The PBS Muppet empire strikes back

Published in the Charleston Post & Courier- Friday, February 18, 2011


WASHINGTON — The Muppets are in town. No, not for a show. They are in Washington to do business.

Inside the Beltway, 'Sesame Street' turns into K Street and Elmo is a lobbyist.

Last year, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was allocated $420 million by Congress. And President Obama is asking Congress to give a whopping $451 million to CPB in his new budget, even though the nation is more than $14 trillion in debt.

To put that in perspective, it would take Count Von Count more than 42 years to count the 451 million, one 'Ah! Ah! Ah!' dollar at a time.

But any talk of reducing or cutting the 'Sesame Street' subsidy is met with a Muppet revolt. PBS' Arthur the Aardvark was on Capitol Hill Wednesday for a Democrat press conference where Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, accused Republicans of 'silencing Cookie Monster.'

Behind the adorable anteater, aides held signs depicting Bert and Ernie being handed a 'GOPink slip.'

Make no mistake, public broadcasting's furry friends are political animals.

Elmo has been particularly busy. Elmo has testified before Congress about the need for more funding for the arts and participated in other press conferences to increase spending on public broadcasting. Elmo even went on the lecture circuit last year with Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genochowski to promote government-funded broadband Internet.

At this rate, Americans can expect Big Bird to start filming commercials to hype ObamaCare. If the FCC can borrow Elmo from PBS to build support for their plans, what's to stop the Department of Health and Human Services from feeding Big Bird some lines?

It's time to draw a clear distinction between the government and entertainment. Democrats shouldn't cast our children's most beloved creatures as characters for their big-government, big-spending causes.

Publicly funded media simply have no place in our modern, tech-savvy society. CPB was created by the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act to 'facilitate the development of public telecommunications.' Only a handful of television channels existed. More than 30 years later, Americans have thousands of choices in news, entertainment and educational programming provided by innumerable television, radio and Web outlets.

Shows like 'Sesame Street' are multi-million dollar enterprises capable of thriving in the private market.

According to the 990 tax form all nonprofits are required to file, Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell received $956,513 — nearly a million dollars — in compensation in 2008. And, from 2003 to 2006, 'Sesame Street' made more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales.

When taxpayer funding for public broadcasting ends, rest assured, Cookie Monster will still be fed.

Saving the country from crushing debt and taxes is going to require hard choices. Telling the Muppet lobby 'no' should be one of the easy ones.

Jim DeMint, a Republican, represents South Carolina in the U.S. Senate.