March 8, 2011 -- National Public Radio is finding itself in the spotlight once again after a hidden camera video today emerged of former executive Ron Schiller blasting Republicans and the Tea Party in a meeting with two members of a fictitious Muslim group.
Schiller, then-president of the NPR Foundation and senior vice president for development, calls the Tea Party "xenophobic," "seriously racist people," who are "fanatically involved in people's personal lives."
He goes on to say that the Republican party has been hijacked by the Tea Party and laments the demise of intellectualism, particularly in the GOP.
Schiller was accompanied by Betsy Liley, NPR senior director of institutional giving, on the lunch with members of the "Muslim Education Action Center," a fake group set up specifically to target NPR. The two members who met with Schiller and Liley established a purported connection with the Muslim Brotherhood early on in the lunch.
The video became public today but Schiller, who joined NPR in September 2009, had announced his intent to resign before the lunch meeting took place. NPR today denounced his comments and said Schiller, who was expected to leave the organization in May, had been placed on administrative leave.
"The comments contained in the video released today are contrary to everything we stand for, and we completely disavow the views expressed," NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm said in a statement. "NPR is fair and open minded about the people we cover. Our reporting reflects those values every single day -- in the civility of our programming, the range of opinions we reflect and the diversity of stories we tell."
Schiller is not related to NPR president and chief executive Vivian Schiller.
Tea Party groups seized the opportunity to advocate for cutting all federal funding to NPR.
"Mr. Schiller's latest comments provoke a larger question: How long will we as a nation be willing to tolerate the arrogance of the self-appointed ruling elite?" said Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots. "His unedited comments are indicative of the mentality of ruling elites who are threatened by the power of the Tea Party Patriots."
The controversy comes as lawmakers are embroiled in a heated debate about whether to cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which partially supports NPR and the Public Broadcasting Service.
Schiller is seen in the video saying that NPR would be better off without federal funding, and even if it were to be stripped, the organization and most of its member stations would survive.
But NPR today countered that claim, saying that such a move would be significantly damaging.
"The assertion that NPR and public radio stations would be better off without federal funding does not reflect reality," Rehm said. "The elimination of federal funding would significantly damage public broadcasting as a whole."
The House Republicans' budget would rescind any funding for CPB for the remainder of the year, and zero out millions in funds after that.
House majority leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., used the video to advance the Republicans' argument that federal funding be pulled from NPR.
"This disturbing video makes clear that taxpayer dollars should no longer be appropriated to NPR," Cantor said in a statement. "Not only have top public broadcasting executives finally admitted that they do not need taxpayer dollars to survive, it is also clear that without federal funds, public broadcasting stations self-admittedly would become eligible for more private dollars on top of the multi-million dollar donations these organizations already receive."
House GOP leaders have for years attempted to cut funding for what many of them see as a liberal-leaning broadcast operation.
House Republicans made a proposal in November to strip federal funding for NPR after the radio station fired controversial commentator Juan Williams for comments he made about Muslims.
That bill didn't pass but Republicans are now in the majority in the House and, many people say, the cuts are needed to balance the burgeoning U.S. deficit.
NPR president Vivian Schiller has said the cuts would have a detrimental impact on the organization and its stations, and would "diminish stations' ability to bring high-quality local, national and international news to their communities."
The impact of CPB funding cuts would vary from station to station because funding sources for each can differ widely.
Only about 2 percent of NPR's funding comes from federally funded organizations, while 40 percent of the revenue is generated through station programming fees and 26 percent through sponsorships.
NPR's Former Executive Caught on Tape by Conservative Group
NPR stations, however, rely more heavily on federal and state grants. CPB funding makes up 10 percent of funding; federal, state and local government funding constitutes about six percent of a station's revenue source while 32 percent comes from individuals and 21 percent from businesses.
Conservative lawmakers have attempted, for decades, to cut federal funding for public broadcasting, arguing that they have a liberal bias.
One of Newt Gingrich's first acts as speaker of the House in 1995 was to call for the elimination of federal funding for CPB, and for the privatization of public broadcasting. Neither attempt was successful, although it did keep the hot-button issue in the limelight for years.
Kenneth Tomlinson, who served as CPB chairman for two years until he resigned in 2005 because of an internal investigation, vigorously pushed for a more conservative point of view on public stations.
A House subcommittee voted in 2005 to cut drastically CPB funding, and eliminate all of it within two years, a move many blamed on Tomlinson himself.
"Republicans have never been fond of public broadcasting," Christopher Sterling, a professor of media and public affairs and public policy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said. "Republicans have always thought that public broadcasting across the board is liberal, is not particularly supportive of Republican and conservative points of view.
"Democrats tend not to think that, unless they're from very conservative districts."
It's not just Republicans, though, who have singled out CPB when it comes to overall budget cuts. President Obama's bipartisan deficit commission in November also suggested eliminating funding for CPB, estimating that it would save the government $500 million in 2015.
While NPR has long been viewed by Republicans as liberal leaning, its audience base is diverse, polls show. Forty-five percent of its audience identify themselves as moderate, while 29 percent identify as liberal and 22 percent as Republicans, according to a Pew Research Center poll released in September.
But most of its audience may be more sympathetic toward Democrats than other broadcast outlets.
Sixty-five percent of those polled in the Pew survey who listen to NPR said they approved of the job President Obama is doing, higher than the overall national average.