NPR chief asks critics: What liberal bias?

NPR Chief Executive Vivian Schiller defended taxpayer funding for public broadcasting Monday and challenged critics to find any evidence of liberal bias in NPR's coverage. 

Schiller said the accusation that public broadcasting has a liberal bias is just a "perception problem" that doesn't accurately reflect NPR's journalism. 

"We are urban and rural ... red state and blue state," she said.

But Schiller also said the effort to cut public media dollars is linked to concern about the deficit and not being driven by the perception that NPR has a liberal tilt.

"I believe this is driven mostly by an attempt to find cuts to the deficit, and that is certainly understandable," she said.

Schiller's speech at the National Press Club comes amid a Republican push to slash public media from the federal budget.

House and Senate Republicans are working to defund public media this year. Democrats have been vocal about defending public broadcasting, and President Obama did not make any cuts to public media in his fiscal year 2012 budget request.

Schiller said it is "right and necessary to" question all aspects of federal spending, but argued that if "public value" is the standard of scrutiny, then "public broadcasting stands strong."

She said taxpayer funding for public broadcasting has been an "investment" by the American people in journalism over the past 40 years. 

Public media "should not fall victim to the turbulence of these times," she said.

Taxpayer funds make up about 10 percent of the average public radio station budget, but up to 60 percent of the budget at rural outlets, Schiller said.


NPR has "gradually been able to leverage that investment to grow other sources of support" from corporations, philanthropic groups, and listeners, Schiller said. 

Only a "small, small amount of money goes to public broadcasting," according to Schiller. 

Republicans disagree with that assessment, citing the $4 billion that has gone to public broadcasting over the last decade.

Schiller also addressed two recent NPR controversies: the firing of NPR news analyst Juan Williams, who is now a columnist for The Hill, and the outlet's erroneous report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) had died after she was shot in January. 

"It was a mistake; there was no excuse," she said of the Giffords report. 

As for Williams, she said "a lot of ink" has been spilled on the issue and made it clear she wants to move on. 

"We handled the situation badly. We made some mistakes. I made some mistakes," she said.