Mar 11, 2011

NPR funding on House schedule for March 17

"Consideration of legislation relating to the federal funding of NPR" will occur in the House of Representatives on Thursday, March 17, according to the new weekly schedule posted by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). The schedule notes that the timing complies with the House’s new three-day notice requirement. The 112th Congress established a minimum three-day scheduling notice to give members and the public time to review bills.

The schedule does not specify what bill is under discussion, but several are pending to zero out public broadcasting money. H.R. 69, sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), targets federal funding specifically for NPR programming.

Bipartisan support waning, pubcasters fret

Jennifer Ferro, general manager of KCRW-FM in Santa Monica, Calif., was among pubcasters who spent time on Capitol Hill this week urging members of Congress to preserve funding, reports the Los Angeles Times. But it's a tough challenge without bipartisan backing. "The Democratic lawmakers I talked to said, 'We can't help. There's nothing happening across the aisle,'" Ferro told the paper. Steve Bass, president of Oregon Public Broadcasting and a member of the NPR board of directors, said he's worried that the bipartisan support the system historically enjoyed has been eroded by former NPR exec Ron Schiller's comments in the video sting.

APT elevates Hamilton and Buxton

American Public Television announced that has promoted two staff members, Virginia Hamilton and Hilary Finkel Buxton. Hamilton, previously senior manager of APT’s distribution services, now becomes director of that department. She came to APT from WGBH's production services and audience services, and she is a current member of the PBS Traffic Advisory Council. Buxton, senior manager in APT’s Exchange Service, has been promoted to director. Prior to her arrival at APT, Buxton also worked in production at WGBH.

WVIA promotes Currá

Tom Currá is the new second in command at WVIA in Pittston, Pa., the northeastern Pennsylvania and Central Susquehanna Valley PBS and NPR station. The move will allow WVIA President Bill Kelly to concentrate his efforts in national advocacy and a WVIA endowment, according to a station statement. Currá came to WVIA in 2004 after a career in commercial television and as an independent filmmaker. His previous title was senior vice president and executive producer.

Moyers weighs in on NPR uproar, accuses conservatives of double standard

"Let’s take a breath and put this NPR fracas into perspective," advises pubcasting newsman Bill Moyers in Salon, writing with his Public Affairs Television colleague Michael Winship. The two say that NPR walked into a trap "perpetrated by one of the sleaziest operatives ever to climb out of a sewer," activist filmmaker James O'Keefe, who caught NPR's Ron Schiller in a hidden camera sting. The two call O'Keefe "a product of that grimy underworld of ideologically-based harassment which feeds the right's slime machine." They point out that in the wake of the Juan Williams firing, Fox News chief Roger Ailes called NPR execs "Nazis" — and then, while apologizing for that remark, characterized them instead as "nasty, inflexible bigots."

"Double standard? You bet," the column says. "A fundraiser for NPR is axed for his own personal bias and unprofessionalism but Ailes gets away scot free, still running a news division that is constantly pumping arsenic into democracy's drinking water while he slanders public radio as equal to the monsters and murderers of the Third Reich."

Next NPR head needs balance between broadcast, multimedia, station execs say

Executives at several NPR member stations tell the Poynter Institute's Mallary Jean Tenore they want NPR's next c.e.o. to appreciate for the digital initiatives that Vivian Schiller helped create, but they don't want to see NPR abandon its broadcast culture to make the organization a “multimedia company.” Commenting are John Weatherford, chief operating officer of Public Broadcasting Atlanta; Sam Fleming, managing director of news and programming at WBUR; and Torey Malatia, c.e.o. of Chicago Public Media.

O'Keefe sting, part 2: Attempt to hide $5 mil gift blocked by Slocum, Schiller

In the second part of the right-wing undercover sting of NPR, released Thursday (March 10), a senior fundraiser told one of the men posing as a wealthy Muslim donor that she would explore whether NPR could shield his organization's gift from government auditors.

The phony donor recorded phone conversations with Betsy Liley, senior director of institutional giving, in which he inquired whether his organization's planned $5 million gift to NPR would be subject to a government audit, given that NPR receives federal funding.

NPR released e-mails from its top executives to document that ultimately the fake philanthropist didn't pass scrutiny. Joyce Slocum, NPR general counsel who was appointed interim c.e.o. after Vivian Schiller's resignation on Wednesday, wrote on March 4 to the donor posing as Ibrahim Halem Kassam, and told him to produce tax documentation of his nonprofit trust, the Muslim Education Action Center.

In the audiotape of Liley, released as excerpted and full-length versions yesterday, the donor says, "It sounded like you were saying that NPR would be able to shield us from a government audit — is that correct?"

Liley answers, "I think that is the case, especially if you were anonymous, and I can inquire about that."

In Liley's follow-up e-mail to the donor, which was released as a screen shot accompanying the audio, Liley writes that NPR can accept a gift from the Muslim Education Action Center without disclosing the organization's name.

Liley's statements about accepting an anonymous gift to protect a donor from scrutiny is "inaccurate and not reflective of NPR's gift practices," said Dana Davis Rehm, NPR spokeswoman. "All donations -- anonymous and named -- are fully reported to the IRS. NPR complies with all financial, tax and disclosure regulations."

MEAC is a fake organization that was created by conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe for the purposes of drawing NPR and PBS executives into secretly recorded conversations. Kassam is the phony identity of one of two men who posed as representatives of MEAC's deep-pocketed trust and staged a lunch meeting with Liley and her boss, Ron Schiller, that was recorded by hidden video cameras.

Ron Schiller, who described the Tea Party as racist and the Republican Party as "anti-intellectual" in the sting video that was released on Tuesday, resigned from NPR. Liley, who was a fundraiser for Purdue University before joining NPR nine months ago, has been placed on leave.

Ousted NPR President Vivian Schiller, who talked with Kassam by telephone and reported to her staff about the conversation in a March 3 e-mail, pressed him to produce IRS 990 forms for his foundation.

"He had questions...which I said I simply don't have the expertise to answer but that one of our lawyers would," Schiller wrote. "He repeated again that they want to deliver the check. I said that's very generous but we have to sort out these issues first....He seemed a bit worried that there was some subtext to our hesitation."

Slocum wrote to Kassam on March 4 and asked him for an IRS letter certifying the trust's tax-exempt status and annual Form 990 tax filings. "[W]e need to verify certain information with respect to any organization that proposes to make a significant gift to NPR."