Mitt Romney vs. Big Bird emerged as the story of the first presidential debate after the GOP challenger vowed to cut public funding to PBS as part of a broader plan to cut the deficit.
As Hollywood Reporter noted, the statement turned a bit awkward for Romney, realizing that debate moderator Jim Lehrer is also a PBS news anchor.
“I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS,” Romney said before quickly adding, “I like PBS. I like Big Bird. I like you, too.”
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds both PBS and NPR, received $444 million from the federal government in 2012.
“Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases,” Romney told Fortune, “But I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.”
The Romney vs. Big Bird comment threatened to overshadow an otherwise stellar performance from Mitt Romney. He came across to pundits as more relaxed and aggressive than Obama, who stuttered and looked otherwise uneasy at several points.
The performance isn’t seen as the game-changer that Mitt Romney needs to turn momentum in swing states where Obama has taken control according to several polls that show him widening his lead. This is especially true if the Romney vs. Big Bird sentiment continues to grow across the internet at the rate it has so far.
It just might grow: The Mitt Romney vs. Big Bird fight spread quickly through the internet soon after the debate ended, Mashable reported. After Romney’s vow to cut subsidies for PBS, the internet meme machine clicked to another level, with Photoshoppers scrambling to make parodies to defend Sesame Street‘s tallest bird.