Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2012 / 30 Tishrei, 5773
More than tweets from Big Bird
By Tom Purcell
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | A butler opens the door of the large Sesame Street brownstone and guides me to the parlor. Big Bird is sitting on a large couch, wearing a silk smoking jacket, holding a bourbon and enjoying a drag on what appears to be an unfiltered Camel cigarette.
Purcell: Thank you for agreeing to my interview request, Big Bird, but I am shocked to see you drinking and smoking. I thought you were only 6.
Big Bird: Iím a character actor, man. Forty years ago, I took the only role a tall, yellow lark could find. When Iím off the set, itís party time.
Purcell: Youíve been in the news lately. Mitt Romney said heíd cut your public funding. President Obama used you in a political ad to attack Romney. What are your thoughts on this turn of events?
Big Bird: Itís regrettable, man. Weíre about promoting literacy to kids through entertainment, not politics.
Purcell: But you receive taxpayer funds to air your show. The Christian Science Monitor says Sesame Workshop, the production company that produces your show, generates a whopping $130 million in annual revenue, yet still accepts $10 million in government support.
Big Bird: Perhaps we could get by fine without government money, but ďSesame StreetĒ is small potatoes. Of the $445 billion in annual public television subsidies, about half goes to small stations in rural areas that otherwise might lack the resources to stay on the air.
Purcell: Look, Big Bird, when President Johnson established public television in the í60s, there were only three broadcast networks. Today, there are hundreds of channels to choose from on broadcast, cable, satellite and the Internet. Does it make sense for the government to be in the public television business?
Big Bird: Perhaps not, but you canít deny that the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) has done some stellar work over the years that you havenít seen on other channels.
Purcell: Fair enough. WQEDís news shows and documentaries do a tremendous job examining Pittsburghís history, culture and events. Unlike local for-profit news shows, WQED doesnít do car wrecks and building fires every 30 seconds.
Big Bird: Nor does PBS do hit pieces on yellow-feathered public figures who have one too many at the pub.
Purcell: The truth is, Big Bird, PBS has been so successful that only 15 percent of its total funding comes from the government. Most comes from viewer donations, gifts and corporate sponsorships. It is surely doing something the public likes. So why canít it execute its business model without taxpayer funds?
Big Bird: Look, man, in the big cities, PBS is doing well, but the smaller stations get up to half of their funding from the government.
Purcell: But you could get by without government funding. The Washington Examiner reports that Sesame Workshop has assets worth nearly $290 million. Your CEO earns nearly $1 million a year. Your company and PBS are now working with commercial entities to produce programming for Sprout, a 24-hour commercial channel for children. How is it right to accept $10 million annually from the government when that money is being borrowed, or created out of thin air by the Federal Reserve?
Big Bird: Look, man, Republicans have talked for years about cutting funds for public television but it never happens. Our $10 million is a drop in the bucket relative to the countryís $1 trillion deficit. Until everyone else on the government dole starts ponying up ó big companies, politically connected bunglers and lots of government and quasi-government organizations ó I got no problem accepting free government dough.
Purcell: But donít you care about the debt and deficit challenges facing our country? Nobody likes cuts, Big Bird, but all government programs, large and small, have to put some feathers in the game. Canít you see that our country is broke and headed for certain disaster?
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© 2012, Tom Purcell