Twitter exploded following the first presidential debate after candidate Mitt Romney promised to de-fund Sesame Street on PBS, resulting in dozens of parody accounts, a perplexed Big Bird, and some SNL punning. And while conservatives (who disproportionately think that PBS is liberal social engineering) were thrilled, many people in other nations were left scratching their heads.
Mr. Romney’s decision to run against Big Bird gladdened American conservatives, who have long complained of a liberal bias on public television and radio channels, but puzzled many viewers abroad, where local versions of the educational program are popular and well respected. In France, Le Monde reported that the slight against le Gros Oiseau threatened to spiral into “l’affaire Big Bird,” after President Obama — experiencing a certain esprit d’escalier — came up, a day late, with the retort: “Thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird. It’s about time. We didn’t know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit.”
The German magazine Der Spiegel explained to readers that Mr. Romney’s threat to the character that viewers of “Sesamstrasse” know as Bibo generated a Twitter-Sturm during the debate that reached maximum intensity in just 20 minutes.
In a useful roundup of the comic images of an unemployed Big Bird circulating on social networks, the Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported, somewhat inaccurately, that Mr. Romney had tried to soften the blow by first telling viewers, “I love Garibaldo,” which is the name the character goes by in “Vila Sésamo.”
At least some of the confusion among viewers watching the debate from outside the United States centered on the question of how Mr. Romney expected to get votes by pledging to eliminate state support for televised educational programming, and news, which is taken for granted in much of the developed world.
As Joshua Keating explained in a post for Foreign Policy, scholars at New York University reported last year that Americans spend far less per capita on public broadcasting than a representative sample of 13 other nations, including France, Britain, Germany, Japan, Australia and Canada.
Even factoring in money provided by states and local governments, Americans pay less than $4 a year for the television and radio programming they get from PBS and NPR. Canadians and Australians pay about 8 times more per capita, the French and Japanese 14 times more, Britons 24 times more and Germans 41 times more.
In a statement decrying Mr. Romney’s comments, PBS noted, “The federal investment in public broadcasting,” about $500 million a year, “equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget.”
Continue reading, including how many Americans are lied to about how much is spent on public broadcasting.