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Sesame Street Move Should Mean End of Government TV


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sesame-street-pbsCommentary Magazine:

Every time Republicans have threatened to end funding for the Public Broadcasting System and its radio cousin at National Public Radio, we all knew what to expect. Liberal supporters of the networks would trot out Big Bird, Elmo, Kermit, and the rest of the adorable “Sesame Street” gang of Muppets. Generations of Americans children have grown up with the PBS show. Rather than being forced to defend the indefensible notion of a taxpayer-funded government broadcasting system in the age of cable and the Internet, the argument instead turned into one about mean conservatives trying to pull the plug on a big yellow bird that everybody loves. Mitt Romney was dogged by liberal demonstrators during his 2012 campaign by people in Big Bird costumes because of his belief that PBS no longer deserved funding. The outcome of such discussions was always a foreordained conclusion. PBS kept the money and rational discourse about the preservation of an obsolete paradigm was shelved. But the next time the GOP tries to defund PBS, and they should the next chance they get, it shouldn’t be possible for Big Bird and his fans to influence the debate. The decision of the Sesame Workshop, the non-profit that operates the show, to move to the HBO premium cable network makes good business sense. It also ought to signal to even the most ideological supporters of the public system that their day is over.


Back in the 1960s, when television meant three major national channels and a smattering of independent channels located only in major markets, there was an argument to be made for public broadcasting. With so few choices available to the viewing public, the idea of the government making a modest investment in creating an educational alternative to the broadcast networks. In that context, federal funding for the network that provided a home to shows like Sesame Street, documentaries, classical music and even the quality British imports seen on “Masterpiece Theater” (now called just “Masterpiece”) was defensible. The news programs and the documentaries tended to be dominated by liberal voices. But it should be remembered that the original television news discussion show was also produced by WNET, the New York PBS affiliate. That was William F. Buckley’s long-running “Firing Line,” easily the most literate show in television history and the place where many young Americans (myself included) began their path to conservatism.Scissors-32x32.png

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