A videotape of a former NPR fundraising executive making disparaging remarks about Tea Party activists is causing a predictable outcry in Washington, where Republican leaders say it confirms their long-held contention that the public radio network displays a left-wing bias.
But a more unexpected detail may be getting lost in the controversy: On the tape, former senior vice president for fundraising Ron Schiller also said the network would be "better off without federal funding."
The Globe editorial page argued as much last month, saying that NPR would be a in a better position to defend its editorial independence if it no longer had to worry about Congressional meddling. The federal funding may help the bottom line, but it also ensures NPR will continually find itself in the political crosshairs — as it has been since Republicans took control of the House.
Already, in fact, the public radio tag is a bit of misnomer, since NPR receives only a minuscule amount of federal money. Most public broadcasting expenditures instead go to member stations — which, in turn, send some of it back to NPR in the form of station fees. In all, taxpayer money accounts for less than 10 percent of NPR's budget.
The network's official position is that the money is needed to sustain smaller stations. But in an unguarded moment, even a part of NPR's own leadership seemed to acknowledge that government funding may no longer be worth the strings attached.