The CEO of PBS fired back at Mitt Romney Thursday, saying that it was "stunning" that the Republican candidate had singled her network out in Wednesday's debate.
Romney had one of his most memorable moments when he vowed to cut the federal subsidy to public broadcasting.
"I'm sorry Jim, I'm gonna stop the subsidy to PBS," he told moderator Jim Lehrer, who has worked for PBS since the 1970s. "I like PBS, I love Big Bird, I actually like you too, but I'm going to stop borrowing money from China to pay for things we don't need."
PBS chief Paula Kerger spoke to CNN's Carol Costello on Thursday, and didn't mince words in her response to Romney.
"With the enormous problems facing our country, the fact that we are the focus is just unbelievable to me," she said. Later, she called it a "stunning moment."
Noting that the debate touched on education, she called PBS "America's biggest classroom," adding, "This is not about the budget. It has to be about politics."
Kerger also fact-checked Romney -- who she has tussled with before -- pointing out that PBS doesn't get any direct money from the government.
"In fact, the money that comes from the government into the Corporation for Public Broadcasting goes to our member stations," she said.
Curiously, Kerger declined to praise or defend Lehrer, who has been tarred and feathered for his moderating.
"It was a very complicated debate structure," she said.
PBS also issued a blistering statement after the debate:
We are very disappointed that PBS became a political target in the Presidential debate last night. Governor Romney does not understand the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers to our nation. We think it is important to set the record straight and let the facts speak for themselves.
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.
A national survey by the bipartisan research firms of Hart Research and American Viewpoint in 2011 found that over two-thirds of American voters (69%) oppose proposals to eliminate government funding of public broadcasting, with Americans across the political spectrum against such a cut.
As a stated supporter of education, Governor Romney should be a champion of public broadcasting, yet he is willing to wipe out services that reach the vast majority of Americans, including underserved audiences, such as children who cannot attend preschool and citizens living in rural areas.
For more than 40 years, Big Bird has embodied the public broadcasting mission – harnessing the power of media for the good of every citizen, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay. Our system serves as a universally accessible resource for education, history, science, arts and civil discourse.
Earlier in 2012, a Harris Interactive poll confirmed that Americans consider PBS the most trusted public institution and the second most valuable use of public funds, behind only national defense, for the 9th consecutive year.
A key thing to remember is that public television and radio stations are locally owned and community focused and they are experts in working efficiently to make limited resources produce results. In fact, for every $1.00 of federal funding invested, they raise an additional $6.00 on their own – a highly effective public-private partnership.
Numerous studies -- including one requested by Congress earlier this year -- have stated categorically that while the federal investment in public broadcasting is relatively modest, the absence of this critical seed money would cripple the system and bring its services to an end.