Thursday, February 17, 2011

Don't cry for Big Bird

It was totally predictable that, once the GOP wrote a budget zeroing out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Democrats would be rushing to appear in press conferences with pictures of Big Bird and mention of Cookie Monster and Elmo. That's the easy photo op for any politician and the Democrats did not disappoint.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) rarely holds press conferences with animated aardvarks, but he went for it Wednesday, coaxing shy Arthur the Aardvark up to the podium.

“Come over here Arthur,” Markey beckoned to the human-sized title character in the PBS series, “Arthur: The World’s Most Famous Aardvark,” motioning for him to come up to the podium, as a small crowd of curious tourists began forming. Nearby, Rep. Betty McCollum clutched an Elmo doll and a stuffed Big Bird sat on the podium — both ready to fight in defense of funding for public broadcasting.

....Markey, along with Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Nita Lowey, Sam Farr, Paul Tonko, and Bill Owens plan to unveil an amendment to a spending measure that will refund educational programs like
“Sesame Street” and “Arthur,” as well as funding for National Public Radio and local broadcast networks.

“The GOP should be less preoccupied with silencing cookie monster and more focused on reviving the economy,” said Lowey, who in 1995 invited Bert and Ernie to testify on Capitol Hill when Republicans tried to eliminate public media funding under then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. “How long will it take for some people to learn that people want Congress to focus on creating jobs, not laying off Bert and Ernie.”
Lawmakers said rural parts of the U.S. are likely to be hit hardest by the cuts, where programming is more expensive to fund.

“We’re talking about less than one-half cent per day. … this is not about balancing the budget,” Blumenauer said.

“This is an ideological attack on public broadcasting,” Markey added firmly.

But through it all, Arthur remained silent, continuing to smile almost knowingly.

“Arthur,” Markey commended, “your silence is eloquent.”
Oh, give me a break! I love Sesame Street as much of any mother who scheduled cooking and cleaning around Sesame Street's show times.

But I am totally baffled why American taxpayers should be footing the bill for airing a show whose mother company holds licensing rights to toys, clothes, video games, books, and snacks.

There may be shows on PBS that couldn't find a place elsewhere on television dependent on advertising dollars, but I somehow doubt it. That is not the point; the question is whether the government should be paying for television geared towards the 40% of the population that doesn't get cable or the approximately 23% that doesn't get internet usage. Philosophically, that doesn't seem like a priority to me, but I can recognize the concern of those who don't get cable and so couldn't watch the sort of programming one finds on PBS on some other network. However, the question isn't about Sesame Street. They could get a slot on any network. If it's advertising that people don't want their kids to see, I bet the networks would be willing to set up some arrangement limiting ads. And if that didn't work out, it's time kids learned that someone has to pay for their television shows. Better the advertisers pay instead of taxpayers.

So don't try to play on our heartstrings by holding a dopey photo op with an aardvark or Big Bird. Those are shows that could fund themselves with their licensing deals. It's just crass demagoguery to pretend that it is only federal tax dollars that are keeping them on the air.