Barton, Burgess Ask GAO to Investigate NPR Funding

Republican backlash against firing of Juan Williams escalates
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The Republican backlash against NPR for its firing
of commentator Juan Williams escalated Thursday as Texas Republican House
Members Joe Barton and Michael Burgess asked the Government Accountability
Office to review NPR's funding.

In a letter to GAO, they asked for an investigation
into whether NPR is using "federally appropriated funds for the creation
of content as opposed to the technical operation of the network and its
stations."

"We do not mean to suggest that government should
be involved in the editorial decisions of NPR or any other provider of
content," they wrote. "We hold quite the contrary view, which is why
we have consistently opposed re-imposition of the Fairness Doctrine," Barton
and Burgess wrote. "Our concern is that the use of appropriated taxpayer
dollars for the production of content could inappropriately involve the
government in the promulgation of particular viewpoints and the silencing of
others, especially since many taxpayers may not share the editorial views of
NPR."

NPR fired Juan Williams after remarks he made about
Muslims on Fox News' TheO'Reilly Factor, which factored into
Barton and Burgess' decision to call for the investigation.

"While we recognize the prudence of a news
organization setting ethical standards for the behavior of its journalists, we
are deeply concerned that the precipitous action taken to
terminate Williams's contract may reflect a tendency on the part of NPR
management to use its ethics rules to silence employees whose greatest offense
is contravention of the rules of political correctness rather than to preserve
any core ethical or editorial standards," the lawmakers added.

Republicans have historically tried to cut
noncommercial broadcasting funding, citing what they say is a liberal bias. The
issue was most prominent during the tenure of CPB Board Chairman Ken
Tomlinson, who argued that CPB needed to provide more conservative
viewpoints to balance out that perceived bias.

NPR had no immediate comment, saying it would wait
until after a reported House vote today on slashing NPR funding. "We'll have a
response following today's House debate and vote," said Anna Christopher
Bross, senior manager of media relations for NPR.

GOP Whip and incoming House Majority Leader Eric
Cantor (R-Va.) signaled NPR funding would be a topic of conversation, tweeting
earlier Thursday that online voters had tapped that funding as the program they
would most like to cut.

The House vote paving the way for voting for that
cut, which was happening at press time, was not expected to pass and would
be primarily symbolic since it is a lame duck session with Democrats in
control. But it could signal problems for noncom funding in the next Congress,
particularly after the co-chairs of an Obama administration commission on
fiscal responsibility recommended zeroing out noncom funding altogether to
save money.

Barton and Burgess want answers to the following
questions:

"1. How much federally appropriated funding
does NPR receive, directly, from CPB, or from member or independent public
broadcast stations, or from other sources? What percentage of its overall
funding does such funding represent?

2. Are federally appropriated funds made available
to NPR-directly, from CPB, through member or independent stations, or from
other sources-segregated in any way from NPR's other operating funds, or are
federally-appropriated funds intermingled with the remainder of NPR's operating
budget?  


3. Are any federally appropriated funds made available to
NPR-whether directly, from CPB, through member or independent stations, or from
other sources-used for the production of content or for the salaries of on-air
personalities, copy editors, or other individuals with influence or editorial
control over the content or views expressed on NPR?

4. Both Vivian Schiller and Alicia Shepard
stated that Williams had previously violated NPR's news code of ethics several
times with comments that he made on media networks other than NPR. Please
identify each of the instances mentioned specifically or alluded to by NPR, and
describe the way in which they were handled by NPR, including any investigation
or other outcome that resulted.

5. Were federally appropriated funds expended in
the course of any investigation, internal deliberations, negotiations, drafting
tasks, or disciplinary process carried out pursuant to NPR's April 2008
decision to modify its contractual relationship with Williams? Were attorney's
fees paid with federally appropriated funds? 

6. Were any federally appropriated funds expended in the course of any
internal deliberations, negotiations, or drafting tasks carried out pursuant to
NPR's October 20 decision to terminate its contract with Williams?"

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