The public radio network survived efforts by conservative lawmakers in 1995 and 2005 to cut funding for what they have charged is an elitist mouthpiece for the left. But in the wake of a video sting by a right-wing provocateur that fit perfectly into that image, and in the midst of a debate on Capitol Hill to shrink the federal deficit, NPR's future could be cloudy.
It seems like years since Schiller made her case for the federal government to continue funding 10 percent of NPR's budget as she spoke at the National Press Club. Yet it was only Monday. And despite lingering bad publicity over the firing of commentator Juan Williams, she insisted the network's troubles had more to do with "perception" than reality.
The next day, the Daily Caller posted James O'Keefe's gotcha video. It showed NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller bashing conservatives and tea party supporters and criticizing Republicans as "anti-intellectual" to a faux Muslim philanthropist.
That Schiller is no relation to Vivian Schiller. She immediately condemned his remarks and pushed up his already planned departure from the network.
But the embarrassing episode proved the last straw after a series of gaffes that have tarnished the NPR brand and left it more vulnerable than ever to the budget ax.
In announcing Schiller's resignation, NPR Board Chairman Dave Edwards expressed "deep regret," saying "she brought vision and energy to this organization. She led NPR back from the enormous economic challenges of the previous two years."
Within minutes, NPR's own media reporter David Folkenflik tweeted that Schiller had been "ousted" by the board, which decided she could no longer effectively lead the organization.
It was the same board that canceled Schiller's bonus last year as punishment for her role in the Williams fiasco.
In January, Senior Vice President for News Ellen Weiss resigned from the network where she had spent her entire career after an external report blasted her hasty dismissal of the Fox News regular, who was canned after he said seeing Muslims in traditional garb on airplanes made him nervous.
NPR soon after earned a journalistic black eye when it erroneously reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died after being shot in Tucson, Ariz.
Schiller lasted just over two years at NPR after coming over in January 2009 from The New York Times. She had spearheaded a major expansion online and on mobile platforms and officially changed the network's name from National Public Radio to simply NPR.
In her Monday speech, Schiller was blunt. There was "no excuse" for the Giffords blunder, she said. The Williams situation, as she has repeated again and again, was handled "badly."
The mea culpas were squarely aimed at deflecting heat from Capitol Hill, where Republicans have introduced bills to end funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the parent organization of NPR and PBS. This year the CPB distributed $430 million in federal funds to public broadcasters.
In a statement issued late this afternoon, the CPB said the recent scandals involving NPR officials "have not reflected the values and aspirations of public broadcasting" and condemned "the unprofessional conduct and offensive statements" captured on video.
It said the CPB was "committed to fair, balanced, objective, and transparent journalism that reflects a variety of viewpoints. The corporation is committed to editorial standards that clearly separate decisions about content from financial or political considerations."
NPR gets most of its support from viewers, corporate foundations and philanthropic foundations.
The White House reaffirmed its commitment to federal funding for public broadcasting hours after Schiller resigned.
The then CEO on Monday called government funding "a critical cornerstone" that acts like seed money to attract other funding to NPR. Noting the interconnections among NPR, PBS and local public TV and radio stations, she said ending taxpayer support would be "like pulling a thread out. If you pull out one thread, then the whole thing unravels."
NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard wrote that Ron Schiller "might well have put a stake through NPR and public radio's financial hearts" with his recorded comments, which included that NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding."
But while she told AOL News in an interview that the damage done to the network was "devastating" because it played into the stereotype of liberal bias in the media, those views did not come from the mouths of NPR's journalists. They also did not refer to the dozens of public radio stations that would be forced to close without federal dollars.
"It's not really about NPR. It's about the public radio system and whether it will survive attempts to cut its funding," Shepard said. "Even before NPR hastily fired Juan Williams, public broadcasting funding was being threatened and was in political trouble. This says to me these are just quote unquote nails in the proverbial coffin."
"This latest development in what appears to be an internal meltdown at National Public Radio only strengthens my resolve to eliminate all federal funding" for public broadcasting, said Rep. Doug Lamborn, the Colorado Republican who is leading the effort against NPR in the House.
"I have been seeking to push Big Bird out of the nest for over a year, based on the simple fact that we can no longer afford to spend taxpayer dollars on nonessential government programs. It's time for Big Bird to earn his wings and learn to fly on his own."
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