NPR turmoil, resignation comes amid funding fight
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 2:05 PM
WASHINGTON -- NPR will forge ahead in the fight for federal money despite six months of bad PR - and without its chief executive.
NPR's president and CEO resigned Wednesday 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.
From the news organization's perspective, the timing was exceptionally bad. The battle for funds will be the toughest yet, with Republicans in the new House majority looking to cut all federal funding of public radio and television.
It's the latest blunder for the news organization, which publicly admitted fumbling the firing of analyst Juan Williams over comments he made about Muslims. Then NPR had to apologize to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords when it falsely reported the congresswoman's death.
Vivian Schiller said staying on as chief executive would only hurt the looming battle over funding, which public broadcasting officials claims would force some stations to fold.
"We took a reputational hit around the Juan Williams incident, and this was another blow to NPR's reputation. There's no question," she told The Associated Press.
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," a statement most Republicans agree with.
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.