By Sara Jerome - 10/23/10 06:34 PM EDT
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) issued a strong critique of NPR on Friday, joining a chorus of Republicans who say that the outlet's left-leaning reputation make it a questionable candidate for public funding.
He critiqued Democrats for failing to speak out on the issue, suggesting that if the controversy did not relate to Fox News, they might be more vocal. Fox News has received positive press throughout the controversy for seeming to tolerate a wider swatch of free speech than NPR, according to NPR critics.
"The silence of the left is stunning — if Fox was not involved, Speaker Pelosi and Henry Waxman would be in an uproar, preaching the sanctity of the First Amendment," he said.
NPR became embroiled in controversy this week after firing news analyst Juan Williams for comments he made about Muslims.
Several high-profile Republicans said the organization was stifling honest expression and being too politically correct when it dismissed him. They said the decision was evidence that the organization has a political agenda and should not receive public money.
Upton saw the issue similarly, framing it as "censorship of the press."
He argued that Williams's dismissal "tears down the thin veil that once shrouded this taxpayer-subsidized organization’s political bias." Upton also called it an "egregious assault on free speech and individual expression, the touchstones of American journalism."
Citing his background as a former journalism student, Upton said the firing "grossly abuses taxpayer dollars." He called for strong congressional scrutiny of the station's public funds.
He also riffed on the name of a popular public radio program.
"All things considered … this is a matter of principle," Upton said.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) also played on show titles in a statement criticizing the outlet on Friday.
"Once NPR is free from the umbrella of accepting, receiving and being eligible for taxpayer dollars," perhaps it could add shows such as "Dancing with the Czars," "Socialist Survivor" and "Lost: The Obama Presidency," he said.
Upton is often cited as a leading contender to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee if Republicans win the House. Issa would be likely to chair the House Oversight Committee.
After Williams was fired this week, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said that he is adding a measure to defund NPR to a program that allows the public to vote on spending programs they could live without.
Prompting his dismissal, Williams had told Fox News's Bill O'Reilly, "Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
NPR explained Williams's firing in a statement, saying his comments were "inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR."
The outlet receives public and private funding, but most of its money comes from private sources.