NPR exec shown slamming the Tea Party
March 8th, 2011
12:35 PM ET
3 years ago

NPR exec shown slamming the Tea Party

(CNN) - National Public Radio says it is "appalled" with a senior executive at the organization after he was caught on undercover video slamming the Tea Party movement as "racist" and "scary," and saying that NPR would be better off without federal funding.

NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm singles out Senior Vice President for Fundraising Ron Schiller in a statement: "The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept. We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for."

The videos were produced by conservative activist and filmmaker James O'Keefe, who gained notoriety for posing as a pimp and secretly taping damaging conversations with employees at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform (ACORN). He was also involved in a failed plot to embarrass a CNN correspondent on hidden cameras.

There are two NPR executives in the video, identified as Schiller and Director of Institutional Giving Betsy Liley. Neither executive works in NPR's news division. They are shown having lunch with potential NPR donors, who were really working for O'Keefe undercover. In the video, they pose as representatives of a Muslim organization that is considering making a $5 million donation to NPR.

Schiller, who announced last week that he is leaving NPR, makes repeated criticisms against the Tea Party, saying the group is racist.

"Tea Party people" aren't "just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic," Schiller says. "I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."

He goes on to say, "The Tea Party is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian. I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird evangelical kind of move."

In the video, Schiller says that NPR, which is partially funded by government money, would be "better off without federal funding."

"The problem is that if we lost it now, a lot of stations would go dark," Schiller said.

Schiller's remarks come only one day after NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller (who is unrelated to Ron Schiller) told an audience at the National Press Club that federal funding for NPR was essential.

"Government funding is critical because it allows taxpayers to leverage a small investment into a very large one," she said, according to prepared remarks. "It is seed money. Station managers tell me that 10 percent plays a critical role in generating the other 90 percent that makes their broadcasts possible."

A movement to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps subsidize NPR along with the Public Broadcasting System, is making the rounds among some congressional Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who released a statement Tuesday afternoon in response to reports of Ron Schiller's comments in the undercover video.

"As we continue to identify ways to cut spending and save valuable resources, this disturbing video makes clear that taxpayer dollars should no longer be appropriated to NPR," Cantor said.

"Not only have top public broadcasting executives finally admitted that they do not need taxpayer dollars to survive, it is also clear that without federal funds, public broadcasting stations self-admittedly would become eligible for more private dollars on top of the multi-million dollar donations these organizations already receive."

Tea Party representatives were also quick to decry Ron Schiller's remarks, using his suggestion that NPR would be better off without government money as an opportunity to call for defunding the organization.

"Mr. Schiller himself candidly admits in the video that NPR doesn't need federal funding, and welcomes the opportunity to slant their reporting without the oversight of the taxpayer," said Mark Meckler, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, in a statement. "At a time when the country is upside down by more than a trillion dollars, can we really afford to provide huge subsidies to entities that openly state that they don't need the money? Let's take his advice and pass legislation that would defund the clearly biased news organization that is out of touch with Americans across the country."

– CNN Political Producer Shannon Travis contributed to this report.

Updated 4:35 p.m.

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Filed under: James O'Keefe • Tea Party movement
soundoff (212 Responses)
  1. iceberg

    of course there's racism in the tea party. there's racism in obama's chicago church. there's racism in the catholic church. there's racism in russia. there's racism just about everywhere you turn except when you turn a blind eye to it cause it falls on your own "side". people use labels far too often these days for the biggest reason being we're grown lazy. we get news in headlines and ill-thought out blogs that stir an extreme on one side or the other. but the problems any individual group faces are problems we all face. pretending they only exist "on the other side" is killing us. we're content to divide and bring our own country down – radical islam is getting what they want – us divided among ourselves. like young idealistic puppy dogs, we follow along in mock-rage at the world we live in not seeing we're creating our own worst problems.

    March 8, 2011 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  2. C.J.

