‘War on Big Bird’ comes home to roost in Aspen with NPR video sting scandal

Now the National Public Radio funding controversy that began last fall with commentator Juan Williams getting the axe for admitting his fear of Muslims has a Colorado connection beyond just the relentless de-funding efforts of Republican Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn.

According to the website Real Aspen, the Aspen Institute’s newly named arts program director, Ronald Schiller — an Aspen resident who’s leaving his gig as president of the NPR Foundation — was caught in a sting by right-wing video prankster James O’Keefe.

O’Keefe reportedly staged a lunch meeting between Schiller and NPR’s senior director of institutional giving, Betsy Liley, and a fictional group calling itself the Muslim Education Action Center Trust. The group claimed to offer $5 million to NPR, and a hidden-camera depiction of the meeting went viral this morning.

In the video, Schiller denies there’s a Zionist influence at NPR but says “it’s there in those who own newspapers obviously,” and he laughs along with Liley when one of the fictional funders jokes that NPR’s reporting on the Middle East has earned the nickname “National Palestinian Radio.” Schiller also tells the men that “the current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian.”

Schiller also says NPR would be “better off” without the federal funding Lamborn and others in the GOP hope to take away this session.

“Republicans play off the belief among the general population that most of our funding comes from the government,” Schiller said on the video. “Very little of our funding comes from the government, but they act as if all our funding comes from the government. It is very clear that in the long run we would be better off without federal funding.”

NPR today denounced Schiller’s comments:

“The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept,” NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm said in a prepared statement. “We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for. Mr. Schiller announced last week that he is leaving NPR for another job.”

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