Could the Juan Williams Disaster Cost NPR Its Public Funding?

Conservatives are turning the Juan Williams firing into a political football and calling for the defunding of NPR. Republican House Whip Eric Cantor now says that he "will include termination of federal funding for NPR as an option in the YouCut program so that Americans can let it be known whether they want their dollars going to that organization." Update: Sen. Jim DeMint has introduced legislation to defund NPR, as well.

Would NPR die without government funding? What would a termination of federal funding for NPR look like? Let's peek at the finances (see graph above).

NPR does not receive any direct federal funding. But it does receive indirect funding from two important sources: (1) public radio stations and (2) public grants.

First, NPR receives the majority of funding from program fees and station dues paid by member stations that broadcast its shows. Those public radio stations receive about 10 percent of their funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a non-profit corp with receives some government money and spends $90 million a year on public radio stations. While that $90 million does not directly fund NPR, it provides about 10 percent of funding for public radio stations that pay NPR for its programming.

Second, NPR applies for grants that provides about 10 percent of its revenue. The grants come from companies like the Ford Foundation and the Knight Foundation, which are also supported by federal monies. NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller told the Atlantic Journal-Constitution that CPB money in grants to NPR "represents just one to three percent of our total budget."

Want those two paragraphs in a single sentence? While NPR receives no direct public funding, it receives considerable support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, an independent non-profit corp with some federal funding, that supports both NPR's grants and its public station customers.

The upshot is that if the federal government wants to defund NPR, it has to go through CBP. It seems unlikely that the GOP would try this, considering CPB chief exec Patricia Harrison served as Co-Chair of the Republican National Committee from 1997 until 2001.

It's more likely that the NPR fracas, like so many fracases before it, will follow the trajectory of every media wave: build, crash, flood the news cycle, and finally ebb into oblivion. Oh well. It will be "fun" while it lasts.