Public media advocates hope that the resignation of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller on Wednesday marks the end of an embarassing series of episodes, but it’s far from certain that it won’t ultimately have an impact on the direction of future federal funding.
The biggest chunk of support is tied up in a budget bill to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, and the financing of NPR, PBS, member stations and other entities is but one in a laundry list of items on the negotiating table as the Senate and the House attempt to reach agreement. The House version of the budget bill calls for eliminating funding to the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, the chief grant-making authority for public media.
“This is going to be kind of a rollercoaster for us, and everyone else in the federal funding drama,” said Patrick Butler, CEO of the Assn. of Public Television Stations, one of the chief orgs lobbying for federal support.
Nevertheless, after calling on numerous lawmakers Wednesday, Butler said he remains “optimistic” that federal funding continued to have bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, even while lawmakers expressed their dismay at comments expressed by NPR’s chief fund-raiser, Ron Schiller, in a secret video made of a meeting with a fake Muslim org in which Schiller is heard bashing Tea Party members as “racists,” among other comments.
“Everybody on Capitol Hill is upset by this, but no one is more upset than we are,” Butler said. “We are just sickened by this video that we have seen.”
Yet he has not detected a change in support, and was pleased with the progress of a public campaign, 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting, was having an impact on lawmakers.
“No one is changing their minds on this, where they are saying that ‘This is the last straw,’ ” he said. “We are just not getting that. … It is really important to remember that this is a public media industry that has been going for more than 40 years through Republican and Democratic adminstrations and congresses.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney expressed the administration’s support for public media as “worthwhile and important priorities,” as evidenced by President Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget that calls for increasing the future outlay to public media.
Legal affairs senior VP Joyce Slocum will serve as NPR’s interim CEO. Vivian Schiller, who also came under fire for the way the termination of commentator Juan Williams was handled last October, told the New York Times that she hoped her resignation would ease the pressure in the funding fight, but it did little to mute criticism from some GOP pols.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said their “concern is not about any one person at NPR, rather it’s about millions of taxpayers. NPR has admitted that they don’t need taxpayer subsidies to thrive, and at a time when the government is borrowing 40¢ of every dollar that it spends, we certainly agree with them.”
The fear is that opponents have only gained fodder in their criticism of NPR as biased and elitist. NPR’s ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, wrote on her blog that Ron Schiller’s comments “might well have put a stake through NPR and public radio’s financial hearts.”
There were signs that the NPR “sting” video was part of a larger effort to discredit public media.
PBS confirmed Wednesday that its senior VP for development, Brian Reddington, met with members of the Muslim Education Trust, the same fake org that met with in Ron Schiller and associate Betsy Liley, in the latter part of Feburary. But after an “initial conversation” there were “profound concerns about the organization,” spokeswoman Anne Bentley said.
“PBS’ practice is to vet potential donors when there is an appearance of a conflict of interest and to ensure they meet requirements of transparency and openness. Attempts to confirm the credentials of the organization proved unsatisfactory and communication was halted by PBS,” Bentley said in a statement.
PBS officials do not know whether the meeting was captured on video.