NPR chief denounces defunding calls in speech on future of journalism

Speaking at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington Sunday on the “Future of Journalism,” National Public Radio President and CEO Vivian Schiller said she takes calls for defunding NPR “very seriously,” while stressing how important government funding is for public broadcasting, especially for NPR’s member stations. She also recognized there’s a possibility that, with the new GOP majority in the House, those calls for defunding might be renewed.

“If defunding to public broadcasting were to occur, it would be devastating to public broadcasting. That’s a fact,” Schiller said.

After Schiller fired commentator Juan Williams several weeks ago for comments he made about Muslims on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor,” calls for defunding NPR erupted again.

“Almost all federal funding goes to member stations,” Schiller said. “Very, very little of it goes to NPR, but a lot goes to stations.”

While NPR headquarters only receives about 1 percent of funding from tax dollars, member stations receive about 9 percent of their funding from tax dollars, Schiller said. She said that the 9 percent NPR member stations receive from taxpayer dollars is essential for them to stay on the air.

“For small stations, and even for large stations, that’s a big chunk of their revenue,” she said. “It’s been a critical part of keeping those stations vibrant and, so, we take these calls for defunding very, very seriously.”

Schiller didn’t bring up the reason why she fired Williams or whether she handled the situation appropriately during her prepared remarks, but audience members at the forum did, questioning why she didn’t opt to suspend Williams instead of fire him. The forum’s audience members also showed disappointment in NPR removing Williams, who, because he is black, helped bring diversity to NPR’s staff.

“The circumstances around the termination of his contract were a unique set of circumstances,” Schiller said. “It was unique. We have admitted, I have admitted that there were certain aspects of it that we did not handle very well. In fact, there were certain aspects of this we handled badly.”

Schiller criticized cable news during the forum for what she sees as its partisan nature. She also praised NPR’s audience as more intelligent than other media audiences, citing the comment section of a one-year old story about the Colorado boy who was suspected to have flown himself up in a balloon back in October 2009 on its website as evidence.

“We have a comment section under our blog posts, just like every other news organization,” Schiller said. “If you look at most comment sections, they are usually pretty disappointing, you know, people yelling at each other, going off subject, there’s a lot of hand-wringing in the comment section.”

The comments on NPR’s blog post about the balloon boy, Schiller said, set NPR’s audience apart from everyone else. She then proceeded to read two comments as an example.

“Twenty-foot diameter, 4-feet-tall would get you about 77 pounds of lift at sea-level, not including the weight of the equipment. Average 6-year-old is 45 pounds, average weight of equipment would be 32 pounds, which might have been reasonable if there was very thin Mylar,” the first comment read.

The second comment went on to disprove the math of the first one.

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  • Kini

    I don’t think NPR can justify the need for Public Funding.

  • student1776

    There is absolutely no reason for public funding of NPR – the Pravda of the Democratic National Committee. Some of the programming is of good quality and I have been a donor in the past. But I found the consistent, smug, liberal cant and sense of busy body superiority just intolerable after a while. The firing of Juan Williams, a pretty hard core liberal – definitely in the most liberal quintile of American politics – because he was not purely leftist enough as evidenced by the fact that he was willing to discuss his viewpoint with conservatives rather than contemplate his navel in a purely liberal echo chamber was the last straw. It may well be that NPR’s viewership is brighter than most channels. In that case they can figure out how to fund it. But it is quite clear that Schiller is not the sharpest pencil in the box.

  • sunnyr

    No more of my tax dollars are to go to NPR, ACORN (or any it’s various new names,)
    NONE, ZERO, ZILCH!! NPR is filled with Leftist Whackjobs who should NOT be gettng public funds any more than Rush Limbaugh does. Let them eat organic cake!

  • iconoclast

    Public Broadcasting will just have to find new revenue. Private companies have been dealing with this problem for years. Now it is time for public broadcasting to do the same.

    With all it’s well-educated viewership, certainly there should be enough money to cover a 9% revenue gap.

  • baal

    We’ve also got to stop BS’s when we talk about these things: I principally don’t want my taxpayer dollars to go anymore to the Democrats. One way or another this money benefits the Democrats. It’s not rocket science. Yes, NPR criticizes the Dems on occasion, but only from the left. The argument that they provide corporate-free political commentary is valid only in in the context that the democrats aren’t a fully left wing party. The only problem with that is that they are a fully left wing party now.

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  • gringott

    Hey, sorry lady, you are toast. Defund or the Republicans don’t get any more votes and third party here we come. I really don’t care if the Demoncrats take over, they will just crash the government, they cannot run one. They proved that in just two years.

  • gekkobear

    “She also praised NPR’s audience as more intelligent than other media audiences, citing the comment section of a one-year old story about the Colorado boy who was suspected to have flown himself up in a balloon back in October 2009 on its website as evidence.”

    Ok, so these amazing super-smart people don’t get why I don’t want to be forced to pay for their entertainment? Really, if they’re as smart as you say; I suspect they’d understand.

    Idiots or leeches… is there another choice here?

  • papa1

    My congresswoman sent me an email today saying that she will keep my thoughts in mind should HB5538 come before the House to defund Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 2012. I emailed her back and told her it was not my intention that NPR be defunded in 2012. Last Tuesday we told Congress to defund it in 2011. I hope she gets the hint. By the way, it gets its funding through the Communications Act of 1934! Past time to review that one!