Big bird star of first presidential debate

By: Andy Cunningham Email
By: Andy Cunningham Email

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Cuts to PBS are just one of the hot topics following last night's debate. Coal, another hot button issue in Kentucky found its way into the discussion as well.

WKYT talked to folks in both industries to get their take on what the candidates said.

"And by the way...I like coal," said Mitt Romney.

Clearly a big issue here in Kentucky and one that seems to separate the Republican candidate from the President.

"When we talk about jump-starting this economy, you have to talk about energy," explained Bill Bissett, President of the Kentucky Coal Association.

Bissett said Romney's strong support for coal in the debate was "a winning strategy" and "important" to the people of the Commonwealth.

"Romney's the first one to bring up coal, and once again, President Obama has this inability to say the word," he continued.

Maybe the biggest "zinger" of the night came when Romney called out the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) about 30 minutes into the debate between the president, the former governor explained that he would cut what he considers non-essential items in the budget, including cuts to PBS, which employs debate moderator Jim Lehrer.

"I'm sorry Jim. I'm gonna stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm gonna stop other things," Romney said. "I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too."

Locally Kentucky Educational Television (KET) responded to Romney's comments.

"Losing programs like Sesame Street, that help educate our youth would be an enormous loss," said KET Spokesman Tim Bischoff.

"These programs and what KET offers are irreplaceable in today's society, considering the alternative programs available to children," he explained.

Bischoff said they receive $3 million from the federal government annually, almost 20% of their operating budget. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting's or the CPB's two-year, $445 million government grant makes up less than 1/100th of a percent of a Federal Budget worth upwards of $3.5 trillion.

-------PBS released a statement this afternoon in response to Romney's statements.

"We are very disappointed that PBS became a political target in the Presidential debate last night. Governor Romney does not understand the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers to our nation. We think it is important to set the record straight and let the facts speak for themselves.

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.

A national survey by the bipartisan research firms of Hart Research and American Viewpoint in 2011 in found that over two-thirds of American voters (69%) oppose proposals to eliminate government funding of public broadcasting, with Americans across the political spectrum against such a cut.

As a stated supporter of education, Governor Romney should be a champion of public broadcasting, yet he is willing to wipe out services that reach the vast majority of Americans, including underserved audiences, such as children who cannot attend preschool and citizens living in rural areas.

For more than 40 years Big Bird has embodied the public broadcasting mission - harnessing the power of media for the good of every citizen, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay. Our system serves as a universally accessible resource for education, history, science, arts and civil discourse.

Over the course of a year, 91% of all U.S. television households tune into 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 broadcasting broadcasts, apps, podcasts, and online - all for the cost of about $1.35 per person per year.

Earlier in 2012, a Harris Interactive poll confirmed that Americans consider PBS the most trusted public institution and the second most valuable use of public funds, behind only national defense, for the 9th consecutive 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."


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