WASHINGTON Nov. 19, 2010 -- House Republicans' attempt to cut federal funding for National Public Radio fell flat on Thursday, but the war of words against the publicly-funded radio network continues to fester.
"While the network has the right to present whatever point of view its executives wish, taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize it," Republican Study Committee chairman Tom Price of Georgia said in a statement. "Without taxpayer funding, NPR will simply compete for listeners on a level playing field, just like any other media organization."
Under the Republican proposal, NPR would not be allowed to apply for grants issued by federally funded agencies like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and National Endowment for the Arts, which, in the last fiscal year totaled $2.5 million or 1.5 percent of the network's operating budget. Moreover, local public radio stations would not be able to use money they receive from CPB to buy programming from NPR. That funding constitutes, on average, about 10 percent of a station's budget.
Conservative ire toward NPR isn't a new phenomenon. In fact, Republican lawmakers for decades have attempted to yank public funding away from both NPR and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), citing liberal bias.
When Newt Gingrich became speaker of the House in 1994, one of the first tasks he immediately took up -- albeit unsuccessfully -- was eliminating federal funding for CPB, and calling for the privatization of public broadcasting.
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.
"They pick on it and by 'they' I mean primarily the GOP because it's perceived to be a leftist voice or a liberal voice and it does receive government money," said Christopher Sterling, a professor of media and public affairs and public policy at George Washington University. "There's widespread misunderstanding about how much money that supports PBS or NPR is tax money and the answer is actually a small and declining percentage, especially federal money. They get a fair bit of state money."
But the recent war of words has escalated to a level unseen in recent history.
Fox News' chairman Roger Ailes went as far as to liken NPR executives to Nazis.
"They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism," the conservative media heavyweight said in an interview with The Daily Beast. "These guys don't want any other point of view. They don't even feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda."
Ailes later apologized to the Anti-Defamation League for the use of the word, but issued no apology to NPR and instead said that "nasty, inflexible bigot" would have been a more choice option for the radio network.
"We are disappointed that Mr. Ailes directed his apology only to the ADL, and amazed that his statement substituted a new insult to replace his original scurrilous remark," read a statement from NPR. "This ongoing name-calling is offensive to NPR, its member stations and the 27 million listeners who rely on us."
At a time when talk radio is on the rise and pundits on both sides of the political aisle are taking over television, the kind of rhetoric being spewed by Ailes doesn't come as a surprise, experts say.
"All of this is part of the larger polarity in news media and in American political life," said Sterling. "The middle is disappearing. This is an example of that."
Some commentators, however, say the right is waging an unfair fight and that if the tables were turned, similar rhetoric from the left would be lambasted by conservatives.
"What would have happened had an NPR host referred to Fox News as the 'Nazi network'?" questioned political columnist David Corn in Politics Daily. "Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity would have howled. Conservatives from coast to coast would have called for that person to be tossed off the air -- before being drawn and quartered. House GOPers would have announced hearings and try again to defund NPR. And Sarah Palin would have tweeted."
NPR Under Fire; Republican Attempt to Defund Public Broadcasting Fails
NPR became the subject of Republican backlash when it fired news analyst Juan Williams in October, after the conservative commentator said he gets "worried" and "nervous" seeing "people who are in Muslim garb" on airplanes.
NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller explained that Williams crossed the line several times in the last couple of years and that "this isn't a case of one strike and you're out." But she also admitted that the firing could've been handled in a much better fashion.
"The way they handled the thing -- it hurts. It brings out the crazies," Sterling said. "It brings out the hardliners on both sides really but certainly the hardliners who think tax money has no business supporting this biased business."
Only about two percent of NPR's funding comes from federally funded organizations. Forty percent of the revenue is generated through station programming fees while 26 percent comes from sponsorships.
NPR stations, however, rely more on federal and state grants. While the bulk -- 32 percent -- of funding comes from individuals and 21 percent from businesses, CPB funding makes up 10 percent of funding and federal, state and local government funding constitutes about 6 percent of a station's revenue source.
NPR on Thursday assailed Republican lawmakers attempts to cut funding, citing it as "an unwarranted attempt to interject federal authority into local station program decision-making."
With Republicans taking over the majority in the next House of Representatives, the debate is likely to continue brewing. But even if the GOP proposal passes under a Republican-controlled House, it's unlikely to pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate.