The House voted today to bar federal funding of National Public Radio and prohibit local public stations from using federal dollars to pay NPR dues. The GOP sponsored bill passed 236-181, almost exactly along party lines.
The reasoning behind the measure, sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., has been a rallying point among Republicans for decades. GOP lawmakers contend NPR does not need federal help and say the issue has to do with fiscal discipline, not ideological reasons.
The move comes after so-called "conservative activist" James O'Keefe secretly taped NPR executive Ron Schiller criticizing tea party members, calling them "seriously racist." Schiller was also recorded saying NPR would be better off without federal funds.
Soon after the incident, both NPR's Schiller and NPR's president Vivian Schiller (no relation) resigned.
But critics, including U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, say O'Keefe's video was "deceptively edited."
In a letter circulated to House members this week against the GOP bill, Rep. Blumenauer wrote, "Every month, more than 170 million Americans tune in to public broadcasting for information about their communities, and recent polling shows that Americans consider federal investment in public broadcasting to be second only to money for our troops as the best use of taxpayer dollars."
O'Keefe's group, Project Veritas, is tied to a series of sting operations that has secretly recorded people representing non-profit and community groups. O'Keefe's then uses the footage as a way to tarnish the group's leadership and its mission with the aim to disgrace and defund the organization. One attempt by O'keefe was a highly publicized secret recording of community activists belonging to ACORN who were presented as "assisting" a man and woman pretending to be a pimp and a prostitute.
O'Keefe's tactics and others like them highlight a pattern of far-right extremist scams used against community organizations like ACORN and Planned Parenthood, as well as notable civil rights leaders like Shirley Sherrod.
After O'Keefe's NPR video hit the airwaves, GOP antagonism towards NPR, which they accuse of providing "liberal and biased news," escalated, resulting in the newest wave of legislative attacks against the funding of public media.
On Tuesday, the Republican majority in the House voted to cut $50 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, NPR's parent company, as part of a three-week stoppage bill for fiscal year 2011. And last month, the House voted to end all funding for the corporation for FY 2013, as part of a spending bill to fund government through Oct. 1. That measure failed in the Senate.
Republicans that sponsored Thursday's vote in the House say the effort is due to a $1.65 trillion deficit projected for FY 2011. But Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said the bill was a nothing but a "political stunt" that would put "rural communities at a major disadvantage in the information age."
Thursday's vote was rushed to the House floor and GOP leadership eliminated any possibility of amendments, leaving no debate, only a straight up-or-down yes or no vote.
House Democrats called the move dangerous and said it was purely an ideological battle that will ultimately leave a chilling impact on news organizations down the road. Although the bill passed in the House, Democrats have a majority in the Senate where there is little chance it will ever get to a vote, let alone pass.
Also earlier this week, 1.2 million petition signatures were delivered to House leaders demanding that public media continue to be funded. Activists say defunding public media on television is a national emergency.
In a joint statement, several public television stations and public media outlets, including The Newspaper Guild, said, "Money for public media supports jobs and diverse voices so that people can get educational, cultural and news programming on their radios and television." The statement continued, "Forty-three million Americans in 16 million households don't have cable or dish access to 500 channels or television. For those people, public media is their access to educational programming for their children. The programming on PBS stations is their access to news beyond their local commercial TV stations."
Of the 21,000 jobs related to producing public media, 90 percent are beyond the beltway, in smaller markets already hit hard by funding cuts from state and educational institutions, says the statement. "Federal funds are the life blood of stations, from deepest Appalachia to rural Alaska and defunding will mean jobs lost and voices silenced."
NPR provides content to 900 independent stations, reaching 27.2 million people every week.