Punishment for NPR
March 18, 2011, 5:00am

New York Times Editorial.

Here is the latest example of House Republicans pursuing a longstanding ideological goal in the false name of fiscal prudence: On Thursday, they have scheduled a vote to kill federal support for National Public Radio.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Doug Lamborn, a three-term Republican from Colorado, would block all taxpayer dollars that NPR might receive, starting with any of the money given to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Local stations could not buy programming from NPR — such as “Morning Edition” or “All Things Considered” — or any other source using the $22 million or so that they get from the Treasury for that purpose. It would not actually save any federal money; it would simply make sure that none of those dollars go to NPR.

“I wish only the best for NPR,” said Mr. Lamborn, unpersuasively. He said he simply wants NPR to survive “without the crutch of government subsidies.”

This is not a serious bill. Unattached to a budget measure, it will never survive the Senate or a presidential veto. It is designed simply to send a punitive message to a news organization that conservatives have long considered a liberal bastion. The politicized criticism amped up last week when a fund-raiser for the organization was secretly recorded calling the Tea Party a racist organization and criticizing Republicans.

NPR has had its share of management snafus, including the clumsy firing last fall of Juan Williams, a commentator who made ill-advised remarks about Muslims. Last week, its chief executive, Vivian Schiller, was forced to resign after the recording incident. But it remains a vital news organization for millions of Americans who can no longer find in-depth reporting on the airwaves. A recent study found that NPR was the only broadcast news outlet with a growing audience last year.

Even conservatives — an “awful lot of them” — listen to NPR, said Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican of Georgia, in a recent interview. He said it would be unwise to eliminate their federal funds.

NPR gets only about 2 percent of its budget directly from the federal government, though other taxpayer dollars flow in through Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants and dues and payments from member stations. Cutting off that flow would have no effect on the deficit, but it would allow certain House members to pretend for the folks back home that they struck a blow for liberty. The folks back home may hear about that vote on NPR, and they may not be pleased.