Where Things Stand: GOP Resurrects Decades-Long War On PBS Because Of An LGBT Cartoon Character In ‘Clifford’

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Clifford the Big Red Dog and Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.
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Take the fact that the Republican Party doesn’t have a policy platform beyond red-meat one-sided culture wars and pair it with the fact that Republicans have raised defunding PBS every few years for the last three decades or so and it becomes perhaps inevitable that conservative politicians would try to get “Clifford The Big Red Dog” canceled.

The outrage fueling the latest calls to defund PBS are just as dumb this time as they have been every time Republicans have tried to gut public broadcasting in the past. Here’s the quick version: Last week, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) vetoed a bill that would’ve kept the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) — a PBS affiliate that broadcasts PBS programming in the state — funded through July 2026. Seizing on a familiar, all-purpose line recently popularized by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in his war on “wokeism,” Stitt argued that some programming on OETA was indoctrinating and sexualizing kids.

“Some of the stuff that they’re showing, it just overly sexualizes our kids. There are parents defending child transition on PBS that’s being played. There’s elevating LGBTQIA2S+ voices,” Stitt said last week as he argued taxpayer dollars should no longer be used to keep the OETA afloat.

Critics of Stitt’s veto have pointed out that defunding the OETA could be disastrous, especially for rural communities in the state that rely on the broadcasting for its emergency alert services, like alarms for tornados. Local reports do indicate that the state legislature may override his veto.

Stitt’s office told the Tulsa World that the governor takes issue with the OETA’s occasional promotion of LGBTQ content during Pride month, but mostly he is mad that two cartoons “Clifford The Big Red Dog” and “Work it out Wombats!” have lesbian characters in a few episodes. He also apparently had a problem with a PBS NewsHour segment that featured a couple from Indiana talking about how gender-affirming care had helped their daughter.

The right-wing uproar against the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has its roots in part in the late 1980s, when PBS ran a documentary about the Iran-Contra affair that incensed Republicans and fueled claims that public broadcasters had a liberal bias. But a few years later, Republicans went after the corporation again after NPR ran a segment on “All Things Considered” about a cultural subgenre — “Homocore” — in 1995. One of Newt Gingrich’s first acts as speaker of the House was to introduce legislation that would cut funding for public broadcasting by $94 million and eliminate federal funding for CPB, citing its coverage of LGBT issues as one of many reasons for the cuts.

The conservative Cato Institute has been advocating for defunding PBS since at least 2005, and in 2011 House Republicans introduced legislation to eliminate federal funds for CPB once again. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) brought the right-wing’s obsession with defunding public broadcasting to the national stage in 2012 during a debate with President Obama when he invoked Big Bird and argued that funding PBS was contributing in a significant way to the U.S.’s debt, supposedly making the country beholden to China.

While Stitt’s veto may represent a resurrection of the GOP’s decades-long animosity toward public broadcasting, at least one Oklahoma lawmaker thinks her governor may just be trying to one-up the other Republican governor who is picking fights with cartoon characters.

“Make no mistake, the veto has nothing to do with what is good for Oklahoma,” state Rep. Monroe Nichols (D) said in a statement. “It is clear Governor Stitt saw another governor pick a fight with Mickey Mouse so now he’s doing his best to keep pace by sticking it to Big Bird.”

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