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October 26, 2010

Juan Williams' firing clarifies NPR's federal funds

Reporting of National Public Radio’s controversial firing of news analyst Juan Williams often missed a key point about NPR’s funding. But not that by Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi.

NPR executives frequently say that the network receives no more than two percent of its now $154 million annual budget directly from Uncle Sam. News media often echo the claim without scrutiny.

But as Farhi reported (“Juan Williams at odds with NPR over dismissal; Former commentator says comments on Fox News were taken out of context,” October 22), “the federal government provides roughly 15 percent of the revenue of public radio and TV stations, although less than 2 percent of NPR’s annual budget is directly subsidized by tax monies. The rest comes from corporate grants and programming fees from hundreds of NPR members stations. These stations, in turn, receive direct financial support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) [emphasis added], the entity set up by Congress in 1967 to pass federal funds to stations.”

Stations affiliated with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the television network, and with NPR also have received tens of millions of dollars from CPB in recent years for non-annual operating costs, including infrastructure conversion from analog to digital transmission.

Hence NPR and PBS executives’ regular appearances before congressional appropriations committees. NPR’s two-percent direct federal funding mantra, while true as a budget line item, misleads when invoked or reported without context about the network’s overall dependence on tax revenue provided by Congress.

Williams was fired after commenting on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor” that “when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.” He also criticized stereotyping by religion and distinguished between “good Muslims” and “extremists.” Nevertheless, NPR – which said it had objected to previous Williams’ comments on Fox, for which he also worked, as violating its own guidelines for opinion and speculation – dismissed him on October 21. Fox quickly hired Williams full-time.

Posted by ER at October 26, 2010 12:53 PM

Comments

I think all the talk about how much they receive in federal funds is merely a way of distracting everyone from the real issue, which is their non-profit tax status. Not only does NPR (and CPB and PBS) need to lose federal funding, but, they also need to be paying taxes as any other media outfit would need to.

Posted by: quiznilo at October 26, 2010 02:01 PM

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