In what The New York Times described as "a classically surreal Internet moment ," many people have been summarily deleting action e-mails from advocacy groups encouraging the receiver to sign a petition asking Congress not to cut funding for PBS and NPR. It's not that these folks are against "Sesame Street" and "All Things Considered." It's just that e-mails with similar content have been circulating for more than 10 years as a hoax, and frustrated e-citizens are chalking up this new, authentic call to action as just so much more spam.
Turns out that a few students started circulating a petition urging recipients to contact their representatives back in 1995, when Republicans were pushing for cuts. The quickly conceived campaign wasn't factually acurate or well-planned. But the campaign spiraled out of control, and the e-mails were continually circulated months and years after the threat to funding disappeared, living on as annoying hoax. In fact, "The Case of the Pointless Petition" was one of the most-visited on Urbanlegends.about.com , a site debunking common e-mail and Internet hoaxes.
The irony, of course, is that now the danger to PBS and NPR funding is real . Last Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut PBS funding by nearly 50 percent . The full House will probably take up the bill this week. With important early education programs like "Sesame Street," "Reading Rainbow" and "Postcards From Buster" among those that could be axed, a vote to cut funding would be devastating to public television in the United States. That's why action is needed now . Check your inbox, and don't be so quick with the delete key if you're implored to save PBS. Better yet, be proactive. Free Press , MoveOn.org  and The Association of Public Television Stations  all have current, authentic action campaigns going on to support public broadcasting funding.