The top fundraiser for NPR has resigned after a videotape became public showing him openly disparaging conservative groups during what he thought was a fundraising meeting. The video was recorded secretly during a lunch Ron Schiller had with two people who claimed to be eager to contribute to public radio.
ARI SHAPIRO, host:
The top fundraiser for NPR, who had already announced that he was leaving NPR for another job, officially resigned last night. A videotape became public showing him disparaging conservative groups during what he thought was a fundraising meeting. The video was secretly recorded during a lunch with two people who claimed to be eager to contribute to public radio.
NPR's Larry Abramson reports.
LARRY ABRAMSON: Ron Schiller was head of NPR fundraising until yesterday, but last month, he got duped. A couple of men purporting to represent a Muslim charity invited Schiller and another NPR official to lunch. They said they wanted to discuss a potential $5 million gift to NPR, to help the news organization withstand the potential loss of federal funding. A hidden video camera captured Schiller saying that the Republican Party has been hijacked.
(Soundbite of video)
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
ABRAMSON: Schiller says the Tea Party, in particular, is, quote, "not just Islamaphobic, but I mean xenophobic. I mean, basically they believe in sort of white, middle America, gun toting - I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people," unquote.
The two fake donors, who are really members of James O'Keefe's group, try to bait Schiller several times, suggesting that Jewish groups try to influence NPR's coverage in favor of Israel. Schiller says he feels no pressure from Jewish groups. But then one of the faux funders says that NPR is one of the few places that dares to present a pro-Palestinian point of view.
Mr. "IBRAHIM KASSAM": We used to call it National Palestinian Radio.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ABRAMSON: The would-be funder jokes he used to call it National Palestinian Radio. Ron Schiller laughs, and his colleague Betsy Liley joins in, saying that's good. I like that. Schiller also explains that NPR would be better off in the long run doing without federal funding. That's despite the fact that NPR has been fighting to fend off an abrupt halt in funding, saying that could kill off some smaller public stations.
National Public quickly condemned Ron Schiller's remarks. NPR President Vivian Schiller - no relation - said Ron Schiller's remarks should not reflect on NPR's work.
Ms. VIVIAN SCHILLER (NPR CEO): His statements are completely anathema to everything that NPR stands for, and to quality independent journalism, completely.
ABRAMSON: The video was posted on the website of James O'Keefe's Project Veritas, as part of a campaign to, in his words, investigate NPR. O'Keefe had previously posed as a pimp, soliciting grants from a community organizing group called ACORN. Tape from that encounter helped lead to the end of federal funding for ACORN, and then to bankruptcy.
The House voted last month to cut off federal funding for NPR and public broadcasting in general. Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado, said yesterday, quote, "I am amazed at the condescension and arrogance that we saw in the video. The evidence is overwhelming, and the video is condemning. NPR does not need taxpayer dollars." Other House members made similar statements, but would not talk on tape.
Groups critical of NPR were most bothered by Schiller's apparent contempt for conservatives. Tim Graham is with the advocacy group Media Research Center, which supports an end to federal support of NPR.
Mr. TIM GRAHAM (Media Research Center): I'm outraged by the idea that someone would suggest that most of America - that pays for a chunk of public broadcasting with its tax dollars - are under-educated and, you know, conservatives aren't as fair and balanced as liberals, and a bunch of the things that come out of Mr. Schiller's mouth.
ABRAMSON: Many of those who are most upset by the video had already announced their dislike of NPR. The question now is whether the incident will erode support in the Senate, which was not expected to endorse a total cut in funding.
Larry Abrahamson, NPR News, Washington.
SHAPIRO: And we should also note that Ron Schiller informed NPR last week he would be leaving the company to take a new job. Last night, his resignation became effectively immediately.
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In Video: NPR Exec Slams Tea Party, Questions Need For Federal Funds
(10 a.m. ET, March 9: We've added to this story many times, as you'll see below — including with the news that NPR CEO and President Vivian Schiller has resigned. This post starts with our original report, and then is followed by the updates we did along the way.)
— "The Tea Party is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian — I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird evangelical kind of move."
— "Tea Party people" aren't "just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."
— "I think what we all believe is if we don't have Muslim voices in our schools, on the air ... it's the same thing we faced as a nation when we didn't have female voices." In the heavily edited tape, that comment followed Schiller being told by one of the men that their organization "was originally founded by a few members of the Muslim Brotherhood in America." There's no sign in the edited tape that Schiller reacted in any way after being told of the group's alleged connection to an Islamic group that appeared to be connected with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
— That NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding," a position in direct conflict with the organization's official position.
Schiller is also heard laughing when one of the men jokes that NPR should be known as "National Palestinian Radio."
NPR, as you'll see below, has called Schiller's comments appalling.
The video comes from Project Veritas, and is another in political activist James O'Keefe's undercover exposes (he most prominently took on ACORN — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). In the video, Schiller and NPR institutional giving director Betsy Liley are at lunch in Washington with two Project Veritas "investigative reporters" identified as Shaughn Adeleye and Simon Templar, who posed as "Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik." They were allegedly interested in having their organization donate $5 million to NPR. O'Keefe's organization says the recording was made on Feb. 22.
Schiller (no relation to NPR CEO Vivian Schiller), announced last week that he is leaving NPR to become director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program. In his position at NPR, Schiller has not been involved in editorial decisions.
Dana Davis Rehm, NPR's senior vice president of marketing, communications and external relations, has released this statement:
"The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept.
"We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for.
"Mr. Schiller announced last week that he is leaving NPR for another job."
Our colleague David Folkenflik is pursuing comments from Schiller, O'Keefe and other parties to the story. We will be updating as the story develops.
