Fox News host Bill O'Reilly continued to publicize the conservative crusade to defund NPR over the partly publicly funded radio network's controversial decision to fire Juan Williams for remarks made earlier in the week on "The O'Reilly Factor." NPR dismissed Williams, a longtime commentator who has written widely on civil rights issues, for confessing his personal skittishness over seeing fellow air travelers dressed in Muslim garb, on O'Reilly's show.
"No taxpayer dollars should be going to an outfit that abuses freedom of speech," O'Reilly said. The top-rated cable news host echoed the rising refrain among many conservative critics of the Williams firing: "No more money to NPR." You can watch O'Reilly interview Williams below:
On Friday morning, Williams himself joined the call to defund NPR during an appearance on "Fox & Friends," in which he called the network "elitist" and described it as being on the "federal dole."
O'Reilly and Williams -- who are of course the people at the center of the flap -- aren't the only ones making that argument. Over the past 24 hours, conservative commentators and politicians/Fox contributors Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee took to the airwaves and social media arguing a similar point.
"If NPR is unable to tolerate an honest debate about an issue as important as Islamic terrorism, then it's time for 'National Public Radio' to become 'National Private Radio,' Palin wrote on Facebook "It's time for Congress to defund this organization."
Huckabee said he'll "no longer accept interview requests from NPR as long as they are going to practice a form of censorship, and since NPR is funded with public funds, it IS a form of censorship."
With all the heated rhetoric against NPR -- a longtime conservative target -- there's probably some confusion about how much money NPR, along with members stations across the country, actually receives from state and federal sources.
NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher told the Upshot that "NPR receives no direct federal money in any given year."
Christopher explained that NPR receives about 1 to 2 percent of its funds in the form of competitive federal grants -- a figure similar to the proportion of the budgets for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or the National Endowment for the Arts that come from government grants. That accounts for a roughly $1.5 million to $3 million annually, Christopher said. She also noted that individual NPR member stations receive, on average, about 10 percent of their funding from state and federal sources. (More specific details on NPR's funding are available here.)
So NPR, along with its member stations, may not receive as much as some right-wing commentators let on. But there's still some federal money, and because of that, NPR's critics are likely to keep pushing against the network.
The Williams-NPR controversy has drawn a tremendous amount of attention in media circles — evident on sites like Romenesko and Mediagazer. Critics have laid into Williams' comment and NPR's decision (along with NPR's handling of the entire episode). The Upshot's first report on Williams' firing has so far received about 25,000 comments -- more evidence that the controversy is provoking strong reactions among the public and sparking online debates about bigotry, profiling on airplanes, public funding for media, and the question of whether political correctness has run amok.
If Congress decides to step in with investigations and legislation addressing the episode, such debates will probably continue to gain attention, and grow more heated.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said he plans to introduce legislation Friday to cut off federal funding. Such a move by the tea party favorite could galvanize conservatives -- especially on Fox News and talk radio -- who have long been critical of NPR and its perceived liberal leanings.
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