BROOKE GLADSTONE: We’re devoting this show to a consideration of a charge often lobbed at public broadcasting, especially NPR, liberal bias. For instance, here’s former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu with whom I recently discussed a discredited Romney campaign ad slamming President Obama for gutting welfare reform:
JOHN SUNUNU: As, as usual, you, part of the liberal press that will cover this President’s butt across the board, you’re going to lose in November. But I’ve enjoyed talking to you. Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: As I said, it’s the common charge, being biased in favor of liberals. But is it accurate? We pursued this question last year, after a series of unfortunate events, first, NPR’s extremely public and impolitic decision to terminate the contract of NPR political analyst, also Fox News commentator, Juan Williams, because of feelings he expressed on Fox News. That fanned the flames of Fox rage.
BILL O’REILLY: Hi, I’m Bill O’Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight. A disgraceful decision by the National Public Radio outfit, that is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo." NPR has fired Juan Williams.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Here’s Fox commentator and GOP strategist Karl Rove.
KARL ROVE: For the National Progressive Radio to fire him for deviating from their political correctness is shame on the National Public Radio, shame on them!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Anyway, that sort of thing. Then five months later NPR’s Senior Vice President for Fundraising Ron Schiller was caught in a sting, saying embarrassingly partisan things.
RON SCHILLER: The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives, and very Fundamental Christian. And I wouldn't even call it Christian –
RON SCHILLER: - this weird evangelical –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ron Schiller resigned, followed by NPR President Vivian Schiller, no relation. But it didn’t diminish the GOP’s desire to kill public broadcasting Federal funding.
ERIC CANTOR: It should not be the taxpayer’s responsibility to fund news organizations with a partisan point of view.
MIKE PENCE: I think it’s right that the CEO stepped down. It would be more right though if we seized this time of a fiscal crisis to say it’s time to end public funding for NPR…
TOM COBURN: Where is it the Constitution says that the federal government’s supposed to be funding competition for private networks with the public television or public radio, in any way?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Those were Republican members of Congress Eric Cantor and Mike Pence and Senator Tom Coburn.
NPR receives only about 2% of its income directly from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Federal funding arm. That money goes mostly to stations that pay dues to NPR for programs. CPB provides roughly 10% of the public radio economy, but for small stations in rural communities it can supply more than 30% of their budgets.
The content of public broadcasting has at some point or other annoyed every administration since its inception. But despite the bipartisan irritation its journalism engenders, Republican legislators invariably lead the charge to kill the CPB. So far they've failed because the majority of voters, including Republican voters, value public broadcasting. Still, the fight continues decade after decade.
FRANK MANKIEWICZ: I’ve spent a lot of time as president of NPR trying to reduce the share of the budget that was contributed by the government.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Frank Mankiewicz was NPR’s president from 1977 to 1983, after stints as campaign director for George McGovern and press secretary to Senator Robert Kennedy, a liberal, to be sure, but one so eager to reduce NPR’s reliance on government, he launched programs that caused a huge budget gap, spawning NPR’s financial crisis in 1983. And that’s when public funding was re-routed from NPR to the stations.
Now Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is on the record in favor of defunding public broadcasting, and it seems to be the reflex of the NPR Board to fire any member of its staff who raises hackles in Washington, reigniting the argument over funding. Is that response the act of a mature confident news organization? For instance, should it have fired NPR President Vivian Schiller? Frank Mankiewicz says no.
FRANK MANKIEWICZ: I don’t think that this event should have been responsible for her firing. I think she’s a very competent executive who was taking NPR in the right direction.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jon Stewart called NPR’s Board “a bunch of pussies.”
FRANK MANKIEWICZ: A bunch of what?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Pussies.
FRANK MANKIEWICZ: Cookies?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Pussies!
FRANK MANKIEWICZ: Oh pussies. Yeah, that may be true.