Romney’s position is common among Congressional Republicans, who have tried to defund the National Public Radio (NPR) station and PBS in the past.
The GOP candidate’s comment came as a shock, however, because tonight’s debate was moderated by PBS News Hour host Jim Lehrer.
I”’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS,” Romney told Lehrer. ” I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too. But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.”
Neither Lehrer nor President Barack Obama responded to Romney’s comment, making the situation less awkward.
It was certainly one of the best zingers in the first half of the debate, though, and one of the most talked about moments from the debate.
Twitter users were immediately outraged asking what America would do without children’s show “Sesame Street” or hit British period show “Downtown Abbey” if PBS were to lose its funding and subsequently shut down.
According to twitter, Romney’s Big Bird line was one of the 10 most tweeted about moments from the debate, which itself was the most tweeted about political event in the history of twitter. Google notes that the term “Big Bird” was the fourth most searched term during the debate. And facebook says that after Romney, Obama and debate, “Big Bird” was the most debate-related term mentioned on the social networking site (Jim Lehrer came in seventh and PBS came in eighth).
Perhaps attacking Big Bird was the wrong way for Romney to illustrate his very legitimate point.
This post has been updated to include additional data.