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OP-ED: Big Bird and Big Government

Former County Executive Steve Levy feels the media missed the point on Mitt Romney's "Big Bird" comment.

There was much to talk about after the first Presidential debate on October 3. Public polls showed that most believe Romney to be the victor in this first of three debates. There was talk about the President’s sluggishness and Romney’s vigor, but some in the liberal media could not help themselves but to give equal time to a debate within a debate: the fate of Big Bird.  

At one point in the debate, Romney in an attempt to exhibit specific areas where he would save on government costs, told the moderator of his intentions to cut subsidies to public television and its programs, including the beloved Sesame Street.

By the next morning, a liberal cable news program gave just as much time to bashing Mitt Romney’s mention of the Big Bird cut, as it did to the fact that his success in the debate was the biggest game-changer to date in this long Presidential race.  There was very little for the left to crow about from the aftermath of the debate and so, an entire 10-minute segment was dedicated to how Mitt Romney was the mean, insensitive Republican benefactor of the rich who would dash the hopes and dreams of America’s youth by cooking Big Bird.  

How did we know such a cut would be so devastating?  Well, the moderator simply asked the spokesperson for what else, but National Public Radio.  Now there is objective analysis if I ever saw it.  What does anyone expect a representative for NPR to say other than the cut of even a dime to their corporation would lead to disarray and a major national catastrophe?

This type of segment not only underscores the deep liberal bias in the media in its attempts to paint Republican initiatives as being insensitive and bad for the country, but just as importantly underscores how America’s finances got into this horrible predicament in the first place.  You see, every special interest thinks that theirs is indeed special and should be immune to any type of belt-tightening.  "Oh, just a little bit more for us please; it is such a small amount that will hardly be felt."  Well, when multiplied by hundreds of thousands of agencies throughout the land, pretty soon this stuff starts adding up into big money.  It is the same concept whether it is the Federal government, the state, the county or your local school board; "just a little bit more won’t hurt."  That may be so if looked at in a vacuum, but cumulatively it could lead to a budget implosion.

The overriding question is this: why in the world is taxpayer money going toward funding a television or radio program in the first instance?  One could try to have made this case decades ago when there were a total of seven channels, but today there are hundreds of channels available to the viewing public.  

It is both ridiculous and just plain wrong for the NPR spokesperson or the moderator and her media colleagues to suggest that the de-funding of public television would lead to the end of Big Bird or  Sesame Street. Sesame Street is a huge conglomerate.  If it is not aired on PBS, it will find a home at any number of other channels that would welcome its ratings potential. The market can't be ignored.

One way or another Sesame Street and Big Bird will be around for another generation. The only questions is whether over 400 million in taxpayer dollars will continue to subsidize such programming when there is no need to do so. The free spending crowd will say: "don't cut me, cut the program behind the tree." The more fiscally responsible crowd will say that that $400 million could go to people's basic needs that would otherwise not be met.

Steve Levy is President of Common Sense Strategies, a political, governmental and business consulting firm. He served as Suffolk County Executive from 2004-2011. The opinions expressed here are his own.

former kper October 11, 2012 at 11:58 PM
the truth is that budget cuts have to be made. if your household income is not enough for that you have to choose between food for your children or a night at the movies, i would hope your choice would be food.instead of using the tv as a babysitter, try reading to them. and ANY increase in defense spending is for your safety. do you remember 9/11 we are still at risk
Marion Knott October 12, 2012 at 03:59 PM
As an old timer I can remember when Levy and Veccio were both Democrats. The last presidential debate was horrid for Obama. The only fun part was Big Bird. Get over it. TV shows have become so terrible that about the only shows worth watching are on PBS. I don't see politics there, thank Goodness, just good television.
confectioner October 12, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Sesame Street is a cash cow for the endless educational programs on PBS, it could well stand on it's on but licensing funds from Sesame are used to support programs that teach math, science, history and the arts. How a short-sighted a politico can say this does not benefit American public is beyond me.
NuYawker October 12, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Mr. Ryder. you're misplacing your decimal points, go a couple to the right. Internet reports anywhere between 0.008% and 0.014%. Either way, a small number (much smaller than 1%). Romney's real problem with CPB is that their news organizations are not beholden to outside money (advertising) to the same extent that all other TV-delivered news is - not happy that they can't control the message.
NuYawker October 12, 2012 at 07:04 PM
To do a comparison, if the whole budget was $50K, CPB only costs $7. That's 'noise' in the DOD budget. The point is, if Mr. Romney really cared about cutting said budget, he'd look elsewhere, and not target the only last remaining propaganda-free news outlet.

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