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Obama Big Bird ad: a mistake, or shrewd? (+video)

The Obama campaign's new ad attacking Romney for promising to cut Big Bird's funding has been criticized by conservatives, the Sesame Workshop CEO, and even some Democrats.

By Staff Writer / October 10, 2012

A supporter in the front row holds a Big Bird book as President Obama speaks at a campaign event at The Ohio State University Oval, Tuesday, Oct. 9, in Columbus, Ohio.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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The Obama campaign released an ad Tuesday attacking GOP nominee Mitt Romney for promising to cut Big Bird’s federal funding. The spot engendered a fair bit of controversy, in case you haven’t heard. Was it a mistake? Or do Obama's strategists know what they're doing here?

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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President Barack Obama deployed Big Bird in a new campaign ad Tuesday mocking Mitt Romney's vow to end federal funding for public broadcasting. Romney's campaign dismissed it as an example of Obama being small-minded. (Oct. 9)

First let’s look at the ad itself. It’s a 30-second spot that opens with shots of Bernie Madoff and other felon financiers. “Criminals. Gluttons of greed,” intones the ad’s narrator, in faux horror movie style.

“And the evil genius who towered over them? One man has the guts to speak his name,” continues the ad. It then cuts to Mitt Romney, saying “Big Bird.”

The giant feathered fellow himself then appears in a sort of montage of Sesame Street clips. The deep-voice narrator returns.

“Yellow. A menace to our economy,” he says. “Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about. It’s Sesame Street. Mitt Romney, taking on our enemies no matter where they nest.”

Why was this controversial? Big Bird didn’t like it, for one thing. Or rather his creator and copyright owner Sesame Workshop didn’t. They made it clear they hadn’t given permission to use their giant creature for political ends and asked the Obama campaign to pull the spot.

Sesame Workshop CEO Melvin Ming told the Abu Dhabi Media Summit on Wednesday that their request is “being considered.”

“We as a nonprofit organization, we are non-political.... Our goal is to reach every child in America. We don’t contaminate that with anything,” Mr. Ming said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Second, conservatives derided the ad as small-bore. The Obama campaign isn’t responding to the larger points Romney made in last week’s debate, writes Mark Hemingway Wednesday in The Weekly Standard. Instead it’s focused on empty ephemera, according to Hemingway.

“As strategic miscalculations go, the ad is pretty devastating,” he writes.

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