Governor Mitt Romney pledged to cut funding for PBS during the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, and in the same breath made the (now) famous statement “I love Big Bird!”
This outburst caught many Americans off guard, though likely none more than debate moderator Jim Lehrer, who has worked as a news anchor for PBS since 1973.
While Romney stands behind his stance that PBS should not receive government support, his insinuation that the cut would noticeably reduce the national deficit is “malarkey,” as Joe Biden might say.
Romney was ill-informed when he targeted PBS specifically.
The federal subsidy is not direct funding for PBS. It goes to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, non-profit organization that distributes the subsidy to PBS and other public TV and radio broadcast stations.
According to radio host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, CPB only received $444.1 million for the 2012 fiscal year, which is approximately .012 percent of the federal budget as a whole. PBS is largely privately funded, and only receives about 15 percent of its funding from CPB.
PBS provides essential educational programming in the U.S., especially for children in low-income households.
PBS programs such as “Sesame Street,” “The Magic School Bus,” “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” have been teaching children (myself included) nationwide about science, numbers, spelling and morality for years.
Public broadcasting is effective, and according to a national survey conducted by Hart Research and American Viewpoint in 2011, 69 percent of voters opposed proposals to eliminate federal funding of public broadcasts. It seems Romney missed the memo.
The irony of Romney’s “Big Bird” statement is that “Sesame Street” would remain largely unaffected. “Sesame Street” makes enough money to survive without the federal subsidy, but many small rural PBS affiliates would go dark without the small amount of funding received from the subsidy.
This would cut off a significant source of learning for children across the country – more specifically children included in Romney’s “47 percent” category.
If the governor truly does “love great schools,” as he also stated during the debate, cutting the budget for an educational broadcast organization that teaches millions makes very little sense.