NPR Sits on $300 Million Jackpot

Thursday, 28 Oct 2010 10:04 AM

By Ronald Kessler

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Asked if NPR could exist without public funding, Vivian Schiller, who recently fired Juan Williams as an analyst, kissed off the question.

Journalists have a “laughable” misperception that the radio network is funded by the federal government, Schiller said.

Schiller is right that federal funding does not represent a significant portion of NPR revenue. Only about two percent of NPR’s gross income comes from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) through various grants. However, another 40 percent comes from programming fees paid by member stations. Many of the stations receive a large portion of their revenue from CPB.

What has not come out is that NPR has an endowment of about $300 million, enough to run the network for two years. That lends further fuel to Republicans’ desire to defund the CPB, which costs taxpayers close to $440 million a year.

Like many of NPR’s policies, the rationale for public funding is founded on mythology. Back in 1967 when the CPB was created by Congress, you could make a case that media outlets might pull their punches on certain issues because of real or imagined pressure from advertisers.

Today, any advertiser that tried to intimidate an outlet like NBC, CBS, ABC, or Fox News would find itself exposed the next day. In recent years, NPR has been taking advertiser money from the likes of Metamucil, Nexium, the AARP, and the ACLU, but it disingenuously refers to the ads as messages from underwriters.

NPR also takes revenue in the form of grants from companies and interest groups such as George Soros’ Open Society Foundation that could wield just as much power over programming choices as any advertiser could.

The media landscape is entirely different from what it was in 1967, when neither cable channels nor the internet existed, so there is no need for federal support of another outlet.

Like the rationale for federal funding, NPR’s rules about what analysts such as Williams can and cannot say are based on bogus assumptions. According to CEO Schiller, Williams was fired because news analysts “may not take personal positions on controversial issues.”

Hello? Anyone who writes or speaks publicly gives their personal views on controversial issues. If they didn’t, no one would run their Op-Eds or invite them to be on a show.

However, when other NPR analysts like Cokie Roberts and Nina Totenberg express their personal views, they are not considered controversial because NPR executives agree with their liberal outlook. Thus, when Roberts denounced Glenn Beck in her column as “worse than a clown. He’s more like a terrorist,” that was fine. When Totenberg said justice would dictate that Jesse Helms and his children contract AIDS, that was fine as well.

You would have to be stupid not to share the apprehension Williams expressed on Bill O’Reilly’s show regarding seeing Muslims boarding their plane. But Schiller fired him for saying it because it strays from liberal orthodoxy, especially since he said it on Fox News.

Neither liberals who criticize Fox News nor conservatives who criticize NPR seem to have ever tuned in to their shows. NPR analysts are all liberals, with the exception of David Brooks, who is often described as a conservative but actually is a centrist.

However, in discussing the news and issues, NPR routinely has conservatives on as guests, including Dave Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. Whenever I have been on NPR or its affiliates in connection with my books about the FBI, CIA, Laura Bush, George Bush, and the Secret Service, I have been treated fairly and respectfully.

In the same way, Fox News covers the news fairly. Aside from opinion shows like Glenn Beck’s, when a controversial issue is discussed, Fox has a rule that both Democrats and Republicans must appear. Often, O’Reilly features only Democrats to discuss issues on his Fox News show.

Both NPR and Fox News may be quality outfits, but NPR has no more business receiving taxpayer money than does Fox News. That is especially true when, even though $196 million of its endowment can only be used to accrue interest, NPR currently has a $300 million cushion, according to an NPR source. The latest publicly available financial statements show consolidated assets of National Public Radio Inc. and its foundation of $253.5 million as of Sept. 30, 2009.

As outlined in the Newsmax story The Juan Williams I Know, Williams was fired for speaking the truth. No American should be forced to underwrite that kind of Soviet-style censorship.

Schiller reports to Howard H. Stevenson, chair of the board of directors of National Public Radio Inc. A professor and former senior associate dean at Harvard School of Business Administration, he did not return my calls seeking comment on why NPR should receive any federal money.

In the new Congress, Stevenson and Schiller should be asked that question and why NPR could not tolerate the opinions of one of Washington’s most respected journalists.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.



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