A top House Republican says the party will ask Americans whether to cut off funding for NPR after the radio network fired commentator Juan Williams this week for his comments about Muslims.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said the Republican Party will add cutting funding for NPR to its YouCut program, which asks constituents what federal programs they would want to slash.
Mr. Cantor said Friday that NPR’s firing of Mr. Williams, who said in an interview on Fox News this week he feels uncomfortable when he sees someone wearing tradition Muslim religious attire get on an airplane, is “over-reaching political correctness,” and said it is “chipping away at the fundamental American freedoms of speech and expression.”
“NPR’s decision to fire Juan Williams not only undermines that, it shows an ignorance of the fact that radical Islam and the terrorists who murder in its name scare people of all faiths, religions and beliefs,” Mr. Cantor said.
While in the minority, Republicans’ YouCut program has been mostly advisory. The House Republican caucus has tried to offer the cuts as amendments to bills, but has been shut down procedurally by the Democratic majority.
But if Republicans win control of the House, the program could have real teeth. In their “Pledge to America” campaign agenda, House Republicans said they will hold weekly votes on specific spending cuts, and mentioned YouCut as part of that initiative.
The backlash against NPR has been swift and brutal. Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, said he will introduce legislation to end federal funding for NPR. And Rep. Joe L. Barton, ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said if the Republicans win control of the House and he becomes committee chairman, he will call a hearing looking “into this business.”
Mr. Williams, who is also a commentator for Fox News, said on one of that network’s programs earlier this week that he can be unnerved by seeing someone in traditional Muslim dress on an airplane, though he later added that such a reaction did not justify broader discrimination against all Muslims.
“When I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous,” he said, elaborating later in the segment that such feelings don’t justify blaming Muslims for terrorism, any more than people should look askance at Christians because of the Oklahoma City bombing and other misdeeds.
NPR has defended the dismissal and said Mr. Williams’ comments — even if made on another media outlet — “were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”
Mr. Cantor’s office said they will have to audit NPR to figure out what federal money goes to fund it, but said at the least they will consider cutting any money from the taxpayer-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
NPR says its local stations get about 10 percent of their funding from CPB and another 6 percent from federal, state and local governments and 13.6 percent from universities. The national network says it gets less than 2 percent of its funding from CPB grants.
In the year to Sept. 30, 2009, NPR reported $149 million in revenues and $167 million in expenses.