First, let’s hear from the rather large fowl in question:
Big Bird, it seems, isn’t thrilled about his cameo in the presidential race.
The folks at Sesame Street are asking the Obama campaign to pull down a TV ad released Tuesday that mocks Mitt Romney for vowing to yank the subsidy to PBS.
At the presidential debate in Denver last week, Mr. Romney said he would end the subsidy in view of the nation’s fiscal troubles.
“I love Big Bird,” the Republican challenger said “… But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.”
Up went an ad by team Obama called “Big Bird’’ that suggests Mr. Romney is targeting children’s programming rather than legitimate threats to people’s economic interests.
The ad shows images of Bernie Madoff and others implicated in various financial and corporate scandals. A narrator then intones: “And the evil genius who towered over them?”
A silhouette of Big Bird flashes on screen.
“Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about, it’s Sesame Street,” the narrator said.
The ad is airing on national cable and broadcast TV, in time slots devoted to comedy shows, the Obama campaign said.
Sesame Street isn’t amused. Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit educational organization that produces and owns the show, issued a statement Tuesday saying “we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns. We have approved no campaign ads, and as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down.”
A blog post on the Sesame Workshop website said that “Sesame Street would not exist were it not for PBS and its local stations, which is the distribution system for Big Bird and friends to reach all children across the United States, particularly the low income children who need us most.”
Of course, everyone has an opinion on this issue. No one wants to be seen as being chicken:
From Obama for America:
Big. Yellow. Loved by kids everywhere. And only one candidate has the courage to go after him. Today, Obama for America is out with a new TV spot because, while President Obama passed historic Wall Street reform to hold big banks accountable and give consumers tools to make informed decisions for themselves, his opponent, Mitt Romney, has shown true conviction by vowing to take down Big Bird and keep Sesame Street under control.
From Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein:
Watching the “Big Bird” ad… I couldn’t help but think back to this part of Obama’s February 2007 speech in Springfield, Ill. when he launched his first campaign for president: “What’s stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.”
And Chuck Todd notes on MSNBC:
Serious question though: We’re six days later. The Obama campaign, on their own, seems to be looking back at the debate, not yet figuring out how to turn the page from the debate. Maybe it’s understandable given what we’re seeing given the bounce in the polls, and that it’s part of the entire campaign conversation. But of course they’re the ones running these look-back-at-the-debate ads. And you have to ask yourself, every time they bring up the debate, is that good for Obama or is that good for Romney?
Finally, the Republican Candidate, himself, got in a zinger yesterday:
Mitt Romney, speaking to a crowd of about 1,200 on a farm here in Van Meter, Iowa, criticized President Obama’s recent focus on Big Bird on the campaign trail.
“You have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird,” he said. “I actually think we need to have a president who talks about saving the American people and saving good jobs.”
But, Mitt…Obama can’t explain how his domestic policies have brought us to this point. That would be claiming responsibility for his own mistakes. Didn’t you know…after 4 years…it’s still Booooosh’s fault?
Anyway, kiddies, don’t feel sorry for the Bird. He aint exactly hurtin’ for money:
The 2011 IRS 990 form for Sesame Workshop (formerly the Children’s Television Workshop), the producers of Sesame Street, revealed that they received $7,968,918 in government grants last year. That sounds like a hefty amount, but the 990 also revealed that Sesame Workshop received $44,984,003 in royalties last year, which includes sales of Sesame Street brand merchandise like “Tickle Me Elmo” dolls. That means Big Bird made five times in merchandise sales than what he received in government grants.
An even closer look at Sesame Workshop’s finances shows the government funding Romney wants to cut is only a small part of their budget and may not be necessary at all. In 2011, Sesame Workshop received $31,555,192 in grants and donations last year apart from the U.S. government. They also raised over $2 million in additional funds from various fundraising events. In all, Sesame Workshop raised almost $34 million in private funds for Sesame Street, aside from government grants.
In addition, Sesame Workshop brought in almost $30 million in revenue from content distribution and media production. In total, Sesame Workshop brought in over $122 million in revenue, not including government grants. On their website, Sesame Workshop claims corporate, foundation, and government support make up 35% of their budget. Realistically, however, government funding only accounts for just over 6% of their budget.
Sesame Workshop has faced drops in revenue in recent years and seems to have weathered it. Recent tax returns reveal a drop of 3% to 5% in budgets in recent years, so a loss of government funding would certainly not mean the end of Big Bird. In 2009, they laid off 20% of their workforce in a cost-cutting move, and still survived. However, salaries still make up a large part of their budget. In 2011, they paid out over $54 million in salaries, a high percentage of their budget for a non-profit.
And, if he needs to, he can always do commercials.
Big Bird: Future Spokesperson for Church’s Fried Chicken.