In Friday's Washington Examiner, columnist Byron York plucked something off the Ron Schiller tapes that few have noticed: Schiller said NPR held a dinner party to discover whether conservatives actually believed the somehow amazing notion that NPR has a liberal tilt:
NPR decided to do a little field research. "I asked one of my very conservative friends who lives in Washington if they would give a dinner of very conservative people in government," Schiller said at the Feb. 22 lunch secretly recorded by conservative activist James O'Keefe. "The purpose of the dinner was to ask them if they really believed that NPR had a liberal bias or not. Is this just something that conservatives say to each other, or is this in fact true?"
The dinner was arranged, and 10 conservatives attended, along with Ron Schiller and NPR head Vivian Schiller. (The two are not related.) The results of the evening, Ron Schiller said, were "very amusing."
"We began with everyone around the table taking this point of view that of course NPR is liberal, or perceived as liberal ... and that there is a reason for that perception," Schiller recounted. "And then, about half an hour into the dinner, one of the people said, 'Well, of course I listen to NPR every day because it's the only place I can get intelligent reporting. But it's still liberal.' And then the next person said, 'Well, of course I listen to it every day.' By the time we finished the dinner, every person around the room admitted that they listened to it every day."
York could not confirm any conservatives who actually attended this alleged dinner party for fans of "intelligent reporting." He added:
The lesson the NPR executives took from the dinner seems to be that because some Republicans listen to NPR -- and they do -- then they should support federal funding for the network. "It's politically advantageous to attack NPR and to paint it as liberal, even if in fact [you] listen to it and don't really think that it's all that liberal," Schiller said on the video.
Some conservatives (like me) listen to NPR almost every day knowing full well it's liberal, backwards and forwards. Listening to it a lot only underlines it. But that doesn't mean you like it. After all, some liberals listen to Rush Limbaugh every day. York then talked to Rep. Doug Lamborn, who wants to defund NPR but isn't at all interested in the question of biased content:
Rep. Doug Lamborn, a conservative Republican from Colorado, is leading the fight in the House to defund NPR. I asked whether Lamborn had been invited to the Schiller dinner. "No," he laughed. (He hadn't known about it until I told him.) But he was struck by the notion that anyone who listens to NPR must also support federal subsidies for NPR.
"It's not an issue of whether they have quality programming or whether they have an ideological bias," Lamborn says. "Those are valid questions, but the issue is whether we can afford something that's no longer essential." Lamborn has no desire to see NPR disappear; he believes it can thrive on its corporate, foundation, and private support, without federal dollars.
There's no doubt NPR can survive without federal dollars. But if defunding happened, it would just be another powerful liberal network, like ABC, or CBS. There's no cheering for that. Conservatives wouldn't like the programming any better -- although they'd be happy not to be involuntary contributors.