Most pundits agree that Mitt Romney won Wednesday's presidential debate -- but one thing he said has sparked a backlash the former Massachusetts governor probably didn't anticipate.
In discussing his plans to cut nonessential government spending, Romney aimed his crosshairs directly at public broadcasting, telling the debate's moderator, PBS newsman Jim Lehrer, "I'm sorry Jim. I'm gonna stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm gonna stop other things. I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too."
The backlash was immediate. The same evening Romney made the comment, a Twitter account was created for @FiredBigBird. As of Friday, it had over 30,000 followers.
PBS fans flooded the network's Facebook page with supportive posts as well.
Facebook user John Campbell wrote that PBS had "the only intelligent programming in a sea of money grubbing stupidity.
"I will just cancel my Direct TV and increase my PBS monthly pledge accordingly," Campbell wrote. "PBS also has the only worthwhile news programming on television that isn't run by big corporations."
"I watch almost nothing but PBS -- I love Nova, Nature, History Detectives, Antiques Roadshow, American Experience, American Masters, News Hour, some of the stuff on the Create channel, and on and on," wrote Facebook user Josh Ferguson. "I am extremely disgusted by Romney's comment and don't want to see PBS go away!"
PBS itself has responded to Romney's comment with an unusually strong public statement.
"We are very disappointed that PBS became a political target in the Presidential debate last night," the statement reads. "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."
The statement also pointed out that PBS funding accounts for about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget -- and that for every $1 of federal funding, PBS stations raise $6 through private donations.
"Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation’s debt," the statement reads. "Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating. ... 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."
Others, however, think Romney is right to want to cut PBS funding.
"If PBS is so successful (which they are), than they don't need the government subsidies to survive," wrote Facebook user John Carter. "They SHOULD cut funding to PBS. Yes, it only costs $430 million. But that adds up when you cut it along with a bunch of other subsidy programs. We could save billions!"
What do you think? Is Romney right to consider cutting federal funding to PBS? Or are the benefits of public broadcasting worth the cost?