Sesame Workshop cries foul over Obama Big Bird ad

Org asks campaign to refrain from using image in commercial

“Sesame Street” has stepped in to call for a stop to a snarky new Obama ad that invokes Big Bird in ridiculing Mitt Romney’s call to end federal funding of PBS.

Ever since last week’s presidential debate, in which Romney mentioned PBS funding as among the cuts he would make to the federal budget, Obama has himself mocked Romney for “cracking down” on Big Bird. But the Sesame Workshop was none too pleased by the release of an Obama campaign ad on Tuesday that features images of Big Bird and even the voice of the venerable creature. The spot accuses Romney of caring more about stopping “Sesame Street” than about financial shenanigans on Wall Street.

“Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns,” the org said in a statement. “We have approved no campaign ads and, as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down.”

An Obama campaign official said that they “have received and are reviewing their concerns.”

The spot, which was to run on cable, reflects a campaign strategy of painting Romney as unwilling to explain where he would realistically cut from the federal budget while going after public broadcasting, which enjoys popular support yet, with a $445 million subsidy, is a small fraction of the budget. According to a Washington Times-Zogby poll, released on Tuesday, 55% of likely voters say that they see federal funding of PBS as a “worthwhile place to spend taxpayers’ money.” Some 35% said that the government can’t continue funding.

Romney responded on the campaign trail in Iowa, saying, “You have to scratch your head when the president spends last week talking about saving Big Bird. I actually think we need to have a president who talks about saving the American people and saving good jobs and saving our future and also saving the family farm.”

Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that, despite Romney’s charge that Obama is descending into trivial matters, “There’s a strong grassroots outcry over attacks on Big Bird. This is something that mothers across the country are alarmed about, and we’re tapping into that.”

“The larger point here is that this is about priorities and choices,” she said. “And when your first offering for your plans to bring down the deficit is a combination of a $5 trillion tax cut for millionaires and billionaires and cutting funding to Big Bird, it’s hard to take your plan seriously.”

While PBS chief Paula Kerger and public broadcasting advocates defended government funding for public broadcasting after the debate last week, Sesame Workshop has been wary of getting dragged into a partisan battle.

This cycle, campaigns have been hit by takedown requests from copyright holders when they feature clips from newscasts or popular songs. Campaigns have argued that what they are doing is fair use, but the threat of legal tangles has seen them agreeing to such requests in some cases. By then, however, an ad may have aired for a day, plenty of time to get the point across.

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