Big Bird, Show Us The Money

Reprinted from

‘Hey!  Waddya Mean I’m Part of the 1%?’

Has anyone seen the slightly amateurish ads lately by the Obama campaign that tries to hammer Governor Romney on ‘cutting Big Bird’ out of the federal budget?

Probably not since even Big Bird and PBS have asked the Obama campaign to take them off the public airwaves.

At a time when we have 23 million un/underemployed people in this nation, gas prices spiking like Billy Idol’s peroxided hair, and the Middle East completely coming apart at the seams, the geniuses behind the Obama Phenomenon of 2008 have resorted to a childish attack on Governor Romney on a serious issue such as budget discipline behind…..Big Bird?

We love Big Bird just like all the other ‘Sesame Street’ characters such as Oscar the Grouch, Kermit the Frog, and the Swedish Chef. My personal favorite happens to be the Yip-Yip Aliens who never seemed to say much of anything except when they learned what a phone was or some other common household object.

That’s quality programming right there, ladies and gentlemen! Lots of great educational things have come out of ‘Sesame Street’ and to that, we can say: ‘Thanks for the memories!’

But PBS was founded at a time when there were only 3 major television networks in America: ABC, CBS, NBC. It was decided that America needed more intellectually stimulating programming than ‘Three’s Company’ and ‘Petticoat Junction’, as entertaining as both of them could be.

Today, with 2,500 DISH channels and hundreds of basic cable channels available to the average consumer, it seems as if a station such as the Cartoon Network, The History Channel, or the Discovery Channel would be more than willing to snap up ‘Sesame Street’ and make it part of their regularly scheduled programming should PBS be disbanded and de-funded by Congress.

Their viewership would spike like the gas prices mentioned above.

We actually love this debate because it fundamentally points out the difference between an expansive federal government getting into areas it probably should no longer be, and a smaller, less intrusive limited government that doesn’t get into areas it doesn’t belong.

Why should the average American taxpayer continue to pay his/her hard-earned money just so 73% of the PBS audience, which is in the wealthier income brackets in this country, can watch ‘Big Bird’, “Masterpiece Theatre,’ and the great John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in ‘Fawlty Towers’?

73% of the people who watch PBS have household incomes of over $75,000…hardly Programming for the People, is it?

Forthwith below, please find some facts with which to make your decision about whether you want more federal government or less of it. Granted, the $444 million or so spent on PBS is a proverbial spit in the tobacco spittoon of federal budgeting each year. But hey! If you ain’t gonna cut the little stuff out of the federal budget, how in the world are you ever gonna cut the big stuff out of the federal budget, huh?

1) Financial Characteristics of PBS Viewers

36% have a household income of $75,000+
29% have a household income of $125,000+
8% have a household income of $200,000+
75% of viewing households have an ATM card
49% have an IRA/Keogh account
73% are homeowners
31% have auto loans
28% have liquid assets in excess of $100,000

(source GfK Roper and Nielsen)

2) “Why does PBS need federal funds? Did you know that Big Bird and his buddies on Sesame Street are worth more than Mitt Romney? How much are they worth? A whopping $400,000,000.

“Big Bird is worth some big bucks, even more than Mitt Romney. The total assets of the Sesame Workshop were just under four hundred million dollars, four hundred million dollars at the end of 2009′s fiscal year. That’s according to the publicly available tax forms. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint told the Daily Caller that “Sesame Street is a multi-million dollar enterprise and cookie monster will eat just fine without taxpayer subsidies.”

Again, why does PBS need federal funding? I think Big Bird will be just fine without it.”

3) A National Review article by Katrina Trinko,  ‘Sesame Street IS the One Percent,’ points out the following salaries from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s annual report, all in the top 1%:

‘At Corporation for Public Broadcasting, according to the CPB’s 2011 tax forms:
Patricia De Stacy Harrison, president and CEO $361,895

At PBS, according to 2011 tax forms:

  • Paula Kerger, president and CEO $669,260
  • Michael Jones,  chief operating officer $477,296
  • Barbara Landes, chief financial officer, treasurer, and senior vice president $402,355
  • Katherine Lauderdale, senior vice president and general counsel,  $381,855.

At Sesame Workshop, according to 2011 tax forms:

  • Gary Knell, president and CEO of Sesame Workshop until October 2011, $988,456
  • H. Melvin Ming, current president and CEO, $584,572
  • Lewis Bernstein $406,387
  • Terry Fitzpatrick $439,741
  • Myung Kang-Huneke $389,005
  • Sherrie Westin $463,892
  • Susan Kolar $401,425
  • Miranda Barry $397,175
  • Maura Regan $379,733
  • Joseph Mazzarino $556,165
  • Caralynn Sandorf $354,476
  • Anita Stewart $455,369

And while the actor who plays Big Bird (Carroll Spinney) doesn’t have a salary that puts him in the 1 percent, he’s not far off: Spinney makes $314,072.

And who’s funding this? Well, in part, taxpayers: the federal government gave the CPB a grant of $444.1 million in 2012.’

Roughly $8 million of that annual $444 million each year goes to these 18 people named above. Even Big Bird makes more money each year than perhaps the vast majority of people reading this article right now.

And he didn’t even get laid off during the last 4 years or had his hours of work cut back due to budget shortages!

Editor’s Note: Frank Hill is the Director of the Institute for the Public Trust in Charlotte, NC. He is former chief of staff to Congressman Alex McMillan of NC and also served on the staffs of former U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole and the House Budget Committee.