One of the memes that emerged following Wednesday’s presidential debate is the idea that Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird. This may or may not be fair: Romney said that he loves Big Bird, but wants to cut the federal subsidy to PBS. As soon as Romney said that, though, his detractors went to work. One standard meme is phrased: “Pres. Obama took out Bin Laden. Romney took out Big Bird.” This just underscores a point that I’ve made before: meme writers really need to undertake more rigorous research.
Here is the key question: is Big Bird actually the target? After all, Romney explicitly stated his adoration of Big Bird before saying that he would cut the PBS subsidy.
Those pundits who were so quick to contrast Mitt Romney’s alleged targeting of Big Bird with Obama’s targeting of Osama bin Laden should be aware that a Sesame Street character has been prominently linked to bin Laden, and it wasn’t Big Bird. Rather, there is a famous (and rather old) image of Bert, of Bert and Ernie fame, standing behind bin Laden at a press conference. This was a PhotoShopped image, of course: to date, not a shred of evidence has emerged suggesting that Bert was anywhere near either Tora Bora or Abbottabad. Further casting doubt on the authenticity of this image is the fact that San Francisco artist Dino Ignacio ran the web site Bert is Evil!, which featured (doctored) images of Bert standing alongside some of the most evil figures in history.
But somebody forgot to tell the jihadists. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, this picture of Bert standing behind bin Laden clearly made its way onto a sign at a pro-bin Laden protest held in Bangladesh:
This is a real photo of a rally, as verified by Snopes and other sources. As Snopes notes, the company that made these posters, the Dhaka-based Azad Products, claims that it didn’t intend to include Bert. They got the photos from the Internet, and Azad production manager Mostafa Kamal told reporters, “We did not give the pictures a second look or realize what they signified until you pointed it out to us.” If I may, this is either extremely sloppy work — or else Kamal and his minions were fooled by the image of Bert as a fearsome mujahid. At any rate, the picture of Bert alongside bin Laden is now part of the historical record, immortalized by its display at an actual rally.
Similarly, the meme writers got sloppy after Wednesday’s debate. If they wanted to link Obama’s killing of bin Laden to Romney’s comments on Sesame Street, they should have realized that Bert is the real target. And now Romney supporters who stand behind his subsidy cuts to PBS have been given an opening for a classic comeback. Using the above graphics, all they need to say is: Romney 2012. Time to finish the job.