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Journalists Decry ‘Threat’ to PBS from Romney for ‘Targeting’ Big Bird, Rally to Defense of PBS Subsidy

Liberals, Peggy Noonan noted on Sunday’s This Week roundtable, want Mitt Romney “to be more specific so that you can rouse people against” budget cuts to any program. Indeed, earlier in the program, host George Stephanopoulos cited Romney’s wish to end the federal subsidy for PBS, pointing out how PBS “only takes about 1/100th of one percent of budget” and asking if “it a mistake to target” Big Bird?

On Friday night, NBC’s Brian Williams provided a full brief in defense of PBS’s subsidy, misleadingly suggesting the end of the federal subsidy would mean the end to children’s television programming and forwarding its small share of the federal budget as a justification for it, but if you can’t eliminate the small stuff how will you ever take on the big stuff?

Williams began by painting Romney as the enemy of wholesomeness and happy childhood memories:

If your household is among the millions where children, perhaps including you at one time, were raised with the help of some friends named Big Bird, Kermit, Elmo, Oscar and the Count, then perhaps your ears perked up during this week’s debate in Denver, when Mitt Romney took aim at some federal funding and took on PBS in the process.

Earlier: “CNN Keeps Hyping Romney's Proposed PBS Cuts, PBS Host Calls It ‘Attack on Children’”

“PBS has been a favorite target of mostly conservative politicians for years. When he was House Speaker, Newt Gingrich called it a ‘little sand box for the rich,’” Williams related, “prompting us to ask some parents today what they made of Romney’s threat to PBS,” as if  losing the federal subsidy would mean the end to the network with many larger revenue sources, such as the millions the Children’s Television Workshop, which produces Sesame Street, brings in from merchandising.

Williams aired clips from two upset naive women: “If he’s going to take that away from us, I’m not comfortable voting for you” and “I think he chose the wrong target.”

Then, without any hint at how PBS enrages conservatives by using its taxpayer money to produce left-wing, anti-conservative documentaries, the Frontline newsmagazine show and Tavis Smiley talk show, Williams delivered an innocuous list of the most inoffensive and popular shows as he contrasted the amount going to PBS with how much goes to the Pentagon:

The network of Sesame Street and the Civil War and American Masters, PBS has 179 stations across the country, including some smaller rural stations that couldn’t make it without the subsidy. The federal share of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is about $450 million this year. That’s 15 percent of their overall operating budget. For perspective, that’s about 1/100th of a percent of our federal budget. And that $450 million is about of what the Pentagon spends every six hours. Paula Kerger runs PBS. She says she almost fell off her couch when Romney said what he did...

A year ago, the MRC released a Special Report, “Counting the Reasons to Defund: The 20 Most Memorable Leftist Excesses of Public Broadcasting

From the Friday, October 5 NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: If your household is among the millions where children, perhaps including you at one time, were raised with the help of some friends named Big Bird, Kermit, Elmo, Oscar and the Count, then perhaps your ears perked up during this week’s debate in Denver, when Mitt Romney took aim at some federal funding and took on PBS in the process. It was one of the memorable moments from the debate, when Mitt Romney called for an end to government funding of the moderator’s own network.

MITT ROMNEY GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS, I’m going to stop other things, I like Big Bird, I actually like you, too, but I'm not going to keep spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.

WILLIAMS: And while he didn’t have a comeback ready that night, the President went on the attack over PBS on the stump the next day.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: He’ll get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he’s going to crack down on Sesame Street. Thank goodness somebody’s finally cracking down on Big Bird.

WILLIAMS: PBS has been a favorite target of mostly conservative politicians for years. When he was House Speaker, Newt Gingrich called it a “little sand box for the rich,” prompting us to ask some parents today what they made of Romney’s threat to PBS.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: If he’s going to take that away from us, I’m not comfortable voting for you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I think he chose the wrong target.

WILLIAMS: The network of Sesame Street and the Civil War and American Masters, PBS has 179 stations across the country, including some smaller rural stations that couldn’t make it without the subsidy. The federal share of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is about $450 million this year. That’s 15 percent of their overall operating budget. For perspective, that’s about 1/100th of a percent of our federal budget. And that $450 million is about of what the Pentagon spends every six hours. Paula Kerger runs PBS. She says she almost fell off her couch when Romney said what he did.

PAULA KERGER, PBS: To suggest that defunding public broadcasting as part of the solution just seems really strange.

WILLIAMS: Sesame Workshop is not a part of PBS, but that’s how their programs get distributed. And Big Bird learned how many friends he had on debate night. At one point, he was the topic of 17,000 tweets per second. He got in the game himself, and a number of “Save Big Bird” campaigns have sprouted up. If Romney wins and Congress goes along and the federal money goes away, it will have to come from elsewhere, like charitable foundations, and you guessed it: viewers like you.

-- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Brent Baker on Twitter.