Republicans: Government should probe NPR's dismissal of Juan Williams

Notching up the controversy dogging NPR in recent weeks, two influential House Republicans want the government to probe whether taxpayer money has covered costs related to firing news analyst Juan Williams.

Texas Reps. Joe Barton and Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court rules that pipeline can seize land from New Jersey | Study: EPA underestimated methane emissions from oil and gas development | Kevin McCarthy sets up task forces on climate, other issues Texas Republicans condemn state Democrats for response to official calling Scott an 'Oreo' Americans have decided to give professionals a chance MORE, senior members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, urged the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Thursday to examine how NPR spends its money.

One concern is whether the outlet spent federal funds in its controversial decision to dismiss Williams last month following remarks the analyst made about Muslims.

"Were any federally appropriated funds expended in the course of any internal deliberations, negotiations, or drafting tasks carried out pursuant to NPR’s October 20 decision to terminate its contract with Williams?" the letter said.

The effort comes a day after House Republicans promised to force a vote on defunding NPR, a response to the Williams controversy.

In their letter, Barton and Burgess said they were disturbed when the organization fired Williams over remarks he made on The O'Reilly Factor, a Fox News show. Williams had said he gets nervous on planes when he sees passengers in traditional Muslim attire, a controversial point he made while also calling for tolerance. 

Critics saw NPR's move as overzealous and an assault on open debate, a notion Barton and Burgess reiterated in their letter.

The dismissal "may reflect a tendency on the part of NPR management to use its ethics rules to silence employees," they said. NPR might be using the pretense of ethical standards for reasons other than "[preserving] any core ethical or editorial standards."

They also downplayed the severity of Williams's infraction. His "greatest offense," they said, "is contravention of the rules of political correctness."

The pair also urged GAO to clarify the breakdown of NPR's funding sources, including how much of it represents public funding. They asked whether federal dollars devoted to its operations are "intermingled" with dollars spent on content and editorial work.

NPR explained Williams's firing in a statement last month, 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.