Update at 10 a.m., March 9: NPR CEO and President Vivian Schiller has resigned.
Update at 8:30 a.m. ET, March 9: We just published a new post, which includes today's report on Morning Edition and other fresh stories.
Update at 10:30 p.m. ET. Ron Schiller's resignation is now effective immediately, NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm said late Tuesday. Earlier, Rehm said Schiller had been "placed on administrative leave" (see 5:35 p.m. ET update below).
"Ron Schiller tendered his resignation on January 24, well before the lunch meeting occurred. His resignation was announced last week. He was intending to stay with NPR through May 5. We have mutually agreed that Ron is leaving NPR effective today."
Ron Schiller also issued this apology:
"While the meeting I participated in turned out to be a ruse, I made statements during the course of the meeting that are counter to NPR's values and also not reflective of my own beliefs. I offer my sincere apology to those I offended. I resigned from NPR, previously effective May 6th, to accept another job. In an effort to put this unfortunate matter behind us, NPR and I have agreed that my resignation is effective today."
In a new statement, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said her chief fundraiser's remarks in the video were "deeply distressing to reporters, editors and others who bring fairness, civility and respect for a wide variety of viewpoints to their work every day."
Update at 6:25 p.m. ET. Here is the audio of David Folkenflik's report for All Things Considered. It begins with an introduction by host Robert Siegel:
Note: David's efforts to reach O'Keefe for comment were unsuccessful.
Update at 5:45 p.m. ET. CEO Vivian Schiller on what Ron Schiller said:
"In no way shape or form do they reflect what NPR does and who NPR is," NPR's chief tells Folkenflik in his report for today's All Things Considered. "I find it affront to the journalists that we have around the world — including in hot spots — in harm's way. This is NOT what NPR stands for."
Update at 5:35 p.m. ET. More on Ron Schiller's status:
The official word from NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm is that he's been "placed on administrative leave." Here's a new statement from Rehm:
"The comments contained in the video released today are contrary to everything we stand for, and we completely disavow the views expressed. 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.
"The assertion that NPR and public radio stations would be better off without federal funding does not reflect reality. The elimination of federal funding would significantly damage public broadcasting as a whole.
"Prior to the lunch meeting presented in the edited video, Ron Schiller had informed NPR that he was resigning from his position to take a new job. His resignation was announced publicly last week, and he was expected to depart in May. While we review this situation, he has been placed on administrative leave."
Update at 5:25 p.m. ET. Ron Schiller's status. (NOTE at 5:35 p.m. ET: See update above; officially, NPR says, he is on administrative leave.)
More from David Folkenflik's upcoming All Things Considered report:
"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. Today, his departure was made effective immediately."
Update at 5:05 p.m. ET: NPR's David Folkenflik, who's finishing up a report about this for All Things Considered, reports that there were clear signs that the Muslim Education Action Center Trust was not a long-standing organization — Internet records show the center's website was created in mid-January. The address for the organization? A UPS store.
CEO Vivian Schiller tells David that NPR became aware of those peculiarities, and that NPR was vetting the organization. And he has obtained e-mails (not from an official NPR source, but which have been verified by NPR) showing that the network last week asked the fictitious Ibrahim Kasaam for, among other things, verification that the Muslim Education Action Center was qualified as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. It was not, of course.
Vivian Schiller also tells David that the men posing as representatives of the Muslim Education Action Center asked several times for someone from NPR to come to their offices so that a photograph could be taken as a donation check was handed over. That request was turned down because NPR was not close to being finished with its vetting of the organization, she says.
We'll have more from David's report, including what Vivian Schiller has to say about Ron Schiller's comments, shortly.
Update at 4:10 p.m. ET: NPR's Larry Abramson reports that "some members of Congress are revving up their campaign" to cut the federal funding that goes to NPR. He says that "House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said the video made it clear that taxpayer dollars should no longer go to NPR."
NPR receives about 2 percent of its budget each year from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting and federal agencies — but public radio stations that purchase NPR's programming receive more federal dollars and send some of that money back to NPR in fees. In fiscal 2008, for example, grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting accounted for about 10 percent of public radio stations' revenue. The stations got about 6 percent of their revenue from other federal, state and local government sources.
Update at 2:40 p.m. ET: Earlier, on first reference we called Ron Schiller the "then-senior vice president." To be more precise, we've changed it to "soon-to-be-departing." As we said earlier, he announced last week that he's leaving NPR (a decision that NPR says was not related to today's news).
"Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn is leading the GOP effort in the House to defund National Public Radio (and, in a separate bill, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting). I spoke with him a short time ago about the sting video ... 'I am amazed at the condescension and arrogance that we saw in the sting video," Lamborn told me. 'They seem to be viewing themselves as elites living in an ivory tower, and they are obviously out of touch with ordinary Americans.' "
Update at 11:35 a.m. ET. David Folkenflik has filed his first report on this for the NPR Newcast. His report was introduced with this lead-in:
"NPR's chief fundraising executive, Ron Schiller, was caught on tape criticizing conservatives and saying NPR would be better off without federal financial support. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, his remarks were captured as part of a video sting at a time when NPR is under public assault."
Then David followed with this (and you can listen below):
"Today's tapes, produced by the conservative political activist James O'Keefe, show Schiller and NPR fundraiser Betsy Liley talking with two men over lunch in late February at an upscale Washington cafe.
"Schiller said the federal funding was vital for local member stations.
"The men present themselves as representing a Muslim organization and appear to be critical of what they said was Zionist influence in the media.
"NPR called Schiller's remarks appalling, but in a statement said, quote, 'The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept.'
"Ron Schiller announced just last week that he was leaving NPR after 18 months for a job with the Aspen Institute close to his Colorado home."