Republicans said Wednesday that the resignation of NPR’s top executive in the wake of an undercover video sting will not blunt their determination to cut off all taxpayer funds for public broadcasting.
NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller was ousted a day after the release of the video, which captured NPR’s senior fundraising executive denigrating tea party activists as racists and saying the organization would be better off in the long run without taxpayer subsidies.
But NPR’s critics remained in full pursuit.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said the resignation of “one person at NPR” would not deter cost-conscious Republicans who are intent on cutting millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. President Obama has requested $451 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, NPR’s parent company, for fiscal 2012, even as House Republicans have voted to slash all funding for public broadcasting for the remainder of the current fiscal year.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, the Colorado Republican who has led House efforts to eliminate federal funding, said Mrs. Schiller’s resignation only “strengthens his resolve” to eliminate all federal money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Mrs. Schiller said she did not want to leave but concluded that staying on would only hurt the prospects for stations that air NPR programming.
“It would have made it too difficult for stations to face that funding threat in Congress without this change,” she said in an interview with the Associated Press.
The collateral damage from the tape, covertly recorded by conservative activist James O'Keefe, was piling up Wednesday. Ron Schiller, the former NPR executive caught on the tape and no relation to Mrs. Schiller, has decided not to accept a position at the nonpartisan Aspen Institute “in light of the controversy surrounding his recent statements.”
The argument against public funding for NPR has been fueled in part by revelations of the salaries of some top public radio executives. According to Internal Revenue Service records, Kevin Klose made more than $800,000 a year as NPR president before he left in 2009.
“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,” Mr. Lamborn said.
NPR’s public shaming may not be over.
Mr. O’Keefe, the conservative journalist who orchestrated the damning video of Mr. Schiller, told The Washington Times that he had more footage. Asked whether the NPR sting or a similar 2008 video expose of ACORN, the liberal housing activist group, had more effect on the public debate, Mr. O’Keefe, 26, gave a telling reply: “The answer may become clear when all our tapes are released.”
NPR supporters were mobilizing with the Obama administration to protect public broadcasting funds, despite the controversy. They said Mr. Obama still supports government funding.
“In an era where tough choices have to be made, including the ones this president laid out in his proposed 2012 budget, there remains a need to support public broadcasting and NPR,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at Wednesday’s briefing.
NPR gets only about 2 percent of its revenue directly from the federal government. Government funding accounts for about 10 percent of the budgets of its member stations, which also rely on contributions from listeners and viewers.
Democrats on Capitol Hill also rushed to NPR’s defense.
“As traditional news outlets lay off reporters and offer less coverage of important topics, public broadcasting is filling the gap, bringing critical news and information to communities across the country,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat and founder of the bipartisan Congressional Public Broadcasting Caucus, who stresses that NPR is not “the most important part” of the public broadcasting debate.
“What’s more, public broadcasting stations are the only source of free programming that educates our children rather than the many commercial stations simply trying to sell them products,” Mr. Blumenauer said.
But NPR’s critics say that, in addition to its political biases, public radio and television are only duplicating programming that is being produced — without taxpayer subsidies — in the private sector.
With a skyrocketing deficit and a multitude of radio, TV and other media outlets that ‘do for the people’ the same thing that NPR does, the question is no longer just whether we can afford federally funded broadcast entities. The question is whether we need them. In both cases, the answer is no,” said Lou Zickar, editor of the conservative Ripon Forum.
Media Research Center director Brent Bozell, who has tracked what he says is the liberal bias at NPR for years, remains adamant against funding the public broadcaster.
“It has been 44 years since Congress established the public broadcasting system, and the dramatic revolution in information technology makes the scarcity argument of the 1967 act utterly obsolete. Congress’s requirement for fairness in public broadcasting has been disregarded since the system’s very first days,” Mr. Bozell wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
“The resignation of Vivian Schiller doesn’t change a thing about NPR. They are still a radical left-wing toy for the likes of [billionaire investor and liberal philanthropist] George Soros, and they still don’t deserve a dime of taxpayer funding,” he said.
The resignation of Mrs. Schiller caps what has been a rough financial period for NPR.
The broadcaster has encountered a welter of financial challenges, despite receiving a $200 million gift in 2003 from Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. Within five years, NPR had canceled two major shows and fired 7 percent of its staff to make up for a $23 million hole in its budget as the recession loomed — a situation common to many traditional print and broadcast news organizations, as well as their hybrid electronic kin.
Significant personnel changes were made at the highest levels: Mrs. Schiller arrived that year from the New York Times, where she served as chief of online operations. She was determined to expand NPR’s online footprint and influence, only to be called in as referee after Ellen Weiss, then the senior vice president for news, fired analyst Juan Williams last year for comments he made on Fox News about Muslims. After an internal investigation, Ms. Weiss resigned in January.
NPR management has launched a national search for Mrs. Schiller’s replacement. Joyce Slocum, the organization’s senior vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, has been named interim CEO.