What James O'Keefe's Latest Video Means for NPR Funding

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Updated 3/8/11 at 5:54 p.m.

Fresh off the heels of a GOP push to defund public broadcasting, NPR found itself in a bit of a compromising position Tuesday after guerilla videographers revealed one of its top executives making the GOP argument for defunding himself.

Released this morning, the video from conservative filmmaker and activist James O'Keefe shows a late February lunch meeting between two NPR fundraising executives and two guys posing as representatives of a potential donor group that's funded by the Muslim Brotherhood -- a scenario the actors reveal slowly over the course of the conversation.

In the video, Ron Schiller, the head of NPR's nonprofit organization -- and someone who last week announced he'd be joining the Aspen Institute come April -- disparaged the GOP and the tea party movement as the undercover videographers discussed donating up to $5 million to NPR in an effort to promote Muslim views.

"The current Republican Party, particularly the tea party, is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian--I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird evangelical kind of move," Schiller said on the video.

He also said NPR would be better off without federal financing -- funding which Republicans have been trying to strip from the radio network for some time now.


Schiller's attacks on the GOP and the tea party are sure to spark more criticism that NPR slants left. NPR has weathered a barrage of such criticism since October, when it fired journalist Juan Williams for expressing personal sentiments on Muslims and air security as a Fox News contributor.

Since then, conservatives have rallied around the idea of de-funding NPR. The House passed a broad spending bill on Feb. 19 that would eliminate public-broadcasting funding for the rest of the fiscal year, but Senate Democrats have rejected it. Taxpayer dollars continue to flow to NPR and PBS, both subsidiaries of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), at last year's levels. Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced a stand-alone Senate bill last week to defund the CPB.

The new video is already causing a stir. Tea Party Patriots, the nation's largest tea party membership organization, e-mailed its supporters today about defunding NPR, in light of O'Keefe's expose.

"Mr. Schiller's latest comments provoke a larger question: how long will we as a nation be willing to tolerate the arrogance of the self-appointed ruling elite?," Jenny Beth Martin, TPP national coordinator, wrote to supporters.  "His unedited comments are indicative of the mentality of ruling elites who are threatened by the power of the Tea Party Patriots."

The issue of a media organization accepting Muslim Brotherhood cash -- the video's overt news play -- in the end may have little to do with the video's impact. O'Keefe's "citizen journalists" disclose their fake Muslim Brotherhood connections slowly and, at first, vaguely. NPR has said it did not accept any money.

But the video nonetheless could be a perfect rallying cry for the would-be NPR defunders, because it shows a top NPR executive articulating the fiscal-conservative case against NPR funding -- explaining that the network can survive, and indeed is better off, without federal monies -- the same case Republican lawmakers have made as they look to strip its federal appropriations.

"Frankly, it is clear that we would be better off in the long run without federal funding, and the challenge right now is that if we lost it altogether, we would have a lot of stations go dark," Schiller tells the two undercover videographers, who suggest that federal funding poses difficulties for NPR, at about 5:54 into the video.

Prodded to explain his reasons, Schiller says: "Well, I think our independence for one. Number two is that our job would be a lot easier if people weren't confused about, because we get federal funding a lot of Americans, a lot of philanthropists actually think we get most of our money from the federal government, even though NPR as you know gets one percent of its station economy, as a whole gets 10 percent ..."

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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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