NPR has had many political challenges since its government funding allowed it become branded as the main source of radio news for upper-income liberals. Just last year, Mitt Romney declared he would end federal funding for public broadcasting. But now it faces the suggestion from its former chief executive officer that NPR would be better off without the government subsidy it’s gotten since the 1970s.
Ken Stern, who was NPR’s chief operating officer before becoming its CEO in 2006, has said that even though the network now gets “less than 10 percent of its funding” from government, that money comes at an “enormous cost in terms of credibility, focus, and the efforts they have to do to maintain that support.”
Stern told Newsmax TV this week that “with that relatively modest funding, they’d be smart to actually think carefully about going on their own with corporate, individual, institutional, and foundation support . . . There are actually a group of charities that do pretty well on their own.”
Mr. Stern, the author of a new book on charitable giving, is onto something. NPR has convinced a large chunk of red America that its reports are hopelessly biased or elitist, or both. In early 2011, even before the James O’Keefe scandal in which the young videographer captured NPR’s director of development engaged in stereotypical bashing of conservatives and questionable comments about Jewish-owned media, the network was in trouble. It surived a House vote to defund it by only 228 to 192.
One of the leading congressional complaints about NPR is its stultifying political correctness. In 2010, NPR’s board of directors issued a report on the sacking of NPR commentator Juan Williams in which it concluded that the firing was botched and necessitated new procedures for personnel decisions. Ellen Weiss, the senior vice president for news who initiated the firing over comments that Williams made on Fox News, resigned under pressure. The NPR board also recommended that CEO Vivian Schiller lose her bonus for 2010 because of “concern over her role in the termination.” Schiller famously said that Williams should see a psychiatrist after he said that he sometimes felt anxious seeing people dressed as Muslims boarding airplanes. He said such stereotyping was wrong, but that its existence needed to be acknowledged. AFter the O’Keefe scandal broke in early 2011, Schiller was asked to leave by the board.
NPR critics say the network’s liberalism has been a bit muted of late, but is still very much present. Juan Williams says it remains “a very ingrown, incestuous culture” while former NPR board member Vin Weber, a GOP congressman in the 1980s, told me the network remains “hopelessly biased on at least two issues — their coverage of the economy and Israel’s role in the Middle East. They humored my objections but would never make any substantive changes.”
Now the call for NPR to change its culture has come from a former insider within its ranks. I doubt that Repubilcans are up for another tilting-at-windmills attack on NPR, but at least the message that the network’s federal funding is costing it more than it realizes is coming from a source that insiders won’t find as easy to dismiss.