Leave it to Neil deGrasse Tyson to drop a fact bomb in the middle of Wednesday’s fiercely debated presidential debate.
The astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and host of the PBS program NOVA ScienceNOW took to Twitter last night to take issue with Mitt Romney’s plan to defund PBS.
The message was retweeted nearly 48,000 times, as PBS funding suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly became one of the hottest topics of the entire evening.
Reiterating a promise he has repeatedly made on the campaign trail, Romney told debate moderator Jim Lehrer, himself a PBS newscaster, that if elected, the subsidies currently allotted to public broadcasting would be eliminated.
Not that it was anything personal, of course.
“I’m sorry, Jim, I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS,” Romney said. “I like PBS, I love Big Bird — I actually like you too — but I am not going to keep spending money on things [we have] to borrow money from China to pay for.”
The moment became a viral sensation, with the term “Big Bird” generating more than 17,000 tweets per minute. Big Bird parody accounts were created and Sesame Street-related GIFs exploded.
But Tyson’s point cut through the chatter. It was echoed in a Forbes article about PBS funding: For the 2015 fiscal year, Congress has budgeted $445 million for PBS programming, which amounts to less than 1 percent of the federal budget. “Way less,” the article indicated.
The funding set aside for Big Bird, Elmo and Jim Lehrer in fact is only about 1/100th of 1 percent of the congressional budget.