- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has asked the Public Broadcasting Service to refund taxpayer dollars used to create and distribute an episode of a cartoon program that features lesbian parents, saying the subject matter was inappropriate and undermines the show’s effort to promote literacy.

The “PBS for Kids” episode of its popular “Postcards From Buster” program, originally scheduled to air Feb. 2 in classrooms across the country, had been pulled for review after some affiliates of PBS complained about its content. It was produced with Education Department grant money from a literacy initiative.

In a letter to PBS President and Chief Executive Officer Pat Mitchell, Mrs. Spellings insisted that all references to Education Department funding and sponsorship be deleted from the program credits and “any materials about the program,” such as teacher guides and student workbooks.

“Congress’ and the department’s purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children, particularly through the powerful and intimate medium of television,” Mrs. Spellings wrote in a letter sent Tuesday.

PBS Chief Operating Officer Wayne Godwin yesterday said that the public television system already had decided not to provide the episode to member stations and that the Education Department’s financial contribution to the episode “will be used to fund the production of a replacement show.”

“After considerable reflection and discussion within the public television system over the last weeks, PBS concluded there are elements of the ‘Postcards From Buster’ episode that parents should have the option of addressing with their young children at a time and manner of their own choosing,” Mr. Godwin said.

Lea Sloan, a PBS spokeswoman, downplayed the furor yesterday, saying Boston PBS affiliate WGBH, which produces the show, still would air the episode on an unspecified date.

“There will be no reference to PBS or Department of Education or Ready-to-Learn support,” she said.

PBS will deliver 40 “Postcards From Buster” episodes under a $99.7 million department grant that began in 2000, as agreed, “and will not include the ‘Sugartime!’ episode,” Miss Sloan said, referring to title of the disputed episode.

Religious and pro-family groups have complained about children’s TV programming and videos that promote tolerance of homosexuality.

“What’s at stake is the forced normalization of homosexuality in the public schools,” said Tom Minnery, vice president of government and public policy at Focus on the Family in Colorado.

Mr. Minnery was speaking of a private foundation’s production and distribution to 61,000 public and private elementary schools of a “diversity and unity” video featuring Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants and PBS’ Big Bird, Barney and others singing the disco-era hit song “We Are Family.”

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson warned parents that the video and accompanying classroom booklet “may put materials in teachers’ hands that could prompt them to teach kids that homosexuality is equivalent to heterosexuality.”

He said SpongeBob SquarePants is one of 100 popular animated characters that “may have been co-opted by an innocuous-sounding group to promote acceptance of homosexuality to children.”

The scrapped “Postcards From Buster” episode was produced by WGBH-TV in Boston with a grant from the Education Department’s $23 million Ready-to-Learn program, a literacy initiative of first lady Laura Bush.

It features a lesbian couple with adopted children in Vermont who accompany Buster to a sugarhouse, where maple syrup is made, and to a dairy farm, where they watch a cow being milked.

The half-hour “Postcards From Buster” show blends animation and live action starring Buster, an 8-year-old bionic rabbit. Buster’s dad, a pilot, is flying a rock group called La Viajeros on a North American tour and has taken Buster with his video camera to record new friendships and discoveries for “video postcards to his mom and friends back home.”

In each episode, Buster visits live children and questions them about their way of life.

Miss Sloan told the Boston Globe in Saturday’s editions that Mrs. Mitchell reviewed the show last week and was “satisfied with its contents.”

“We are aware that this is sensitive subject matter,” she told the Globe. The PBS president “wanted to make sure that the episode was handled in a way that is appropriate. She’s seen it. We now feel comfortable.”

PBS did not say whether the network decided against distributing the show after receiving Mrs. Spellings’ letter on Tuesday.

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