The Daily Caller: NPR CEO Vivian Schiller's Ouster May Be Last Straw for Taxpayer Funding

March 9, 2011
In The News

By Andrea Stone

WASHINGTON -- Republicans set on eliminating taxpayer funding of public broadcasting would be hard-pressed to write a better script than the recent comedy of errors that reached a dramatic climax today with NPR CEO Vivian Schiller's resignation.

The public radio network survived efforts by conservative lawmakers in 1995 and 2005 to cut funding for what they have charged is an elitist mouthpiece for the left. But in the wake of a video sting by a right-wing provocateur that fit perfectly into that image, and in the midst of a debate on Capitol Hill to shrink the federal deficit, NPR's future could be cloudy.

"Our concern is not about any one person at NPR, rather it's about millions of taxpayers," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. "NPR has admitted that they don't need taxpayer subsidies to thrive, and at a time when the government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar that it spends, we certainly agree with them."

It seems like years since Schiller made her case for the federal government to continue funding 10 percent of NPR's budget as she spoke at the National Press Club. Yet it was only Monday. And despite lingering bad publicity over the firing of commentator Juan Williams, she insisted the network's troubles had more to do with "perception" than reality.

The next day, the Daily Caller posted James O'Keefe's gotcha video. It showed NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller bashing conservatives and tea party supporters and criticizing Republicans as "anti-intellectual" to a faux Muslim philanthropist.

That Schiller is no relation to Vivian Schiller. She immediately condemned his remarks and pushed up his already planned departure from the network.

But the embarrassing episode proved the last straw after a series of gaffesthat have tarnished the NPR brand and left it more vulnerable than ever to the budget ax.

In announcing Schiller's resignation, NPR Board Chairman Dave Edwards expressed "deep regret" saying "she brought vision and energy to this organization. She led NPR back from the enormous economic challenges of the previous two years."

Within minutes, NPR's own media reporter David Folkenflik tweeted that Schiller had been "ousted" by the board, which decided she could no longer effectively lead the organization.

It was the same board that canceled Schiller's bonus last year as punishment for her role in the Williams fiasco.

In January, Senior Vice President for News Ellen Weiss resigned from the network where she had spent her entire career after an external report blasted her hasty dismissal of the Fox News regular, who was canned after he said seeing Muslims in traditional garb on airplanes made him nervous.

NPR soon after earned a journalistic black eye when it erroneously reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died after being shot in Tucson, Ariz.

Schiller lasted just over two years at NPR after coming over in January 2009 from The New York Times. She had spearheaded a major expansion online and on mobile platforms and officially changed the network's name from National Public Radio to simply NPR.

In her Monday speech, Schiller was blunt. There was "no excuse" for the Giffords blunder, she said. The Williams situation, as she has repeated again and again, was handled "badly."

The mea culpas were squarely aimed at deflecting heat from Capitol Hill, where Republicans have introduced bills to end funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the parent organization of NPR and PBS, which this year distributed $430 million in federal funds to public broadcasters.

NPR gets most of its support from viewers, corporate foundations and philanthropic foundations like the fictitious Muslim Education Center Action Trust created for O'Keefe's sting.

Schiller called federal funding "a critical cornerstone" that acts like seed money to attract other funding. Noting the interconnections among NPR, PBS and local public TV and radio stations, she said ending taxpayer support would be "like pulling a thread out. If you pull out one thread, then the whole thing unravels."

That argument has left budget hawks on the right unmoved.

"This latest development in what appears to be an internal meltdown at National Public Radio only strengthens my resolve to eliminate all federal funding" for public broadcasting, said Rep. Doug Lamborn, the Colorado Republican who is leading the effort against NPR in the House.

"I have been seeking to push Big Bird out of the nest for over a year, based on the simple fact that we can no longer afford to spend taxpayer dollars on nonessential government programs. It's time for Big Bird to earn his wings and learn to fly on his own."

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