NPR Exec: NPR Would Be Better Off Without Federal Support

NPR's chief fundraising executive was caught on tape saying NPR would be better off without federal financial support. The video was produced by conservative provocateur, James O'Keefe and featured two of his colleagues posing as representatives of a Muslim organization, looking to make a large donation to NPR.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

NPR's chief fundraiser, Ron Schiller, was caught on tape criticizing conservatives and Tea Party activists. He also said the network would be better off without federal funding.

Today, in response to that news, Schiller was placed on administrative leave.

As NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports, the remarks were captured as part of a video sting by conservative activist James O'Keefe, at a time when public broadcasting is under assault.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Ron Schiller's remarks were, at times, contemptuous of conservatives.

M: The current Republican Party, in particular the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian - and I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird, evangelical move.

FOLKENFLIK: Schiller was NPR's senior vice president for fundraising. He was attending a lengthy lunch at an upscale cafe in February with two men who said they were officials from the Muslim Education Action Center Trust. They said they wanted to give $5 million to NPR.

The tape reflects that they said they were sponsored by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic political group in the Middle East. But the men's faces were obscured, and it's unclear whether these recordings have been altered.

Prosecutors in New York and California have concluded that past exposes by O'Keefe on the community group ACORN involved doctored tapes.

Schiller also told the prospective donors that NPR would be better without federal money, to avoid political meddling.

M: NPR would definitely survive, and most of the stations would survive.

FOLKENFLIK: Though he then warned a lot of stations would go dark without federal support.

Schiller's remarks, and their public disclosure, could hardly come at a worse time for public broadcasting. House Republicans have voted to strip away all funding for public media starting in 2013, citing budget constraints and what they say is NPR's liberal bias.

At the lunch, Ron Schiller repeatedly took pains to say he was speaking only for himself on political matters.

But NPR CEO Vivian Schiller says his remarks were appalling because they took place in a business setting, and violate the network's core values of civility and fairness.

The two Schillers are not related.

M: In no way, shape or form do they reflect what NPR does, and who NPR is. In fact, I find it an affront to the journalists that we have working around the world, including in hot spots, in harm's way. This is not what NPR stands for.

FOLKENFLIK: Just last Thursday, Ron Schiller announced he would be leaving NPR to take a position at the Aspen Institute in Colorado. He has been commuting from his home in Aspen, at his own expense, during his 18 months on the job.

Tucker Carlson, founder of the conservative Daily Caller, says officials suck up to prospective donors all the time. But Carlson said...

M: Schiller was living down to the conservative stereotype of an NPR executive: sneering, arrogant, utterly dismissive of views not his own. I mean, if you were to cast a character in the right-wing fever dream of NPR executive, it would be this guy.

FOLKENFLIK: The amount of federal dollars NPR receives directly is modest, but most member stations rely on the federally funded corporation for public broadcasting for significantly more. Carlson says that's why the story is newsworthy.

M: I actually send money to NPR. I send money to public radio in Maine because I like it. I mean, that's my choice. But as soon as you take it from me by force, then I should have some say over what you do - or you at least shouldn't be allowed to completely dismiss my views.

FOLKENFLIK: O'Keefe has targeted the media before now. He tried, and failed, to lure CNN investigative reporter Abbie Boudreau onto a boat filled with sex toys.

At NPR, Vivian Schiller said the vetting process after the lunch raised the right questions, and officials denied the two ostensible donors' repeated requests to be photographed delivering a check.

M: Their address was a UPS store with a post office box. We couldn't find any records of their 501 - 3 status. We could not find any records of their tax-exempt status. We could find none of their 990 reports.

FOLKENFLIK: I obtained and verified emails, though not through Schiller or her aides, that support her claim.

But damage may ensue nonetheless. Republicans on Capitol Hill intensified their calls to eliminate all federal funding for NPR, today.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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