“First of all, I will eliminate all programs based on 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.”
He continued, addressing moderator Jim Lehrer, saying, “I’m sorry Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I like PBS, I actually love Big Bird. I like you too, but I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.”
— a quote by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the first debate with Barack Obama.
Knowing what the United States spends on public television funding, I don’t believe for a second that the government has to borrow money from China to pay for it. As I noted in an earlier post, tiny Austria spends twice as many dollars on public television than the whole USA does.
Romney’s words released a firestorm of criticism and defense of Sesame Street from the left, and a few nasty attempts at humor from the right. Today Fox News,
the propaganda arm of GOPa fair and balanced news outlet, brings out the old familiar argument that the market should determine what’s to survive:
Depending upon your level of education and notion of self-importance, the need for an alternative to the broadcast networks might have been true fifty years ago and PBS still serves up some great programming, including “Downton Abbey.” But the issue is not about the quality of their programming. The issue is whether the Federal government should be subsidizing it. If the programming is that good – and it is – why can’t PBS sell time, make a profit and stand on its own as the broadcast networks do? If too few people watch to sustain it, then, like the typewriter, it should be put in its proper place: a museum.
“Depending on your level of education and notion of self-importance.” Isn’t that rich? In other words, you are one of those “educated folks”. An intellectual. A snob. The kind that don’t belong in the GOP, because they don’t want any fancy-pants college boys and feminists hanging around being all arrogant.
The writer then goes on to slam the BBC. But if not for the BBC, programs like “Downton Abbey” would not even get made, let alone imported to American viewers. In fact, without support for the arts, the very museum to which the writer would like to banish alternative programming would not exist. This kind of mindset belongs to people who do not understand — who are afraid of — culture. They don’t get the importance of supporting it in a world where cultural institutions are constantly under threat. But it’s continued existence is one of the most important qualities of humanity. Without governmental support for the arts, for public television, for public transportation, for public libraries, what are we left with? How much poorer in spirit would the world be if every single institution was left sink or swim on its own?
Because many of them would indeed, undeservedly, sink. Sure, Big Bird would probably be saved if some cable channel decided to pick up “Sesame Street”, but then the executives would start making changes to get the ratings up. “Sesame Street” would survive, but only as a shell of its old self. All the other shows brought to you courtesy of public broadcasting might find a home somewhere on the internet, but from where would the funding come to continue to produce them? The philanthropic rich are already funding the orchestras, the operas and theater companies, the museums and libraries and urban beautification projects. Those things are barely surviving in America as it is. The rest will disappear.
*Bibo is the name for Big Bird on the German production Sesamstrasse, which started as a synchronized version of the US show, then led to German-produced episodes.**
** Actually, the German Bibo need not fear — I have not heard even the rightiest of the right wing here call for the end of public television.