US public broadcasting chief Vivian Schiller quits after sting catches Tea Party gibe

The future of public broadcasting in the United States, already hazy because of pressure from conservative Republicans for deep cuts in its funding, looked even more precarious last night after National Public Radio's (NPR) chief executive took the fall for one of her senior subordinates saying on a video recording that Tea Party members are "racist".

Vivian Schiller, who had headed NPR for two years, resigned just hours after the details of what had been said by her top fundraiser, Ron Schiller (no relation to her), surfaced in other news outlets. Media reports showed him suggesting that the network might be better off without any government funding.

It was a shocking development also due to the unusual circumstances of Mr Schiller's gaffe, which was made during a meeting with alleged Muslim philanthropists interested in giving money to the network. In fact, it was an elaborate sting, captured by a hidden video camera, orchestrated by James O'Keefe, a notorious conservative agitator.

The video shows Mr Schilller's interlocutors, whom he met for lunch in a Washington café, purporting to have an interest in supporting NPR with a donation of $5m (£3m) to help it counter the allegedly unfair "Zionist coverage" provided by other large US news outlets. If they meant to provoke Mr Schiller, they certainly succeeded. Most damaging was an exchange that begins with one of Mr Schiller's lunch partners asking about "the radical, racist, Islamophobic, tea-party people". Mr Schiller responded quickly: "And not just Islamophobic but really xenophobic... I mean, basically, they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America, gun-toting – I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist people."

Like any public broadcasting organisation that takes taxpayer money – scholars of the BBC will surely concur – NPR must expend a great deal of energy managing its sometimes testy relations with government and politicians. Last year, Ms Schiller was blasted over the firing by the network of one of its hosts, Juan Williams, for comments he made while on Fox News about feeling personally uncomfortable flying on a plane with Muslims.

Above all, NPR finds itself forced perennially to push back against claims on the conservative right, not entirely unfounded, that it has a liberal bias in its handling and reporting of the news.

Thus the characterisations of the Tea Party movement by its own fundraiser were not helpful. Though Mr Schiller had already announced plans to leave the network, his departure was made effective immediately.

It was with similar swiftness that Ms Schiller resigned her post, apparently after prodding from NPR's board of directors.

The dismay of the board will have been all the deeper because of the delicate situation in which NPR found itself on Capitol Hill even before this latest scandal. Large numbers of conservative Republicans – many in Washington courtesy of Tea Party support – have already been clamouring for an end to all subsidies for the radio network as part of the broader push to attack the country's budget deficit. Much of that funding goes first to member stations around the country, which then pay fees to NPR to air its programmes.

"I obviously had no prior knowledge" of the executive's Tea Party remarks, "and nothing to do with them, and disavowed them as soon as I learned of them all. But I'm the CEO, and the buck stops here," Ms Schiller said after announcing her resignation.

She added: "I'm hopeful that my departure from NPR will have the intended effect of easing the defunding pressure on public broadcasting."

Mr O'Keefe became a hero to the conservative right in 2008 when he pulled a similar hidden-camera stunt that damaged Acorn, a community organising group that was at the time central to the get-out-the-vote efforts of then-candidate Barack Obama's campaign for president.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss