Real NPR Insult: Subsidies

Published May 31, 2016

The release of filmmaker James O’Keefe’s lunchtime conversation with NPR fundraisers Ron Schiller and Betsey Liley has raised the network’s profile at a most inopportune time, with NPR once again a flashpoint in the budget battles raging inside the Beltway.

O’Keefe captured Schiller and Liley not in the spotlight of the public zoo but in their natural habitat, scrounging for tidbits at a posh Georgetown dining establishment. Like hyenas in a National Geographic special, they saw $5 million of red meat just lying there and were eager to gorge.

In the video, actors calling themselves Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik pose as members of a (fictional) Muslim Brotherhood group called the Muslim Education Action Center Trust. They state their desire to donate $5 million to NPR because of its opposition to Israel: “the Zionist coverage is quite substantial elsewhere.”

The controversy has claimed the scalps of Schiller—who was already going to be out the door in May, a departure expedited by his video comments—and NPR President Vivian Schiller (no relation to Mr. Schiller), who resigned the day after the video went viral. As of this writing, Liley is still hanging in there.

This aha! moment of blatant hubris and disingenuousness came soon after Ms. Schiller’s  National Press Association speech last week in which she offered rather defensive remarks and defiantly asked for specific examples of NPR’s liberal slant.

To some, Schiller’s and Liley’s comments offer scant evidence of institutional bias at NPR, but the opinions caught on O’Keefe’s camera are also reflected in the system’s programming. Together these elements provide incontrovertible proof of bias.

Schiller, after all, persisted in claiming the fired NPR commentator Juan Williams had it coming—despite NPR brass’ continual apologies after dumping him last fall. In the video, Liley compares media depictions of Muslims with World War II Japanese internment camps. I disagree with her comparison, but I agree that both NPR and internment camps are examples of bad government programs.

Look, we’ve known NPR slants left for a long, long time, just as we acknowledge Fox tilts right. But Fox makes its way in the market, without subsidies. What’s really at issue here is whether government should be subsidizing broadcasting in the first place and whether a nation with a staggering budget deficit can afford to cover 10 percent of NPR’s annual budget. To both, I offer a resounding no.

It’s understandable that many people want to grant a pass to NPR on the first issue, as that horse was released from the barn more than 40 years ago. Well, we can set that argument aside now. Mr. Schiller makes the case for defunding NPR quite nicely, by pointing out that it would actually be good for NPR. If one takes him at his word in the O’Keefe video, the 10 percent of NPR’s budget that comes from taxpayer funding is certainly appreciated but not really necessary.

In the video, Schiller says the 10 percent government largesse is somewhat of a handicap in his fundraising efforts. If potential donors perceive NPR as government-funded, Schiller says, it makes convincing them to write fat, tax-deductible checks a bit more difficult.

If that’s the case, it makes sense to let NPR chase an additional 10 percent in donations unfettered by the albatross of subsidies hanging around its neck. That would be music to the taxpayers’ ears.

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of The Heartland Institute’s Infotech & Telecom News.