    I have to agree with @Jonathan on this one. Schiller didn't lie about anything. Most tea partyers where xenophobia as a badge of honor. I just think its interesting that these Tea Party nut cases are being considered a legitimate political movement. I also think its ridiculous that NPR is trying to act like they're totally balanced and unbeholden to any political view point. Everyone knows that they are more liberal – a balance to the craziness that Fox News, Limbaugh, and the like are spewing. I think its stupid that this guy would quit his job over this.

    March 8, 2011 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  3. Brian

    I don't see anything the guy said that isn't true. The "sting" part of the operation failed so what does it prove? An NPR exec speaking his mind and pointing out the truth that everyone knows about the tea party

    March 8, 2011 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  4. Limbaugh is an IDIOT

    Tea Party is racist....and there you have it, I said it!

    So now what...you gonna deny me my first ammendment rights just like NPR executives because I said something that is TRUE!!!!

    March 8, 2011 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  5. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    If NPR would be "better off without federal funding," I suspect that can be arranged.

    NPR was created in 1970, decades before 24/7 internet and broadcast news and cultural sources existed. It might have served a purpose then, but it's outlived its usefulness.

    March 8, 2011 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  6. Inmyopinion

    The truth always finds a way out, this is a perfect example of it and the other example is that of everyone trying to excuse and ignore Sesame Street's characters participating in trashing, bad mouthing Republicans. NPR has proven to be partial to the Democrat Party and therefore should not be receiving tax dollars. NPR is not impartial, they represent one side only and it is not fair.

    March 8, 2011 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  7. James

    Like Jonathan, I'm wondering exactly what Schiller did wrong? He voiced legitimate concerns about the disgruntled and misinformed tea party crowd while James O'Keefe illegally taped him . Meanwhile we have ridiculous discussions about much-needed cutting social services as the rich refuse to pay their fair share. Northern Europe moves further ahead as we languish in our ideologically driven impoverishment. Under-funded, and without any sense of social equality, we'll head to a pretty dull, grim future where only the richest enjoy a decent standard of living. But we'll have guns!! Yippee!

    March 8, 2011 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  8. mrkusn

    Ok NPR if that's the way you want it – your funding will get cut. I do listen to NPR for news and commentary in addition to a variety of sources both left and right. NPR has a center-left position and always has. It is not a radical leftist position but it is not centrist. Just admit it. Like who you are. Accept it. I will still listen. But don't play games with the taxpayers. They should know what they are paying for.

    March 8, 2011 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  9. MC

    I've had the distinct displeasure in meeting James O'Keefe and one of his pea brained compatriots, Christian Hartsock, and both of them couldn't put together a real expose' if their lives depended on it. After getting called out on the ACORN story, arrested and convicted for trying to gain unlawful access to a elected officials office, and potentially committing felonies on their 'sex boat' video, I'm surprised the media takes these clowns seriously anymore.

    March 8, 2011 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  10. MARKPAIN

    He spoke his feelings in a private meeting not as the media to the public or to elected officials. NPR has the right to say they are appalled but its his right I believe. I also think we should give serious thought to all of where this spying on one another is going considering how easy it is to record and upload video. Yes the tea party members are somewhat scary as in people that drink and drive scary. You don`t know until something happens

    March 8, 2011 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  11. Ferret out the B.S.

    Although Government funding may provide incentive for further funding the fact is thatGovernment can influence the direction of brodcast. NPR should be independent but it sounds like survival has become the top priority. I am not a tea bagger but feel that public media should not accept any funding other than private donations. I don't see where Mr Schiller did or said anything against the mission of public broadcasting.

    March 8, 2011 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  12. t22

    It's funny that after all this time people still don't get the Tea Party. There are hyper right wing evangelical Christians that identify more with Republicans than Democrats, but that has nothing to do with the Tea Party. The Tea Party is about how government is run, not social issues. In fact that's one of the big issues in the GOP tent these days – who has the power, the Tea Party fiscal conservatives or the right wing social conservatives.

    Also, I really don't get what's up with the fear of religious people. What is that they say that is so scary? That they believe in the Ten Commandments? How does Christianity have anything to do with racism? Aren't most African Americans Christians, many of them devout and religiously conservative?

