For those concerned that Americans weren't paying close enough attention to the presidential election, a tall, fluffy, yellow bird helped change that this week.
Two days after the presidential debate in which Mitt Romney brought up the Sesame Street character in a reference to federal funding for PBS, the "Save Big Bird" debate continued.
"I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things," Romney said, while debating President Obama Wednesday night. "I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too. But I'm not going to — I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. "
Twitter says that during the debate, Big Bird was mentioned in 17,000 tweets per minute.
Federal funding for public television — and public radio — comes via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a nonprofit, private organization chartered by Congress. About 72 percent of the CPB funding goes directly to local TV and radio stations that distribute programs, such as Sesame Street.
On CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" Thursday, former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said he's voted to "kill Big Bird in the past," adding:
"I have a record there that I have to disclose. That doesn't mean I don't like Big Bird. You can kill things and still like them, maybe to eat them, I don't know. ... Can we go back on that one?"
At a rally in Virginia Friday, Obama chided Romney: "For all you moms and kids out there, don't worry — someone is finally getting tough on Big Bird. Rounding him up. Elmo has got to watch out, too."
A Facebook page is calling for a "Million Muppet March" Nov. 3 on the National Mall.
Actor George Takei, of Star Trek fame, posted an image to his Facebook account, referencing a popular Tumblr blog from earlier this year about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, with the caption: "Confirmed. I got the bird. We will move him to a safe house in the morning."
It's all somewhat absurd, but PBS, which distributes Sesame Street, released a statement saying:
"The federal investment in public broadcasting equals about one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget. Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation's debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating."
CPB has long been a source of debate on Capitol Hill. Congressional Republicans have targeted public media funding in their budget proposals. CPB also was also among the proposed cuts under a 2010 deficit-cutting plan offered by leaders of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson commission.