'War on Big Bird' comes home to roost in Aspen

By David O. Williams
Real AspenMarch 10, 2011

A scandal that started with an Aspen resident's inflammatory remarks covertly caught on tape already has one congressman from Colorado dancing on Big Bird's grave.

Doug Lamborn

“This latest development in what appears to be an internal meltdown at National Public Radio only strengthens my resolve to eliminate all federal funding for NPR and its parent organization, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,” U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R- Colo.) said in a prepared statement Wednesday, reacting to the resignations of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller and the radio giant's chief fundraiser Ron Schiller.

The Schillers called it quits after a video produced by conservative activist James O’Keefe went viral on Tuesday. A setup staged by two men purporting to be from a Muslim group looking to donate $5 million to NPR, the O’Keefe video showed Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian) slamming the Tea Party movement, agreeing that Jews influence the nation’s newspapers and admitting NPR would probably be better off without federal funding.

NPR has called the comments appalling, and Vivian Schiller – already feeling the FOX News heat from the firing last fall of commentator Juan Williams for admitting he’s afraid of Muslims on airplanes – stepped down early Wednesday. Ron Schiller, an Aspen resident since 2006, had already previously announced he was stepping down from NPR to become just the second arts director in the history of the esteemed Aspen Institute. But after the video scandal broke, Schiller accelerated his exit from NPR two months ahead of schedule. Then yesterday, Ron Schiller backed out of the job he had signed on for at the Aspen Institute.

Last month, Lamborn introduced legislation that would de-fund the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, which helps fund NPR, PBS (home to "Sesame Street") and their affiliates. He unsuccessfully carried a similar bill last year.

Big Bird

“I have been seeking to push Big Bird out of the nest for over a year, based on the simple fact that we can no longer afford to spend taxpayer dollars on non-essential government programs,” Lamborn said this week. “It’s time for Big Bird to earn his wings and learn to fly on his own.”

But pulling all funding would likely be a shotgun blast to the large, flightless Sesame Street character, since even Ron Schiller admitted on the video that “we’d have a lot of stations go dark.”

“NPR does not need taxpayer dollars,” Lamborn said. “If they, themselves, admit that they’d be better off without federal funding, there’s no need for further debate. Remove NPR from the federal budget and be done with it.”

That’s not going to happen, according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

“We do not support calls to eliminate funding for National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as is evidenced by our budget," Carney said. "In an era where tough choices have to be made, including the ones this president laid out in his proposed 2012 budget, there remains a need to support public broadcasting and NPR.”

Federal funding for public broadcasting remains in the White House budget proposal to the tune of $450 million.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting helps fund Aspen Public Radio and KDNK Community Radio in Carbondale.


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