PBS Strikes Back: 'Romney Does Not Understand the Value the American People Place on Public Broadcasting'

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during Wednesday's debate with Barack Obama said he would end the federal subsidy to PBS.

On Thursday, PBS struck back with the following statement:

ARLINGTON, VA – October 4, 2012 – We are very disappointed that PBS became a political target in the Presidential debate last night. Governor Romney does not understand the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers to our nation. We think it is important to set the record straight and let the facts speak for themselves.
 
The federal investment in public broadcasting equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation’s debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating. [...]

As a stated supporter of education, Governor Romney should be a champion of public broadcasting, yet he is willing to wipe out services that reach the vast majority of Americans, including underserved audiences, such as children who cannot attend preschool and citizens living in rural areas.

PBS CEO Paula Kerger then took her case to CNN:

CAROL COSTELLO: A lot of issues went unmentioned in last night's debate but it was a six-foot tall yellow bird that got everyone talking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: As soon as Mitt Romney mentioned Big Bird, fake Big Bird accounts blew up on twitter. Fired Big Bird has about 26,000 followers right now with tweets like "If Mitt Romney wins, this is what I will be forced to do" with a picture that has Big Bird with a, "I will work for food" sign and even one where "Big Bird claims allegiance with the 47 percent. Poor Big Bird.

Joining us now by phone is Paula Kerger the CEO of PBS. Welcome, Paula.

PAULA KERGER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, PBS (via telephone): Thank you for having me on Carol. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you.

COSTELLO: Oh we're excited to talk to you. I mean -- I mean, the Big Bird moment was funny but there's a serious issue here and that is funding for PBS. Were you surprised that Mitt Romney brought up Big Bird?

KERGER: I was. I mean with the enormous problems facing our country, the fact that we are the focus is just unbelievable to me, particularly given the fact that you know at another part of the debate, both candidates talked about the importance of education. We are America's biggest classroom. We touch children across the country in every home, whether -- whether you have books in your home or computer or not, almost everyone has a television set.

And so we're able to bring kids across the country, not just enjoyable programs but programs that really help them prepare and get ready for school with core curriculum and math and science and literacy. So the fact that we're in this debate, this is not about the budget. It has to be about politics.


COSTELLO: So -- so tell us how much money does Big Bird get from the government?

KERGER: Well, actually, Big Bird doesn't get money from the government. In fact, the money that comes from the government into the corporation for Public Broadcasting actually doesn't even come to PBS. It goes to our member stations.

And so that is actually what's at risk if, in fact, we are defunded because the money is going to stations across the country. In aggregate our money is 15 percent of our budget. But you know when you look at it station by station, there are some stations, particularly in rural parts of the country, that they are a part of the federal budget is 50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent. Those stations will go off the air. And so for people sitting in communities across the country, that is at risk. That is the consequence if, in fact, our money is zeroed out.

We have been for the 40 years of our history a great public/private partnership and we take the federal money and we leverage that with resources that we -- that we raise. [...]

The fact that we're in this debate at all, to me, is just incomprehensible.

COSTELLO: Well you know when you heard that Mitt Romney was practicing zingers before the debate. This seemed to be one of those lines that was rehearsed and that he used very effectively.

KERGER: The thing that's ironic though is that there has been a lot of research done over the last couple of years about public media. In fact, last year, Hart Research and American Viewpoint did some surveying and they found that 70 percent of Americans oppose proposals to cut funding of public broadcasting. So it may have been a well- rehearsed remark but it doesn't tie into any research that I have seen about the role that public broadcasting plays in this country or in the hearts and minds of Americans.

COSTELLO: Paula Kerger CEO and president of PBS, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy morning to talk with us.

KERGER: Thank you so much for having me on, Carol.

I imagine we haven't heard the last of this.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.