Jane Chastain is a Southern California-based broadcaster, author and political commentator. Despite her present emphasis on politics, Jane always will be remembered as the nation's first female TV sportscaster, spending 17 years on the sports beat. Jane blogs at JaneChastain.com. She is a pilot who lives on a private runway.More ↓Less ↑
With the nation careening toward a fiscal cliff from which there will be no escape, the national debate has centered on a popular children’s television character who goes by the name of Big Bird.
In last week’s presidential debate, Barack Obama was unable to give us a plan to solve our current economic woes other than taxing the evil job creators. As a result, the president’s polling numbers are sinking, and his advisers are looking for anything that might be a distraction.
Grasping at straw, or in this case, feathers, they pounced on Mitt Romney’s promise to put everything in the federal budget, including Public Broadcasting and Big Bird’s popular television program “Sesame Street” to this test: “Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?”
Big Bird is no pauper, nor does he need taxpayer money to exist. Last year, he and his “Sesame Street” friends made more than $46.9 million in licensing fees alone. The program made another $41.9 million in distribution fees and royalties. Overall, “Sesame Street” had operating revenues of more than $136 million and a net worth of more than $350 million. That’s more than Mitt Romney’s net worth!
Clearly, Big Bird has laid golden eggs for the Sesame Workshop, which owns the program, and for PBS, which airs it, but who gets the gold? If I invest in a start-up company and it does well, I don’t expect it to keep coming to me for money to run its day-to-day operation. Not only that, I expect a return on my investment.
Sure, we taxpayers got a great television program for our children – but when, if ever, will it be able to stand on its own? When it has a net worth of $350 billion perhaps? Don’t hold your breath.
Furthermore, is it too much to expect that “Sesame Street” not only pay its own way but put the profits back into PBS or into the public treasury? Of course, there are no real profits. Those profits go into other Sesame Workshop projects and inflated executive salaries. According to the latest publicly available tax return, Sesame Workshop CEO Gary Knell pulled down a whopping $988,456 before leaving to take over the helm at National Public Radio where you can bet he is raking in even more dough. His second in command, Melvin Ming, who moved into the CEO slot, received a measly $584,572. Both of those men earned more than the president of the United States, and the president of the United States is letting his minions defend them!
When you take public money, the recipients should live sacrificially because living off public money is a form of charity. Sure, some of the nation’s big-time charities misuse their money and pay their CEOs outrageous salaries. This, too, is wrong. Bear in mind, the average nonprofit executive-level salary is $86,000 a year!
In 1968, when Congress created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, there were only three networks. Now there are hundreds of viewing choices. Also, according to the latest Census data, at least two-thirds of “poor” households have satellite or cable TV, and our libraries are full of high-quality learning DVDs for children available free of charge.
“Sesame Street” is a lot like Amanda Clayton who, after winning a million dollars in the Michigan lottery, went out and bought a house and car while collecting food stamps. She thought she was “entitled” because she didn’t have a real job.
Like Romney, I love Big Bird, but it’s time he went out and got a real job like “Dora the Explorer” and “Yo Gabba Gabba.” The latter was created the old-fashioned way by two fathers, Christian Jacobs and Scott Schultz. The two had no previous experience writing for television but shared a mutual disappointment with what was available for their children to watch. They produced a pilot with loans from family and friends. The rest is history.
One can only hope that Romney carries his “test” into all areas of the budget. There is no reason we should be funding the overseas advertising budgets of some of this nation’s most profitable businesses like Sunkist and Welch’s. There is no reason the government should be picking winners and losers in the marketplace at all because, win or lose – like “Sesame Street” – taxpayers never see a profit from these ventures.
Borrowing money from China to fund these programs and running up a bill for the younger generation to pay is the worst form of child abuse.
Big Bird isn’t running in this election – and no matter who wins, he will do just fine.