PBS Responds to Mitt Romney Over Federal Government Subsidy Big Bird Debate

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PBS hit back at Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for turning it into a “political target” during Wednesday’s debate and accused him of not understanding the value of public broadcasting to the American people.

“We are very disappointed that PBS became a political target in the presidential debate last night,” PBS said in a statement. “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.

In one of the night’s most-talked-about sound bites, Romney told longtime PBS anchor Jim Lehrer, “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you too. But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for us.”

“The federal investment in public broadcasting equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget,” PBS’ statement said. “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.”

As Forbes noted, with the federal subsidy accounting for only about 12 percent of PBS’ revenue, eliminating it likely would not have any detrimental effects, but nor would it put any kind of real dent in the budget deficit:

For fiscal year 2010, federal funding for PBS through [the Corporation for Public Broadcasting] accounted for about 12% of PBS’ revenue. In terms of dollars, that works out to about $300 million. There’s not much wiggle room to be had: the money that actually goes to CPB is split according to a mostly statutory formula. For 2015, Congress has budgeted $445 million for CPB. That’s less than 1% of the budget. Way less. It’s about 1/100th of a 1%.

PBS CEO and President Paula Kerger said on CNN that the money from the federal government goes not to PBS as a whole, but to its member stations that would be forced to go off the air if the funding was pulled.

“With the enormous problems facing our country the fact that we are the focus is just unbelievable to me,” Kerger said. “We’re America’s biggest classroom. We touch children across the country in every home. Whether you have books in your home or computer or not, almost everyone has a television set.”

She added, “The fact that we are in this debate — this is not about the budget. It has to be about politics.”