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Big flap over Big Bird remark

October 15, 2012
By Sam Shawver - The Marietta Times ( , The Marietta Times

There are some sacred cows in America that even a presidential candidate shouldn't touch-as Republican hopeful Mitt Romney discovered following his Oct. 3 debate with President Barack Obama.

In this case the "sacred cow" is actually a big yellow bird that resides on the Public Broadcasting System's longtime children's educational program "Sesame Street."

"I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. And I like PBS-I love Big Bird," Romney said of his plan to help reduce federal spending during the Oct. 3 debate.

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The national media had a field day with the comment. Editorial cartoons showed Big Bird and other "Sesame Street" characters standing in unemployment lines.

In Marietta, Fifth Street resident Jay Segall decided to to display a sign in his front yard that said "Save Big Bird! Vote Obama."

"I had it made last week-it's a half-serious type of sign," Segall said. "I think this adds an interesting facet to the election, that the quality of life issue is important, too. And Big Bird is a symbol of education worldwide."

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Segall said he paid for the sign himself and believes it is the only one in the area.

"I've had a lot of comments about it," he said. "Nothing negative, though, just a lot of good comments."

According to the Associated Press, Romney's PBS comment was picked up by the Obama campaign, which used Big Bird in a TV ad against the Republican last week, only to be chastised by the Sesame Workshop that supports "Sesame Street" and other PBS programs.

A statement was issued by Sesame Workshop, demanding that the ad be removed because the workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that "does not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns."

Eric Williams of Marietta believes Romney's comment was out of line.

"I think it was crummy" he said. "A lot of kids look forward to seeing Big Bird every day."

Still, Williams said the comment would not have an influence on the way he'll vote in the upcoming election. He views the issue more as a light-hearted break in an otherwise relentless presidential campaign.

Linda Deem of Parkersburg has no problem with her federal tax dollars supporting PBS.

"I grew up watching Big Bird. He's an icon that's part of many children's education," she said. "It's part of our culture."

Deem said losing "Sesame Street" would be like closing down Disneyland or getting rid of Uncle Sam.

The Associated Press reported that PBS receives a portion of its total funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting through an annual appropriation from Congress. In 2012 the corporation received $445 million in federal funding.

A PBS news release following the Oct. 3 debate noted public broadcasting receives about one-100th of 1 percent of the federal budget.

New Matamoras resident Kristin Lutes said she also grew up with Big Bird and other "Sesame Street" characters.

"And I still love the programs we watch on PBS," she said. "They're interesting and educational."

Asked if she's worried about federal subsidies for public broadcasting, Lutes said "no."

"I'm OK with that. It's educational TV, and we can't get enough of that," she said.

Roseanne Young of Williamstown said PBS isn't getting that much money anyway.

"Back in the (Pres. Ronald) Reagan era they were already cutting into public broadcasting's budget," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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