Thinking Inside the Box

Defunding Big Bird's a Bad Idea

by Ellis Bromberg, General Manager of MPTV

Ellis Bromberg with more "Thinking Inside the Box."

Mitt Romney's call for the elimination of federal funding for public broadcasting, during his first debate with President Obama -- specifically his comments about Sesame Street's Big Bird and moderator Jim Lehrer -- has generated an extraordinary, and overwhelmingly negative, public response.

The night of the debate "Big Bird" was the fourth most trafficked Twitter subject -- after the words "Romney," "Obama," and "debate" -- and at its peak Big Bird was the subject of 17,000 tweets per minute. Americans went on social media to protest the elimination of federal funding for public broadcasting because they know this funding is essential -- not "nice to have," essential -- to the survival of non-commercial, educational public media in this country. Government and independent studies support that conclusion -- studies about which Mr. Romney should know: one was commissioned by Congress itself.

For more than 40 years, Big Bird has embodied the mission of public broadcasting, and Milwaukee Public Television. We use television for the good of every citizen, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay. On Channels 10&36 you find programming that respects our audience -- educational children's programming, history, science, the arts, and civil discourse of current issues. National and local programming unlike what you will find on commercial TV and the cable networks.

The notion that ending federal funding to public broadcasting will have any significant effect on the federal budget is utter nonsense. It accounts for 1/100 of 1 percent of the federal budget, about $1.35 per person, per year for all the stations, for all the content, for all the infrastructure: $1.35 per person per year.

But cutting funding would have a devastating effect on public TV stations. Many serving smaller communities would fold, and the burden to maintain today's public television system could not be borne by the surviving stations.

There are consequences to what Mr. Romney suggests. Loss of a vital educational service that folks in our area have depended on and enjoyed for more than 50 years. Loss of jobs to people who work in this industry. Loss of educational resources for teachers and students. Loss of services to underserved audiences like children who can't attend preschool, and shut-ins, and citizens living in rural areas.

As a public TV station we do not editorialize, we cannot endorse candidates. But you are owed the truth and a better understanding of what this policy would mean to you, your children, this community, and our country. Wherever you might stand on this, I urge you to visit the website 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting. You can find the link in the right hand column of our homepage, And if you're so inclined, the site gives you an opportunity to let your congressman or congresswoman know what you think of public broadcasting.

This is the most serious attack on public broadcasting funding that I've seen in my 36 years working in public TV. I am so proud of our staff consistently striving to bring you the best this medium can offer, and I am so grateful to the members of our community who make their own personal commitments of volunteer time or money to ensure that MPTV survives and grows. I don't want to see this go down the tube (so to speak) for my family and my community.

So how about you? Please visit and join us at the 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting website, through the homepage. And thank you for your support of Milwaukee Public Television.