The Tweet Beat: PBS’s Presidential Debate Event at the Newseum

A preview of “The Choice 2012” and a call-to-arms to save Big Bird.

Back in 1988, PBS’s
Frontline had the idea to create a biographical film about the two presidential candidates,
George H.W. Bush and
Michael Dukakis. The producers were surprised by the powerful narrative that emerged from combining
the two men’s stories to become
The Choice 1988.

The documentary is now a PBS election-season tradition, and last night, before the
first of the 2012 presidential debates, a crowd of PBS executives, donors, and journalists
gathered at the Newseum to preview
The Choice 2012 before settling in for what turned out to be a debate in which Romney put the public
broadcasting company on his theoretical budget chopping block.

Despite the CBS and CNN instant polls that showed Romney winning this initial meeting
of the candidates, the mood in the Annenberg Theater was jovial. Applause often accompanied
Obama’s remarks, and laughter was sprinkled throughout. However, when Romney intimated
that despite his love of Big Bird, PBS would be one of the first “nonessential” government-funded
operations he would cut, a quiet gasp rippled through the room.

With that, Big Bird and PBS fans took to the social networks—PBS itself offered debate
partygoers eight Twitter handles and three hashtags at which to “follow the conversation”—to
tweet and post in defense of the
Sesame Street character.

By the time party-goers returned home, Big Bird was trending on Twitter. And this
morning we found @BigBirdRomney already live and tweeting to some 8,000-plus followers.
(The account has since been suspended.)

While the traction for
The Choice 2012 that PBS was hoping to gain from the event last night may have been overshadowed,
at least it was one of their own stealing the spotlight.

See below for a selection of Big Bird-related tweets.

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