AdWatch: Big Bird the faux villain in new Obama ad

Last Updated: Wed, Oct 10, 2012 05:15 hrs

TITLE: "Big Bird"

LENGTH: 30 seconds.

AIRING: President Barack Obama's campaign said only that the ad will air nationally on broadcast and cable TV stations.

KEY IMAGES: Grim, "perp walk"-style photos of Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay and Dennis Kozlowski — three businessmen convicted of financial crimes. "Criminals. Gluttons of greed," says a narrator. "And the evil genius who towered over them?" A silhouette of Big Bird, the legendary Sesame Street character, appears in the window of a skyscraper.

"One man has the guts to speak his name," the narrator says. In rapid succession, three clips of Mitt Romney uttering the yellow bird's name as he discusses cutting federal subsidies for the Public Broadcasting Service.

"It's me. Big Bird," says the tall, yellow fowl.

The narrator calls him "a menace to our economy" and says "Mitt Romney knows it's not Wall Street you have to worry about, it's 'Sesame Street.'" The narrator closes by saying: "Mitt Romney. Taking on our enemies, no matter where they nest."


It was only a matter of time before Romney's debate shout-out to Big Bird ended up in one of Obama's campaign ads. After all, the president has joked about Romney having it in for Big Bird since the morning after the Oct. 3 debate in Denver.

The president's re-election campaign also has shown few qualms about throwing Romney's words back at him in TV spots. Video of Romney, secretly recorded at a May fundraiser, saying nearly half of Americans are dependent on government made its way into multiple ads aired by Obama's campaign.

The presidential debate wasn't the first time Romney spoke of his desire to cut off subsidies to PBS, which airs "Sesame Street." But it was the first time he talked about it while tens of millions of people were tuned in, some of them getting a good look at him for the first time.

Romney said he likes PBS and Big Bird, but said it fails the test he'll impose on federal programs as president: If it's not worth borrowing money from China to pay for it, then it's gone.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds a portion of the PBS budget, received $445 million from the government this year. That's a drop in a federal budget of $3.6 trillion, but Romney was trying to make a broader point about the deficit and spending he deems unnecessary.

For Obama, the Big Bird attack fits neatly into his campaign's attempts to portray Romney as an uncaring plutocrat too quick to pink-slip government programs that Americans rely on, in this case millions of preschool-age children.

Romney's campaign says the ad shows Obama is focusing on the small things to distract from what they say is his lack of vision on the economy and other pressing issues. Obama's own Justice Department was heavily criticized for failing to prosecute aggressively Wall Street executives implicated in the financial crisis that led to the recession.

PBS and "Sesame Street" are none too pleased that Big Bird has become an enduring symbol of Campaign 2012.

PBS issued a statement after the debate knocking Romney for devaluing public broadcasting and its mission. After Obama's campaign released its ad, the producer of "Sesame Street" called on the campaign to pull it down, saying Big Bird's use in a political campaign had not been approved.

EDITOR'S NOTE _ An occasional look at the claims in political advertising

More from Sify: