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GOP prepares new assault on NPR funding as questions over video flap remain

A House committee schedules an 'emergency' session Wednesday to consider a bill that would permanently bar NPR or its affiliates from receiving federal funds. The move comes even though the video that brought down the broadcaster's chief fundraiser and CEO was apparently manipulated.

March 15, 2011|By James Oliphant | Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — House Republicans are preparing a new effort to strip NPR of all federal support, even as new questions have emerged from last week's scandal that forced an NPR fundraiser, as well as its chief executive, to resign.

The House Rules Committee will meet in "an emergency" session Wednesday to consider a bill that would permanently bar NPR or its affiliate stations from receiving federal funds. If it passes the committee, as expected, the bill could make it to the House floor later this week.

Republicans already voted to eliminate all federal support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the current fiscal year, which helps public stations buy NPR programming, but the provision was not incorporated into the continuing agreements that have kept the government funded.

The new bill, sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), would allow public stations to take federal funds from the CPB, but would prohibit them from buying programs from the broadcaster formerly known as National Public Radio with the money.

Meanwhile, the saga of the video "sting" of former NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller grows ever murkier. It's become something of a puzzle box, with Fox News host Glenn Beck in one corner, NPR in another, conservative activist and prankster James O'Keefe in a third and maybe even Ira Glass, the host of the public radio program "This American Life," in a fourth.

O'Keefe's guerrilla tactics last week netted a big score: both Schiller and NPR Chief Executive Vivian Schiller resigned. Ron Schiller was shown in a heavily edited 11-minute videotape, seemingly railing about a "tea party" takeover of the Republican Party.

But a website backed by Beck, The Blaze, used a video expert to go through two hours of raw footage and concluded that, while Schiller said many of the things attributed to him, the tape was edited in a way to take several statements out of context and omit others.

Most notably, according to the raw footage, Schiller explicitly says that the views of the tea party he expressed come by way of two Republican sources, one of whom he says "was an ambassador'" and another who was a "top donor" to the GOP.

Schiller was filmed having lunch in Washington with two counterfeit Muslim activists who said they were considering making a sizeable donation to NPR. During the conversation, according to the raw footage, Schiller speaks proudly of his roots in the Republican Party, even as he says than it has embraced an "anti-intellectual" streak.

He then says, without prompting, that the tea party is "fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamentally Christian — I wouldn't even call it Christian — this weird evangelical … kind of move."

Asked by one of the fake donors about what they can do to push back against the tea party movement, Schiller responds by talking about NPR's independence, while noting the "skewed" coverage of both Fox News and MSNBC.

He then goes on to discuss the views of his Republican friends in Aspen, Colo., who "believe the Republican Party is not really the Republican Party. It's been hijacked by this group that ..."

One of the imposters interjects: "The radical, racist, Islamophobic, tea party people?"

"Exactly," Schiller responds. "And not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic. Basically, they believe in white, middle America, gun-toting — I mean, it's pretty scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."

At that point, it's unclear whether Schiller is providing his views, or the views of the sources he's quoting.

Perhaps more instrumental to NPR's fight on Capitol Hill to retain federal support for public broadcasting, is a segment in the video in which Schiller says that NPR could survive a cutoff of federal funds, though the short version of the clip omits a part where he says that small stations, especially in rural areas, would suffer and some could have to close.

Backers of the Lamborn bill have seized on the Schiller flap as one more reason to deny public broadcasting federal support. Tuesday, the influential tea party group, Tea Party Patriots, urged Congress to eliminate all funds that would benefit NPR.

Last week, NPR strongly condemned Schiller's remarks when the 11-minute clip hit the Internet, and within the next 24 hours, both Ron Schiller and Vivian Schiller, who are not related, were gone. No mention was made of how O'Keefe's film had been edited, even though the full 2-hour version was posted March 8. And if Ron Schiller felt like he had been misrepresented, his resignation statement didn't reflect it.

"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," Schiller said then.

NPR's acquiescence on the matter seemed to rankle "This American Life" host Glass, who over the weekend complained that the broadcaster had not shown enough backbone:

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