Fox's attacks on Elmo follow a recent announcement that the U.S. government is spending $20 million to back Sesame Street Workshop in helping produce a Pakistani version of the show. In several teases throughout today's Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade expressed outrage that "Elmo [is] taking a trip to Pakistan ... on the taxpayers' dime."
Later, Kilmeade repeated a similar tease:
KILMEADE: The U.S. has a new soldier in the war on terror. This guy. Elmo taking a trip to Pakistan to fight extremism? And guess what? You're paying for him and his puppet master.
Fox continued pushing the "on the taxpayers' dime" angle of the story on their website; FoxNews.com ran an Associated Press story about the program under this headline:
Here's the actual AP headline, via The Miami Herald:
This isn't the first time Fox News has changed a headline to suit its purposes; its news aggregator, Fox Nation, is notorious for doing so.
The full AP article explains the reason for the U.S.'s financial backing:
The U.S. is bankrolling the initiative with $20 million, hoping it will improve education in a country where one-third of primary school-age children are not in class. Washington also hopes the program will increase tolerance at a time when the influence of radical views is growing.
"One of the key goals of the show in Pakistan is to increase tolerance toward groups like women and ethnic minorities," said Larry Dolan, who was the head education officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Pakistan until very recently.
The U.S. is already spending "$7.5 billion in civilian aid" in Pakistan, the article continues:
Perhaps nowhere else are the stakes as high as in Pakistan. The U.S. is worried that growing radicalization could one day destabilize the nuclear-armed country. Washington has committed to spend $7.5 billion in civilian aid in Pakistan over five years, despite accusations that the country is aiding insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan.
And the show will help "emphasize the importance of sending girls to school":
Rani, the new program's star, sports pigtails and a blue and white school uniform. Her innate curiosity is exemplified by the magnifying glass she often carries and her endless stream of questions. She is captain of the school cricket team and plays the harmonium, an instrument used to perform Qawwali music.
The creators chose Rani as the lead character to emphasize the importance of sending girls to school, something that doesn't often happen in Pakistan's conservative, male-dominated society, said Faizaan Peerzada, the chief operating officer of Rafi Peer and one of several family members who run the organization.
"It makes the girl stand equally with the boy, which is very clear," said Peerzada.
Furthermore, Fox didn't mention that Sesame Workshop already helps produce local versions of the show in more than 20 countries, from Bangladesh to Israel. These shows are tailored to the local culture, teaching kids about current issues in their countries. For example, the South African version features an HIV-positive Muppet, while the Northern Ireland program teaches young viewers about the "need to share their space."
But despite Kilmeade's derisive teases, co-host Gretchen Carlson seemed to acknowledge that the idea has merit:
CARLSON: All right, well forget about the drone attacks and diplomatic sanctions. America's new weapon against terrorism: Elmo.
ELMO [video]: Elmo is so happy to see you. You're Elmo's friends. Elmo really loves friends.
CARLSON: Starting this month, Elmo will be spreading his love in Pakistan. The U.S. government sending $20 million in taxpayer money to bring Sesame Street to the Muslim nation. The idea is for Elmo and his furry friends to teach religious and cultural tolerance as opposed to fundamentalism. Let's hope it works.
Kilmeade's outrage over the "taxpayer money" spent on Pakistani Sesame Street follows the right-wing media's attack last month on a new Sesame Street character here in the U.S., a young girl named Lily, whose family is in poverty. Since Sesame Street, the most widely viewed children's series in the world, has a self-stated mission of "improving cognitive skills, teaching respect and social skills, and promoting school readiness skills" among young children, it seems like a bizarre target for right-wing media scorn.