carnage in the family's double-wide mobile home in eastern Tennessee, a sheriff said Monday.

    Associated Press
  • Obama slams 'completely unacceptable' cop killing

    President Barack Obama vowed Monday to push for police officer safety after a Texas sheriff's deputy was gunned down from behind and shot multiple times at close range. Darren Goforth, 47, was killed late Friday in the Houston area, and local officials have blamed ramped-up rhetoric against police…

    AFP
  • Daughter Deep In Debt Needs Counseling, Not More Money

    DEAR ABBY: Three years ago I gave my adult daughter, married with a child, more than $16,000 to help pay off her debts because she couldn't pay her bills. She and her husband maintain separate accounts, which I find odd. He pays certain expenses; she pays others. Now I find she's deep in debt again…

    Dear Abby
  • Play

    Woman was getting high on canned air at Kansas Walmart, police say

    Melissa Ann Wright is accused of huffing an industrial strength duster chemical while shopping at a Kansas area Walmart.

    KTRK – Houston
  • This versatile 15-in-1 Travel Jacket is Kickstarter’s most funded piece of clothing at $7.2M

    Remember the MacGyver Travel Jacket that has 15 compartments that each have their own designated functions? It turns out that so many people loved the idea of having such a “smart” jacket that the project became the most funded piece of clothing in Kickstarter history, topping $7.2 million in…

    BGR News
  • Women are not getting treated for menopausal symptoms

    By Roxanne Nelson (Reuters Health) - Many women with severe menopausal symptoms are not being treated for them even though safe, effective remedies are available, a study from Australia suggests. The findings may be applicable to other countries, too, according to senior author Dr. Susan R. Davis…

    Reuters
  • Investigators: Arizona woman acknowledges drowning twin sons

    PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona woman told investigators that she drowned her 2-year-old twin sons and tried to kill her 3-year-old stepbrother in the same way because she didn't want them to live with the difficulties she faces.

    Associated Press
  • Match Made In Heaven Sterling Silver Ring Sale

    Pure 925 Sterling Silver with hand set 1ct total wt. (5 mm each) CZ stones. Adjustable, fits ring size 6 to 11. Comes in an elegant keepsake box.

    OpenSkySponsored
  • Sword-wielding Patel crusader threatens Modi's 'model' in India

    By Rupam Jain Nair AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) - A sword-wielding 22-year-old activist has emerged overnight as the most pressing political threat to Narendra Modi, accusing the Indian prime minister of breaking a promise to provide jobs that helped him win last year's general election. Hardik…

    Reuters
  • Missouri man faces execution for raping, killing 15-year-old

    ST. LOUIS (AP) — An inmate scheduled to be executed Tuesday for killing a 15-year-old Missouri girl has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his punishment, saying the death penalty is unconstitutional.

    Associated Press
  • Japan arrests 'Flipper' trainer as dolphin hunt starts

    Japanese police said Tuesday they had arrested US animal rights activist Ric O'Barry, who trained dolphins for the TV show "Flipper", near the town of Taiji as it kicked off its controversial dolphin hunt. "We had a report that he was drinking alcohol and driving, so officers were dispatched to…

    AFP