Conservative activist James O'Keefe, above, recorded statements… (Patrick Semansky / Associated…)
Reporting from Washington — NPR is distancing itself from remarks made by a fund-raising executive who said the American "tea party" movement is a comprised of "white, middle-America gun-toting" and "seriously racist, racist" people.
The comments, apparently made by Ron Schiller, NPR's exiting vice president for development, were recorded in a "sting" set up by conservative activist James O'Keefe, best known for mounting a similar prank on ACORN.
They came as part of a recent lunch in Washington Schiller had with two men posing as members of the "Muslim Action Education Center," a fictitious organization the men claimed had ties to the "Muslim Brotherhood of America."
In the video, which can be seen on the Web, Schiller also says NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding" and that that the tea party is a movement that is "fanatically involved in people's lives," "fundamentalist Christian" and "xenophobic" and that it has "hijacked" the Republican Party.
The existence of the video was reported by The Daily Caller, a political-news website, Tuesday.
In response, Dana Davis Rehm, NPR's senior vice president of marketing, communications and external relations, said the organization is "appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for."
Schiller had already announced plans to leave NPR prior to the controversy. Rehm also said that the phony Islamic organization tried to press NPR "to accept a $5-million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept."
NPR is in the midst of a fight on Capitol Hill, where some Republicans want to strip it of all federal support. Congress does not appropriate money specifically for the organization, but rather sends money to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Schiller's statement on federal funds is at odds with NPR's official position on the matter.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) reacted by saying, "As we continue to identify ways to cut spending and save valuable resources, this disturbing video makes clear that taxpayer dollars should no longer be appropriated to NPR.
"At a time when our government borrows 40 cents of every dollar that it spends, we must find ways to cut spending and live within our means. This video clearly highlights the fact that public broadcasting doesn't need taxpayer funding to thrive, and I hope that admission will lead to a bipartisan consensus to end these unnecessary federal subsidies."
In an e-mail to supporters Tuesday, Mark Meckler, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, said, "Mr. Schiller himself candidly admits in the video that NPR doesn't need federal funding, and welcomes the opportunity to slant their reporting without the oversight of the taxpayer. At a time when the country is upside down by more than a trillion dollars, can we really afford to provide huge subsidies to entities that openly state that they don't need the money? Let's take his advice and pass legislation that would defund the clearly biased news organization that is out of touch with Americans across the country."
NPR's chief executive officer Vivian Schiller (no relation to Ron Schiller) said Monday at the National Press Club that although federal funds make up just 10% of the broadcaster's budget, they're critical to NPR's mission, especially in rural areas that lack other outlets.