WILLIAMS: Now it's time to defund NPR

Even after they fired me, called me a bigot and publicly advised me to only share my thoughts with a psychiatrist, I did not call for defunding NPR. I am a journalist, and NPR is an important platform for journalism.

But last week my line of defense for NPR ran into harsh political realities. Rep. Steve Israel (D- N.Y.) chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a fundraising letter with the following argument for maintaining public funding of NPR:

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“They [Republicans] know NPR plays a vital role in providing quality news programming — from rural radio stations to in-depth coverage of foreign affairs. If the Republicans had their way, we’d only be left with the likes of Glenn Beck, Limbaugh and Sarah Palin to dominate the airwaves.”

With that statement, Congressman Israel made the case better than any Republican critic that NPR is radio by and for liberal Democrats. He is openly asking liberal Democrats to give money to liberal Democrats in Congress so they can funnel federal dollars into news radio programs designed to counter and defeat conservative Republican voices.

Rep. Israel has unintentionally endorsed every conservative complaint about NPR as a liberal mouthpiece. And to me, as a journalist, it is also a statement of why NPR’s troubled management team has turned its fundraising efforts into a weapon to be used against its essential product — top quality, balanced reporting. No journalist should have to work with one finger in the political winds, anxiously waiting to see if Democrats continue to be pleased with what they hear on NPR as a counter to what they don’t like hearing from Rush Limbaugh.

But, wait, there might be one better argument for ending federal funding of NPR.

NPR’s top fundraiser, Ron Schiller, was caught on tape recently saying explicitly that “in the long run…[NPR is] better off without federal funding.”

In fact, Rep. Israel might have added spice to his fundraising appeal directed at liberal Democrats by quoting Schiller’s praise of liberal Democrats. “In my personal opinion,” Schiller says on the tape, “liberals today might be more educated, fair and balanced than conservatives.”

Betsy Liley, the director of institutional giving at NPR, is also heard on the tape saying that liberal billionaire George Soros has made it his business to subsidize NPR with as little fanfare as possible — that is to say to do it secretly.

Liley’s revealing comment and Schiller’s arrogance are instructive because they provide a window in to the culture of elitism that has corroded NPR’s leadership. They're willing to do anything in service of any liberal with money. This includes firing me and skewing the editorial content of their programming. If anyone challenges them on this point, they will claim with self-righteous indignation to have cleaner hands than the rest of the news media who accepts advertising revenue or expresses a point of view. 

I'm not just talking about conservatives but also the far left, the poor — anybody who didn't fit into leadership's marketing design of NPR as the elitist voice of comfortable, liberal-leaning, highly educated, upper-income America. 

As for Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), it was not until he saw the secretly recorded videotape of NPR executives that he understood the extent of political bias at NPR. “Of all the data that we’ve seen, we still had not absorbed the culture of NPR until we saw the video of that dinner.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor added: “Why should we allow taxpayer dollars to be used to advocate one ideology?”

That dinner tape and the Democrat’s fundraising letter set the table for a totally partisan vote, with Republicans voting in opposition to public funding of NPR and Democrats voting for it. Last Thursday, 228 Republicans voted to defund NPR while seven Republicans joined with 185 Democrats to preserve it. The effort was largely symbolic as there is hardly any chance the Democrat-controlled Senate will go along with the House on this one. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is a huge NPR fan. When I was host of NPR’s afternoon talk show he once called me up to tell me how much he enjoyed an interview with soul singer Al Green. Sen. Reid is going to defend public radio.

The Democrat in the White House, President Obama, issued a statement of opposition to the House vote but stopped short of promising to veto any budget that eliminates NPR funding. And the White House did not make the case for why NPR deserves funding.

Before NPR top executive Vivian Schiller resigned, her goal for NPR was to increase federal support to create an American version of the British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC]. The BBC, which also began as a radio news service, is funded by a mandatory licensing fee paid by all British subjects. It is essentially a tax set by Parliament every year to support a national news operation.

At the moment the government funding for NPR is only one of many sources of revenue and a very small one in the grand scheme. Arguably, the appropriators of federal dollars are more important to the local affiliates who depend on that money to buy public broadcasting programming. To my mind, this is the underlying problem that connects the hidden camera episode and the funding issue.

Journalists should not be doing news to please any donors — private citizens, political parties or government officials — out of fear of losing funding.