Fox Goes All In Against Big Bird

Following the first presidential debate, Fox has enthusiastically echoed Mitt Romney's call to end public funding for Sesame Street and other public broadcasting. Fox's attacks on public broadcasting have focused on criticism of Big Bird.

Romney Proposed At First Presidential Debate To End Funding For Big Bird And Other Public Broadcasting

Mitt Romney: “I'm Going To Stop The Subsidy To PBS.” Romney said during the presidential debate that to reduce deficits, he would end federal funding for PBS:

MITT ROMNEY: What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it. Obamacare's on my list. I apologize, Mr. President. I use that term with all respect, by the way.

BARACK OBAMA: I like it.

ROMNEY: Good. OK, good. So I'll get rid of that. 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 like you, too. But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That's number one. [Presidential debate transcript, 10/3/12, via Politico]

Fox Echoed Romney, Telling Big Bird He Doesn't Need Government Funding

Rove: Maybe Big Bird Should Do The Patriotic Thing And Give Up Federal Money. Fox News contributor Karl Rove said: “If Big Bird, if they were a for-profit entity, could still do the things they do for public broadcasting they're doing, turn a profit, and give up the taxpayer dollars.” He added “You know, the president talks about a new American patriotism. Maybe one of the new American patriotism is organizations like Sesame Street” giving up federal funding:

DOBBS: I've got to ask you very quickly, we've got about 30 seconds, your views on Big Bird and whether or not he's going to become an avatar within this campaign.

ROVE: You know, look, you put it -- you put your finger on it. This is a supposed non-profit organization that makes a lot of money and has a lot of assets. They would be -- you know if they were -- and in return, we give them $8 million worth of money, which the United States government doesn't have in which we borrowed from the Chinese in order to give it to them. If Big Bird, if they were a for-profit entity, could still do the things they do for public broadcasting they're doing, turn a profit, and give up the taxpayer dollars.

You know, the president talks about a new American patriotism. Maybe one of the new American patriotism is organizations like Sesame Street, which has done so many good things ought to give up the public money and go out and get private dollars by the sale and licensing -- as they already are doing -- of Sesame Street characters and products. [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 10/5/12]

Eric Bolling: Big Bird Is A “Taker” Living On $6 Million A Year Of “Taxpayer Largesse.” Fox News host Eric Bolling attacked government subsidies for PBS' Sesame Street, deriding Big Bird as a “taker” living on $6 million a year of “taxpayer largesse”:

BOLLING: This is the capitalism versus redistribution edition of what's actually going on here -- Big Bird: taker. Dora the Explorer: maker. They're both worth about $350 million bucks, both of the brands, but the Big Bird, the Sesame Street Workshop, takes in about $6 million a year of taxpayer largesse. Dora the Explorer, all branding, all sales -- and therein lies the difference. [Fox News, The Five, 10/9/12]

Neil Cavuto: “We All Love You, Big Bird. We Just Think It's Time You Flew The Coop.” Fox News host Neil Cavuto attacked Big Bird for receiving money from the federal government:

CAVUTO: Let me tell you B.B., you don't mind me calling you B.B., right? Just because he wants to stop paying for you, doesn't mean he doesn't still love you. We all love you, Big Bird. We just think it's time you flew the coop. Big Bird, are you listening to me? Big Bird, look at me. You're not the problem, my feathered friend. The taxpayer dollars that helped feather your cozy Washington nest are. You don't need them. And in this promising free market, I suspect you'll thrive even more without them. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 10/9/12]

Charles Payne: “Why Would We Give Sesame Street Money? Are You Kidding Me?” On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and Fox Business' Charles Payne said that the Sesame Street characters are “gold mines” that would make billions “off lunch boxes alone.” Payne went on to assert that “anybody could take Sesame Street” and make it a “multi-billion dollar goldmine.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/10/12]     

Steve Moore: Big Bird “Has Made More Money Than A Lot Of Wall Street Firms.” On Your World With Neil Cavuto, Wall Street Journal editorial board member and frequent Fox guest Steve Moore claimed that “Big Bird has made more money than a lot of Wall Street firms.” Moore added: “Big Bird is big enterprise in fact.” Moore concluded: “If we can't cut this program, what can we cut.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 10/9/12, via Media Matters]

