Denver Post: Critics hoping to strip federal funding from NPR, pump up the volume

March 10, 2011
In The News

By Allison Sherry

WASHINGTON - National Public Radio had more management shakeups Wednesday - with the chief executive resigning and another former executive forgoing a position at the venerable Aspen Institute after tapes were released of him berating the Tea Party.

The high-profile drama fed GOP talking points all day on Capitol Hill as lawmakers hashed out various ideas to cut federal spending - including a notable one from Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs that would cut all federal dollars from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Public Broadcasting supports NPR and its counterpart on television, PBS. It receives about $430 million a year in public funding - the bulk of which is funneled to 1,300 public radio and television stations.

"Obviously, they're in disarray over at NPR, and I hope they can get new leadership that wants to begin a free-market approach to life," Lamborn said late Wednesday. "My hope for the sake of the taxpayer and the sake of our budget is that NPR becomes National Private Radio."

The shakeup started when a right-leaning activist posed as a potential NPR donor and secretly videotaped then-NPR executive Ron Schiller of Aspen at a lunch calling the Tea Party "seriously racist, racist people."

He also said NPR would "be better off in the long run without federal funding."

Schiller had already decided to leave NPR to accept a job with the Aspen Institute - a post he decided not to take Wednesday.

"Ron Schiller has informed us that, in light of the controversy surrounding his recent statements, he does not feel that it's in the best interests of the Aspen Institute for him to come work here," said Jim Spiegelman, the institute's vice president of communications and public affairs.

Schiller was scheduled to begin his position in Aspen on April 1.

In announcing his hiring earlier this year, the institute said Schiller "had been a part-time and then full-time resident of Aspen, CO since 2006 where he has become a valued member of the Aspen community in general, and the Aspen Institute family in particular."

There is no relation between Ron Schiller and NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller, who resigned Wednesday under pressure from board members. Although she wasn't in the video, she drew fire from conservatives when NPR fired analyst Juan Williams over comments about Muslims last fall.

She told The Associated Press that staying on would only hurt NPR's fight for federal money.

NPR ombudsman Lisa Shepard called Ron Schiller's comments unprofessional in an interview Wednesday with The Washington Post.

"Because Ron Schiller wasn't holding a private conversation, he was meeting in public representing NPR," she said, "his personal views should be kept to himself. His job was to sell donors on NPR's commitment to fairness, accuracy, thoroughness."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., called Schiller's comments about the news organization being better without public money the "truth finally coming out."

"And we're going to proceed along those lines," Cantor said.

Though House Republicans kept Public Broadcasting cuts in the last continuing resolution to fund the federal government, the Democratic-controlled Senate has rejected that bill.

On Wednesday, Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Colorado Democrats, defended Public Broadcasting, saying they wanted to work at fundamentally solving the nation's debt problem rather than chip away in a piecemeal approach.

"Of course, I'm a strong supporter of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting," Udall said. "The problem with the House bill is that it focuses on specific programs that make up 12 percent of the federal budget. . . . We need a broader-based plan."

Bennet agreed, saying in a statement that he "believes we need a holistic, comprehensive approach that achieves fiscal discipline rather than one singling out small programs like public broadcasting."

Lamborn retorted that "a half a billion dollars is not insignificant. If you wait around for one silver bullet, then we'll never get started. To get to fiscal health is going to mean a whole lot of reductions."