Conservatives' Varied Reasons for Wanting to Defund NPR

House Republicans--and only House Republicans--have passed a bill to prohibit federal funding for NPR. Why?

Increasingly, there are distinct, separate cases being made to halt the taxpayer funding that makes up two percent of NPR's budget. The first one, sheer fiscal conservatism, existed before any of NPR's recent controversies--before the firing of Juan Williams in October, and before James O'Keefe released his recent undercover videos.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), the original NPR defunder, first pushed a defunding bill last summer. He doesn't oppose NPR's editorial decisions; he just doesn't think it's an essential service worthy of taxpayer money. The Senate's fiscal hawks, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), have made the fiscal argument on their own as they've pushed a parallel Senate bill.

Lamborn told me in an interview last week, after the release of O'Keefe's first video:

It's not an essential government service, and maybe at one point 40 years ago, when all you had were three major networks, and that was pretty much it, you could have made a smart-bidder argument. But today there are so many media outlets available in so many formats that people thought inconceivable just a few years ago ... it's outlived the reason it was originally created.

Lamborn didn't seem too bothered (or surprised) by the anti-Republican, anti-Tea Party musings of exec Ron Schiller. For him, the video was significant because Schiller echoed something Lamborn had said before: That NPR could simply do without the funds.

On the other hand, some NPR critics are bothered by its content, not its form. Since the Juan Williams firing, criticism of NPR has focused more on its editorial decisions and political identity. It's seen, by some, as lefty and elitist, and O'Keefe's undercover videos have spurred that impression.

Contrast Lamborn's reasoning with that of Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler, national coordinators of Tea Party Patriots, the nation's largest tea party membership group. The two wrote in an op-ed in The Hill newspaper today:

[O]ver the last two years the curtain has slowly been pulled back, and these people have been exposed for what they are: egotistical, arrogant ruling elites who believe the rest of us are just too stupid or backward to "understand." They view the rest of us as the "uneducated" masses who are here to be controlled or manipulated for their own gain. Having moved far from the ideals of the Founders, they believe that self-governance is impossible for the nation because most of us are just too dumb, uneducated and racist to handle it.

Now contrast that charge--anti-conservative elitism--with another made by Sam Blumenfeld, writing in January at The New American, who calls NPR an instrument of leftist statism:

Considering who was NPR's first chairman of the board [former BBC journalist Bernard Mayes], it is not surprising that NPR has been sympathetic to the "gay" rights movement since its inception. Nor is it surprising that it has consistently served as a mouthpiece for statist solutions and progressive-liberal causes, considering its connections to government. Of course, NPR and its defenders claim they have no agenda but excellence in broadcasting, but it is obvious to any conservative that they tend to represent the views of the liberal elite.

These reasons all overlap for conservatives who don't like the idea of public-private media, see NPR as liberal, were offended by Schiller's comments, saw the Juan Williams firing as ideological, and want the government to spend less money. But they're quite different, on their own.

Presented by

Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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