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Republicans Take Aim at NPR's Funding in Prank Video's Wake

Olga Khazan |
March 8, 2011 | 2:40 p.m. PST

Senior Editor

Be careful what you wish for in a prank video. This morning, the Daily Caller released a video in which soon-to-be-departing NPR executive Ron Schiller was caught saying public radio would be "better off in the long-run" without federal funding, among other left-leaning comments.

His desire for NPR to survive solely on private funding is just fine with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who said the "disturbing video" proves that federal funds aren't essential to public radio's survival. Last month the House voted to de-fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but the Senate is still deliberating. The Daily Caller reports:

“As we continue to identify ways to cut spending and save valuable resources, this disturbing video makes clear that taxpayer dollars should no longer be appropriated to NPR,” Cantor said in an e-mail to TheDC. “Not only have top public broadcasting executives finally admitted that they do not need taxpayer dollars to survive, it is also clear that without federal funds, public broadcasting stations self-admittedly would become eligible for more private dollars on top of the multi-million dollar donations these organizations already receive.”

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) concurred, saying “We agree that NPR and PBS would be fine without taxpayer subsidies.”

The video was captured by conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe, who deployed two colleagues, posing as Muslim Brotherhood members, to offer to donate $5 million to NPR over lunch with Schiller and Betsy Liley, NPR’s director of institutional giving. NPR reports:

"In the video, Schiller and NPR institutional giving director Betsy Liley are at lunch in Washington with two Project Veritas "investigative reporters" identified as Shaughn Adeleye and Simon Templar, who posed as "Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik." They were allegedly interested in having their organization donate $5 million to NPR. O'Keefe's organization says the recording was made on Feb. 22."

In the video, Schiller made several comments tinged with liberal bias, including:

  • The "Tea Party people" aren’t “just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”
  • “In my personal opinion, liberals today might be more educated, fair and balanced than conservatives."
Early in the conversation Schiller said he was "taking off" his NPR hat and was speaking candidly. NPR quickly denounced the statements and said Schiller has not been involved in editorial decisions

"We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for," said spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm.

Schiller notes that although some local stations "would go dark" without federal funding, "most stations" would survive. But NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation) gave the opposite impression, saying at a press conference, "We take [federal defunding] very, very seriously. It would have a profound impact we believe on our ability - of public broadcasting's ability - to deliver news and information."

Some mainstream news sites agree, saying that freedom from government money means greater editorial independence and less tip-toeing around political issues. According to the Boston Globe,

"The federal funding may help the bottom line, but it also ensures NPR will continually find itself in the political crosshairs — as it has been since Republicans took control of the House. Already, in fact, the public radio tag is a bit of misnomer, since NPR receives only a miniscule amount of federal money. Most public broadcasting expenditures instead go to member stations — which, in turn, send some of it back to NPR in the form of station fees. In all, taxpayer money accounts for less than 10 percent of NPR's budget."

The New York Times' Media Decoder writes that NPR is no stranger to controversy. Last fall the station dismissed Juan Williams, a news analyst, for making Islamophobic comments on Fox News. (Coincidentally, in the video Schiller said he was also "proud of" NPR's decision to can Williams.) Now it seems Williams might be capitalizing on the prank:

"[After the firing,] Fox promptly gave Mr. Williams a new contract. Mr. Williams is scheduled to talk about Mr. Schiller’s comments Tuesday night on “Hannity,” one of the prime time programs on Fox News."



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