'Million Muppet March' Story Smelled Fishy, And Is

My initial reaction to the story by Daniel Trotta at Reuters about plans for a "Million Muppet March" in Washington on November 3, the Saturday before Election Day, was that the whole thing doesn't seem as wildly spontaneous, grass roots-driven, and coincidental as presented. It turns out that it isn't. As Lee Cary at TeaParty911.com found (HT Newsalert via Ed Driscoll at Instapundit), the guiding force of the enterprise is an animation company executive who "just so happens" to have a lot to gain if the status quo of government funding of the Corporation For Public Broadcasting continues. It's also interesting how he's apparently able to use the Muppet characters in the "march" without worrying about getting anyone's publicly expressed permission to do so.

First, here are several paragraphs from Trotta's tripe (bolds are mine throughout this post):


"Million Muppet March" planned to defend U.S. backing for PBS

Plans to save Big Bird, the fuzzy yellow character on U.S. public television's "Sesame Street," from possible extinction are taking shape in the form of a puppet-based protest next month dubbed the "Million Muppet March."

... Before the presidential debate between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney had concluded on October 3, two men who had never met each floated the Million Muppet March idea on social media. They immediately united to defend public broadcasting.

Romney pledged during the debate to end the U.S. federal government's subsidy for the Public Broadcasting Service despite his professed love for Big Bird, one of the characters on PBS's 43-year-old children's educational program "Sesame Street," which features the Muppets.

Michael Bellavia, 43, an animation executive from Los Angeles, and Chris Mecham, 46, a university student in Idaho, separately came up with the Million Muppet March idea in response.

... Bellavia bought the Internet address www.millionmuppetmarch.com during the debate and discovered Mecham had already started a Facebook page by the same name.

Within 30 minutes of the end of the debate they were on the phone with each other, planning the march.

... Coming from rural Idaho, Mecham said he was aware how important public broadcasting was in sparsely populated areas that receive no other signals over the air.

... Mecham is a writer who is studying political science at Boise State University out of his interest in healthcare policy.

Bellavia is president of the animation studio Animax Entertainment, founded by former Second City actor Dave Thomas.

First, the march isn't about "saving Big Bird," it's about saving the $445 million in taxpayer money going to fund an enterprise (Seseame Street) which makes millions of dollars per year (not sent back to taxpayers) and would survive quite well if it were a properly managed for-profit enterprise.

Second, reaching a small number of households in distant or remote areas is hardly a justification for a $445 million expenditure -- and I'd like to see some hard data about how many such areas "receive no other signals over the air." (And why would PBS, NPR et al get through when others can't or won't?)

Third, Trotta either made no attempt to find out more about Bellavia(bias  by lazy omission) or did learn some of what follows and chose not to report it (bias by deliberate omission). Which is it, Daniel?

Now let's get to what Cary found, all of which Trotta could easily have located himself before creating his political puff piece (links are in original):

... Now for the untold rest of the story.

Mecham is a sophomore at Boise State University struggling to recover from crystal meth addiction.  Power to him.

Bellavia is the Chief Executive Officer of Animax EntertainmentOne of his company’s clients is Sesame Workshop, making him more than just a casual “fan” of Big Bird.

(Cary's excerpt from Wikipedia entry for Sesame Workshop)

“Sesame Workshop, formerly known as the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW), is a WorldwideAmerican non-profit organization behind the production of several educational children’s programs that have run on public broadcasting around the world (including PBS in the United States). Sesame Workshop was instrumental in the establishment of education children’s television in the 1960s, and continues to provide grants for educational children’s programming four decades later. Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett were the original founders, with the intention of producing a revolutionary television series based on cutting-edge research into childhood learning. The result was Sesame Street, a landmark program which has been reproduced in countries around the world. Although it was originally funded by the Carnegie Corporation and the United States Office of Education, the majority of the Workshop’s funding is now earned through licensing the use of their characters to a variety of corporations to use for books, toys, and other products marketed toward children. This ensures that the Workshop has reliable access to funding for its programming without depending on unpredictable grants.”

(End Wikipedia excerpt)

Looks like Big Bird helps pay Bellavia’s salary.

Bellavia is a member of the Producers Guild of America (PGA).  In fact, he’s listed on their website as the “Events Chair” of the PGA’s New Media Council Board of Delegates.  The PGA “is the non-profit trade group that represents, protects and promotes the interests of all members of the producing team in film, television and new media.”

... So is the Million Muppet March a PGA-staged event?  Starting to look that way isn’t it?

Very much so, Mr. Cary.

The March's Facebook page says that "“We are private individuals and are not affiliated with nor do we represent ‘Sesame Street,’ Sesame Workshop or Disney." No, Mr. Bellavia, you just do what is apparently a lot of business with them. Zheesh.

I find it intriguing that Bellavia is so sure that he can just use the Muppet characters (as noted, owned by two entities which could stand to financially suffer if one of their core franchises becomes politically tainted and turns off a significant percentage of the public) at a brazenly political event without worrying about consequences. Does he really have the crony-driven pull and/or the contractual power to do this? If he needs it, did he ask for permission, or is he banking on the silence of those who might question his legal ability to do what he is doing but are worried about leftist blowback?

Maybe Daniel Trotta can do some actual work on that question and get back to us. Sure he will.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.