October 23, 2010


Amid anger, regret over Williams's firing, NPR staffers fear financial backlash (Paul Farhi, 10/23/10, Washington Post)

While NPR receives only about 2 percent of its $154 million annual budget from federal sources, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Endowment for the Arts, its 800-plus member stations are much more reliant on tax subsidies. Some smaller stations receive as much as a third of their operating revenue from federal sources.

The firing drew thousands of e-mails and phone calls to NPR's downtown Washington headquarters, the majority of them expressing outrage. The deluge crashed the "Contact Us" form on NPR's Web site by Thursday afternoon, according to NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard.

"They want NPR to hire him back immediately," Shepard wrote on NPR's site. "If NPR doesn't, they want all public funding of public radio to stop. They promise to never donate again. . . . It was daunting to answer the phone and hear so much unrestrained anger."

Especially with the demise of for-profit news organizations, public media is invaluable to the public. But, as with religion, an institution dependent on government largesse risks being a tool of that government and the parties temporarily charged with running it. NPR and its state affiliates should be given a massive payment to set up a permanent trust and they should be encouraged to run more advertising, in order to pay for themselves, but they should also retain their uniquely public nature.

Meanwhile, Ms Shepard provided what was certainly the high comedic point of this whole kerfuffle when she fretted: "I fear some will look for racial motivations in NPR's decision to fire Williams, who is African-American and one of the few black male NPR voices."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 23, 2010 6:50 AM
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