"Sesame Street's" objection to the use of Big Bird as a political prop has churned plenty of headlines over the last week, but it's hardly the first time this year a prominent name has protested an unwitting campaign appearance.
From Exxon to AARP to several national journalists, a growing number of well-known groups and individuals have taken exception when either President Obama or GOP nominee Mitt Romney invoked them – without notice or approval – to hammer home a political message.
While those organizations have plenty to gain from the national attention a campaign-trail shout-out can generate, they seem more wary that appearances of
supporting one side or the other could alienate a huge segment of the country, potentially costing them customers, members or even influence on Capitol Hill.
Such pushback has long been a trend in the music industry, with numerous cases of candidates picking campaign rally music – from Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" to Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy" – only to have the artists protest, usually over politics. But this year's public challenges from companies and individuals thrust involuntarily into the campaign spotlight have been unusual, and perhaps suggests a new normal in an age of free Web ads and media overload, when anything can be used as fodder by candidates scrambling to get an edge on their opponents.
The latest episode, featuring Big Bird, has triggered the most buzz. During last Wednesday's debate in Denver, Romney threatened to end funding for PBS, the federally subsidized broadcast network that airs "Sesame Street," arguing that the country simply can't afford to keep it running.
"I like PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you, too,” Romney said to debate moderator Jim Lehrer, the host of PBS's "NewsHour." “But I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for."
Obama pounced, referencing the threat to Big Bird in a series of stump speeches in the days that followed. On Tuesday, his campaign doubled down on that message, releasing an ad suggesting that Big Bird, in Romney's eyes, is as menacing as Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay and other corporate titans convicted of financial crimes.