    March 8, 2011 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  13. good grief

    The funny part is O'Keefe set this up to show a secret collusion between NPR and a "Muslim organization" and thus try to portray NPR as in bed with the terrorists, because every Tea Party member knows Muslim = terrorist. So Schiller in this video is calling out the xenophobia of the far right, while the far right is displaying their xenophobia by setting this "trap" up for the NPR exec. O'Keefe comes out of this looking like a xenophobic fool, just like Schiller said.

    March 8, 2011 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  14. oopru

    jonathan: "I'm trying to figure out what Schiller did wrong? I guess people can't tell the truth anymore..."

    NPR is supposed to be somewhat "neutral" in its public broadcasting. When higher level executives have such violent and extreme reactions to the mere existence of a political group, it tends to suggest that their own political views carry over into their jobs.

    Don't kid yourself, if someone in the Tea Party or Fox News said something similar to what Schiller did, you'd be wetting yourself with glee. Especially when that person is the head of fundraising, where donations are understandably on a quid pro quo basis.

    Get over it.

    March 8, 2011 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  15. Gamechanger

    If you don't think the Tea Party movement is racist, you have never met anyone from the Tea Party or attended one of their rallies. The Tea Party wants to return America to some sort of fictious 1950's sitcom version that in truth never existed.

    I have no doubt that Tea Party members love America – they just happen to hate about 90% of the people who live here...

    March 8, 2011 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  16. MplsDan

    I wonder if they get get the mail room person to say something?

    March 8, 2011 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  17. Randy

    I think the point that was attempted to be made was that Schiller could call the Tea Party a scary organization, but Jaun Williams could not say he was scared when he saw a person in Muslim garb on a plane. It's completely unrelated, but some people could see the slant.

    March 8, 2011 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  18. drjstrangepork

    First... Ron Schiller is in "Sales". He is selling the idea you give money to NPR and I get a check. That means he'll say just about anything.
    Second... He said NPR would be better off without Gov't money. This probably has more to do with Gov't oversight in their operations. Gov't has a way of messing things up.
    Finally... Anyone who offers you $5 Million, research them up and down before you start agreeing with them.

    March 8, 2011 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  19. 4merRepubCT

    Let's get this straight. A person that was not involved with NPR's news bureau – who had alreadly announced that he was leaving the company – made non-specific claims about unnamed persons? Since when are broad generalizations and vaulting vagueries such a threat???

    O'Keefe needs to grow up instead of playing Jr. High School "gotcha" games. He is not a journalist, nor a mature adult. Perhaps there's a "reality" show out there somewhere that could use his type of services.

    March 8, 2011 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  20. Josh Lyman

    Obviously an individual involved in a public funded news organization should not say things like this, but is the extremist aspects of the Tea Party racist and scary? Like its fine that they are, its their prerogative, but should be really admonish the man for calling a spade a spade?

    March 8, 2011 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  21. Usarnaem

    Many protesters at tea party rallies do have racist overtones, and the movement as a whole is pretty scary due to its anti-intellectualism and that the movement itself seems to be an effort by the GOP higher-ups to keep their base from turning against them.

    I'd say the execs comments are not too far off the mark, and are his personal opinions. Once again, the nutter behind the camera attempts to make controversy out of nothing to further his own radical right-wing agenda.

    March 8, 2011 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  22. Scott

    NPR is a leftist, hate spewing, bigoted organisation. Should taxpayer funds be given to them? I think not.

    March 8, 2011 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  23. Clwyd

    I watched the 11 minute clip and have to say I enjoyed every minute of the truth!

    March 8, 2011 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  24. leanderjim

    So, all that O'Keef has managed to uncover are some individual opinions........no wrong doing whatsoever, and he has committed crimes in doing this undercover work. And, this is a good thing? Just shows from what these "investigators" are really up to.

    March 8, 2011 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  25. vic nashville tn

    “Conservative activist and filmmaker James O'Keefe”
    Shame on you CNN he is not real conservative he just like Glen Beck In the name conservative they are trying to get publicity

    Ron Schiller's told the facts some irrational politician injected those view in tea party

    Tea party movement hijacked by some republicans to hijack the Republican Party

    March 8, 2011 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
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