Varney: If The Government Cut Off Funding, “Big Bird Would Still Be Around Because It's A Profit Center In And Of Itself.” Fox Business host Stuart Varney said if we ended government spending for public broadcasting, " Big Bird would still be around because it's a profit center in and of itself."  Varney later said, “If we take it away, Sesame Street, Big Bird stands, profitable.” Responding to Varney, guest Carol Roth said: “You can bring in corporate sponsors, you can bring in advertisers. Look, HBO is a great station, they do it by subscribers. There are other ways for PBS to remain.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 10/4/12]

But Sesame Street Does Not Make Enough Money To Cover Its Expenses

Slate: Sesame Street Does Not Make Nearly Enough Money From Product Licensing To Cover Expenses. Slate has explained that "Sesame Street and its production company the Sesame Workshop do make a lot of money from product licensing, but not nearly enough to cover expenses." Slate also reported that Sesame Street is a “relative bargain” compared to other shows because it produces episodes for less than a million dollars a year while “a cable show like The Walking Dead can cost $3 million per episode.” [Slate, 1/3/12]

The Company That Produces Sesame Street Lost $6 Million In 2010. According to the company's most recent available federal tax returns, Sesame Workshop -- which produces Sesame Street -- lost $6 million in 2010. Total revenue that year was about $133 million, but expenses added up to more than $139 million. [Sesame Workshop, 6/30/11]

In Addition To Producing The Show, Sesame Street's Income Is Spent On Expenses Such As Education, Research, Outreach. According to a recent audit of the program, in addition to producing Sesame Street, Sesame Workshop's revenue is spent on expenses such as “education, research and outreach,” "Sesame Street in schools," and content distribution. [Sesame Workshop, 10/6/11]

For more on Sesame Street's finances, click here.

And Federal Funding For Public Broadcasting Is Only About 0.012 Percent Of The Federal Budget

Politico: Federal Funding For Public Broadcasting Is “About 0.012 Percent Of The Entire Federal Budget.” Politico reported that in the 2012 fiscal year, federal funding for public broadcasting was roughly “0.012 percent of the entire federal budget”:

The government funds the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private, nonprofit corporation that distributes the subsidy to local PBS stations. In the 2012 fiscal year, CPB was given $444 .1 million -- about 0.012 percent of the entire federal budget, as astrophysicist and radio host Neil deGrasse Tyson accurately tweeted Thursday. By law, CPB must give around 72 percent of its appropriation directly to stations, with lesser amounts going to PBS and other public TV and radio broadcasters. In the 2011 fiscal year, for example, PBS received just $22.3 million of CPB's total $429 million appropriation, according to the most current data available.

CPB estimates that for about $1.35 per American per year, “PBS stations return six times that amount in programming and services.” [Politico10/4/12]

PBS: Federal Contribution To Public Broadcasting Is About “One One-Hundredth Of One Percent Of Federal Budget.” Following the presidential debate, PBS released a statement explaining why it believes federal funding of public broadcasting is important to the American people and noting that the federal contribution to public broadcasting “equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget”:

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.


Over the course of a year, 91% of all U.S. television households tune in to their local PBS station. In fact, our service is watched by 81% of all children between the ages of 2-8.

Each day, the American public receives an enduring and daily return on investment that is heard, seen, read and experienced in public media broadcasts, apps, podcasts and online - all for the cost of about $1.35 per person per year.


A key thing to remember is that public television and radio stations are locally owned and community focused and they are experts in working efficiently to make limited resources produce results. In fact, for every $1.00 of federal funding invested, they raise an additional $6.00 on their own -- a highly effective public-private partnership.

Numerous studies -- including one requested by Congress earlier this year -- have stated categorically that while the federal investment in public broadcasting is relatively modest, the absence of this critical seed money would cripple the system and bring its services to an end. [PBS, 10/4/12]

For more on the effect of cutting subsidies for public broadcasting, click here.