NPR exec won’t take Aspen Institute post |

NPR exec won’t take Aspen Institute post

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Ron Schiller

Ron Schiller, the Aspen resident and National Public Radio fundraising executive who was caught on a surreptitious video bashing the Tea Party movement and suggesting public radio would be better off without federal dollars, on Wednesday resigned from what was to be his new post with the Aspen Institute.

Schiller had already resigned as president of the NPR Foundation and senior vice president of development, effective May 6, in order to take the Aspen Institute post. He made his NPR resignation effective Tuesday when controversy erupted over comments he made in made in the undercover video. Conservatives called the video proof that the network is biased and undeserving of federal funds.

On Wednesday, NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller (the two are unrelated), also resigned over the flap, and Ron Schiller announced he would forego his position at the Aspen Institute.

“Ron Schiller has informed us that, in light of the controversy surrounding his recent statements, he does not feel that it’s in the best interests of the Aspen Institute for him to come work here,” said a brief announcement from James Spiegelman, vice president of communications and public affairs at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C.

The Aspen office of the think tank was referring inquiries about Schiller to Spiegelman, who did not return calls from The Aspen Times.

“He was graceful to step aside,” Spiegelman told The Associated Press. “It was his decision.”

Schiller had been named the new director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program and Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence Program, beginning April 1. He was to be based out of the institute’s Aspen offices.

Schiller has been a part-time and then full-time resident of Aspen since 2006, when his partner, Alan Fletcher, was named president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival and School.

“Ron Schiller embraces and lives the values that we share as a community,” said Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson in a press release when the appointment was announced. “I am very pleased that he has agreed to join us to help us build a strong and vibrant arts program, the kind of program that we believe is central to the Institute’s origins and to its mission.”

Schiller could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but on Tuesday, NPR issued a brief statement from the departing executive: “While the meeting I participated in turned out to be a ruse, I made statements during the course of the meeting that are counter to NPR’s values and also not reflective of my own beliefs. I offer my sincere apology to those I offended.”

Locally, an executive at one public radio station in Schiller’s backyard – KDNK Community Radio in Carbondale – was wondering how backlash to Schiller’s comments might impact the station’s budget.

NPR was already in the midst of a fight on Capitol Hill, where some Republicans want to strip it of all federal support. Congress does not appropriate money specifically for the organization, but rather sends money to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Schiller’s statement on federal funds is at odds with NPR’s official position on the matter.

In the video, Schiller notes that federal dollars account for 10 percent of the funding for NPR member stations, but at KDNK, that money makes up a third of the budget, said station manager Steve Skinner.

“NPR may feel like they’re better off without that funding, but to a small, rural station, it’s very important,” he said, suggesting Schiller is out-of-touch with the needs of the local community.

Andrew Todd, executive director at Aspen Public Radio, is watching the Congressional deliberations closely. Federal funding has been an important part of the equation for the Aspen station – amounting to roughly 17 percent of its budget in its last fiscal year. Stations that receive the Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants must spend 30 percent of the dollars on federal programming such as NPR, he noted.

But without it, local content would suffer, Todd said.

“If federal funding were to disappear … my concern is stations would eliminate that which is most expensive, and that is quality local programming,” he said.

In the video, Schiller suggested NPR would be better off in the long run if it did not depend on government funding, but concedes: “The challenge right now is that if we lost it altogether, we would have a lot of stations go dark.”

Schiller’s remarks came at a Washington, D.C., cafe, where he and another NPR executive met for a lunch with two men posing as members of the Muslim Action Education Center, a fictitious organization the men claimed had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood of America. They indicated their organization was interested in giving $5 million to publicly-run media.

The video, posted to the Internet, was recorded in a “sting” set up by conservative activist James O’Keefe.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Schiller calls the conservative Tea Party a “weird evangelical movement” that is “fanatically involved in people’s lives” and refers to it as “xenophobic” and “racist.”

The Muslim posers decry Jewish control of the media, but Schiller’ responds that he doesn’t find that to be the case at NPR, adding “it’s there in those who own newspapers, obviously, but no one owns NPR.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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