Romney PBS Comments 'Stun' CEO Paula Kerger as She Defends Network

Paula Kerger PBS Podium 2011
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Following the GOP presidential candidate's high-profile promise to cut funding from the public broadcaster, its chief mounts a response.

Mitt Romney likes PBS and loves Big Bird, but the feeling doesn't seem mutual at the moment.

Speaking Thursday on CNN, PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger responded to Romney's promise to cut funding to the public broadcaster that drew headlines and mockery on Wednesday night.

"With the enormous problems facing our country, the fact that we are the focus is just unbelievable to me," she said. "Particularly given the fact that at another part of the debate, both candidates focused on the importance of education. We're America's biggest classroom."

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She also clarified that the federal funding -- which makes up 15 percent of the network's budget -- largely goes to member affiliate stations, not programming.

Last summer, when Romney promised to cut the funding during a speech, Kerger expressed her frustration to The Hollywood Reporter.

"Given the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers, we find the recent comments extremely disappointing," she said.

Kerger also rattled off some statistics: more than 98 percent of Americans watch PBS programming, including 170 million per month. She also highlighted the fact that it turns every $1 of federal funding into $6 through private parternships and leveraging its resources.

In an interview with CNN, Sherry Westin, executive vp and chief marketing officer of Sesame Workshop, seemed a bit more defiant.

"We are able to raise our funding through philanthropic, through our licensed product, which goes back into the educational programming, through corporate underwriting and sponsorship," Westin said. "So quite frankly, you can debate whether or not there should be funding of public broadcasting. But when they always try to tout out Big Bird, and say we're going to kill Big Bird – that is actually misleading, because Sesame Street will be here."