Conservative activist James O’Keefe released his group’s latest video sting Tuesday, which shows a fundraising executive for NPR describing the Tea Party as a “scary” and “seriously racist” movement that has “hijacked” the Republican Party.
The news deals the radio network a sharp blow as it struggles to recover from the controversy, fueled largely by outcry on the right, over its firing of Juan Williams last year. And it won’t help NPR and its fellow public broadcasters as they fight against a Republican push to cut off their federal funding—especially since the executive says that NPR doesn’t need the government’s money to survive.
The video captures Ron Schiller, NPR’s senior vice president for development, making the disparaging remarks about the conservative grassroots movement during a Feb. 22 lunch meeting with two O’Keefe associates, Shaughn Adeleye and Simon Templar, who were pretending to be Muslim donors sympathetic to the broadcaster.
Prompted by one of the undercover activists, Schiller argued that the Tea Party is “not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic.” He said, “I mean it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”
Perhaps more damaging, Schiller, who was accompanied to the meeting by a second NPR fundraiser, also allowed that the organization might be better off without taxpayer dollars. “Our job would be a lot easier if people weren’t confused,” Schiller said. “Because we get federal funding, a lot of Americans, a lot of philanthropists, actually think we get most of our money from the federal government, even though NPR, as you know, gets 1 percent and the station economy as a whole gets 10 percent.”
NPR moved quickly to distance itself from Schiller and his comments, but also took aim at O’Keefe’s collaborators, who presented themselves as part of a group with ties to the radical Muslim Brotherhood.
“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,” NPR spokesperson Dana Davis Rehm said in a statement posted on the broadcaster’s Web site. “We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for. Mr. Schiller announced last week that he is leaving NPR for another job.”
NPR contends Schiller’s decision to go work at the Aspen Institute—first reported Monday—was unrelated to Tuesday’s tape, which it says came as a surprise to Schiller.
O’Keefe, a self-styled journalist, has come under fire for his work. An earlier series of sting videos, which got him his first real national attention and ultimately led to the disintegration of the community-organizing group Acorn, was criticized for being heavily edited. O’Keefe and several of his associates were then arrested during an attempted sting operation at the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.; they later pled guilty to a federal charge. Then, some of O’Keefe’s conservative allies distanced themselves from him after the failure of an elaborate plan to seduce and embarrass CNN reporter Abbie Boudreau, which flopped when one of O’Keefe’s collaborators on the project tipped off Boudreau.
UPDATE: Schiller has been placed on “administrative leave,” NPR announced Tuesday evening. “The comments contained in the video released today are contrary to everything we stand for, and we completely disavow the views expressed,” Rehm said in a second statement. “The assertion that NPR and public radio stations would be better off without federal funding does not reflect reality. The elimination of federal funding would significantly damage public broadcasting as a whole.”
Schiller’s already planned departure “was made effective immediately” Tuesday, NPR’s David Folkenflik reported shortly before the official announcement.