NPR CEO resigns after VP criticizes tea party
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 6:31 PM
WASHINGTON -- NPR's president and CEO resigned Wednesday in an effort to limit the damage from hidden camera footage of a fellow executive deriding the tea party movement as "seriously racist." Conservatives called the video proof that the network is biased and undeserving of federal funds.
NPR's board had pushed for the resignation of Vivian Schiller, whom conservatives also criticized in October for firing analyst Juan Williams over comments he made about Muslims. She was not in the video, which was posted Tuesday by a conservative activist, but she told The Associated Press that staying on would only hurt NPR's fight for federal money.
"We took a reputational hit around the Juan Williams incident, and this was another blow to NPR's reputation. There's no question," she said.
The timing of the video was exceptionally bad from NPR's perspective, with Republicans in the new House majority looking to cut all federal funding of public radio and television. Public broadcasting officials say that would force some stations to fold.
The video showed two conservative activists posing as members of a fake Muslim group at a lunch meeting with NPR's top fundraiser, Ron Schiller, who is not related to Vivian Schiller and who also resigned. The men offered NPR a $5 million donation and engaged in a wide-ranging discussion about tea party Republicans, pro-Israel bias in the media and anti-intellectualism.
"The current Republican Party is not really the Republican Party. It's been hijacked by this group that is ... not just Islamophobic but, really, xenophobic," Ron Schiller said in the video, referring to the tea party movement. "They believe in sort of white, middle America, gun-toting - it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."
He also said NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding." That was a point many Republicans are more than willing to concede.
Last month, when the House voted to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides money to public radio and television stations, no Republicans stepped forward to defend it. Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, introduced similar legislation in the Senate last week.
Similar efforts to strip funding from public broadcasting in 2005 and in the 1990s were unsuccessful, but DeMint's spokesman Wesley Denton said, "I don't expect the vote to be the same as it has in the past."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, said this is the first time he hasn't been able to get interest from any Republicans to co-chair the Public Broadcasting Caucus that he founded a decade ago.
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican co-chair of the caucus last year, said he would leave it entirely because "NPR has crossed the line to political bias."
Cutting funding for CPB will meet fierce resistance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, however, and President Barack Obama favors continued support. White House spokesman Jay Carney noted that both Democratic and Republican presidents have supported such funding in the past.