The iconic children's program recently added an Asian American puppet to help teach kids about diversity and acceptance.
Fox News is promoting a conservative campaign to defund the Public Broadcasting Service for "bringing race into" its programming and encouraging viewers to get vaccinated. At the center of conservatives' latest culture war is "Sesame Street," the iconic children's television show.
In a Thursday "Fox & Friends First" appearance, American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp called to defund PBS over the network's attempts to make its programming more inclusive of race and gender identity. Schlapp specifically attacked the producers of "Sesame Street" for recently adding an Asian American puppet to its regular cast of characters.
"They're trying to bring race into Ernie and Bert," Schlapp said, referring to two male puppets who live together on the fictional Sesame Street.
On Monday, Sesame Workshop announced that it would introduce the character Ji-Young — the first Asian American puppet in "Sesame Street" history — as part of an upcoming special titled "See Us Coming Together." The show's producers told the Associated Press that the new character is part of an effort to teach children how to be a good "upstander."
"Being an upstander means you point out things that are wrong or something that someone does or says that is based on their negative attitude towards the person because of the color of their skin or the language they speak or where they're from," Wilson Stallings, executive vice president of creative and production for Sesame Workshop, told the news outlet.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has seen a wave of hate crimes against Asian Americans. Bystanders have often witnessed such attacks without stepping in to stop them, leading some advocacy groups to organize bystander intervention training sessions. Former President Donald Trump has fanned the flames of racist violence by repeatedly using the term "China flu" to refer to the coronavirus.
Schlapp's group hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a gathering of influential conservatives, including Trump. Schlapp's wife, Mercedes Schlapp, served as Trump's director of strategic communications at the White House.
In his Fox News appearance, Schlapp falsely claimed that "Sesame Street" has never been "about race." But the subject of race has always been an integral part of the program's history.
In 1969, Children's Television Workshop, now known as Sesame Workshop, created "Sesame Street" to address educational disparities in the Black community. At launch, the program described its target audience as "the four-year-old inner-city Black youngster" and set the show in an inner-city neighborhood modeled on the Black community in New York City's Harlem neighborhood.
Throughout its 52 years on the air, "Sesame Street" has been known for the inclusion of characters, portrayed by both human actors and puppets, from across a diverse spectrum of race and identity.
"Fox & Friends First" host Todd Piro agreed with Schlapp and lamented that the "innocence of kids" is "being attacked" by programs like "Sesame Street."
Piro went on to complain that Big Bird, one of the show's well-known and beloved characters, encouraged children to get the COVID-19 vaccine now that they are eligible. He falsely claimed that in the past, "you never really saw 'Sesame Street' get into" calls for American children to get vaccinated against deadly diseases.
But as far back as 1972, Big Bird promoted childhood vaccination in a segment on the program.
Schlapp's group joked that Big Bird, Bert, and Ernie were all uninvited from its 2022 conference in Orlando, Florida, because they supported vaccination efforts.
"Big Bird and Big Gov. Mandates? NO THANK YOU," CPAC tweeted on Wednesday.
PBS is in part funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is funded by federal tax dollars. PBS, along with HBO, pays Sesame Workshop for the right to air "Sesame Street."
This isn't the first time Fox News has attacked the children's program.
In 2016, former Fox News host Eric Bolling claimed "Sesame Street" is a "left-wing communist diatribe." In 2012, the network backed then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney's push to defund the program. And in 2011, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade attacked the show for producing a special edition of "Sesame Street" for children in Pakistan.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.