Matt Schlapp, the president of the Conservative Political Action Committee, has drawn criticism from Asian Americans and others across social media this week after he called for “Sesame Street” to be defunded for introducing its first Asian American Muppet.
Schlapp, a conservative lobbyist, tweeted a news story about the coming debut of a Korean American character, Ji-Young. The Muppet has been praised for letting Asian American children see a character like themselves on screen, but Schlapp slammed the host network, PBS, which receives both government and private-sector funding.
“What race is Ernie is Bert?” Schlapp tweeted Monday. “You are insane PBS and we should stop funding you.”
Schlapp doubled down Thursday on “Fox and Friends First,” claiming PBS and “Sesame Street” are “trying to bring race into Ernie and Bert.”
“I grew up watching, and it wasn’t ever about race. It was about learning lessons and learning to read and learning tolerance,” Schlapp said. “And they want to inject race.”
He also went on to jab at the Muppets’ take on gender.
“And by the way, this whole question about gender into everything, one of the Muppet characters had a son, and the son wanted to be a daughter, and they just won’t stop with their push for woke politics,” Schlapp said.
The Muppets have alluded to nonbinary characters in the past, but it was unclear which episode Schlapp was referring to. In an episode of “Muppet Babies,” the popular Muppet Gonzo, known for a love of stunt performance, dons a gown for Miss Piggy’s ball, making their debut as Gonzo-rella.
In an email to NBC News, Schlapp did not deviate from his position. He also took shots at National Public Radio (NPR), a publicly funded nonprofit media outlet, accusing the organization, as well as PBS, of wanting to “be in arms in the socialist movement.”
“Sesame Street needs to go back to the time when a show was devoted to a letter in the alphabet, and not the latest woke fad,” he wrote. “We all loved Bert and Ernie without the foggiest idea of the racial demographic they may have represented. Afterall, Ernie is orange. The taxpayers deserve a big rebate. If PBS and NPR want to be in arms in the socialist movement, they need to pay their own way.”
A spokesperson for “Sesame Street” did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Ji-Young, an avid electric guitar player and skateboarder, will make her first appearance as part of a special titled “See Us Coming Together” on Thanksgiving Day. Alan Muraoka, who plays the owner of Hooper’s Store on the show, said that like many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, she will straddle two cultures.
“She’s a musician, she plays electric guitar, she’s a girl of the very modern American fabric,” he said. “She recognizes the culture through her relatives — her grandmother, through her mother — and through the food she eats and loves.”
The show will also delve into other real and yet difficult issues relating to Ji-Young’s identity, including anti-Asian racism. During the special, another child tells her to “go home” in an offscreen incident. Friends and adults come together and help her understand that she’s “exactly where she belongs,” according to a statement about the episode.
“It’s necessary for the next generation of kids to understand these issues, because they’re real issues and they’re issues that I don’t see going away in the foreseeable future,” Muraoka said.
Schlapp’s comments came on the heels of criticism from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who accused “Sesame Street” of spreading “government propaganda” this month after the character Big Bird spoke about getting vaccinated against Covid-19.