NPR’s top fundraiser caught in right-wing video sting

V.P. had announced departure for a new job five days before release of video

(See updated story published March 21)

Ron Schiller, the NPR Foundation president who recently accepted a new job with the Aspen Institute, was caught in a covertly recorded video describing Tea Party members as “racist, racist people,” and saying that NPR would be “better off, in the long run without federal funding.”

The video, released today, the day after NPR President Vivian Schiller presented her case for continued federal funding at a National Press Club luncheon, was produced by James O’Keefe, 26, the conservative sting artist known for his 2009 undercover expose of ACORN, an activist group that advocated policies benefiting low-income people.

O’Keefe is president of Project Veritas, which is “dedicated to training video muckrakers nationwide,” according to its website, theprojectveritas.org.

Ron Schiller and Vivian Schiller are not related, NPR has pointed out.

The new video shows Ron Schiller and fellow NPR fundraiser Betsy Liley chatting during a restaurant meal Feb. 22 with two men posing as members of the Muslim Education Action Center. The men, who give their names as Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik, say their center was founded by American members of the Muslim Brotherhood and that they had set aside a $5 million donation for NPR, partly in response to congressional Republicans’ threats to defund public media.

As Schiller describes the Tea Party movement and its influence on the Republican Party, Amir chimes in to criticize it as “radical, racist, Islamophobic.” Schiller nods and adds: “It’s not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic. Basically, they believe in white, middle America, gun-toting — it's pretty scary. They're seriously racist, racist people.”

The fundraiser also says in the video that NPR and most of its member stations would survive the loss of federal funding, and that he was proud of the decision by NPR News managers to fire former news analyst Juan Williams last October. “What NPR stood for is a non-racist, non-bigoted, straightforward telling of the news,” Schiller said, referring to the Williams dismissal.

NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik reported this afternoon that Ron Schiller was placed on administrative leave today. He moves to the new job as of April 1.

In a statement, NPR said it refused to accept money from the phony donors and it distanced itself from Schiller.

"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. 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."

NPR also denied any connection between Schiller’s departure and the video. “[W]e weren’t aware there was a video until this morning,” said Dana Davis Rehm, NPR’s chief spokeswoman, on March 8. Ron Schiller “was in discussion with his new employer when the video was produced,” she said. “He did not know he was being filmed. We did not know he was being filmed.”

The new job with the Aspen Institute is located in Aspen, Colo., where Ron Schiller has a home. He has been commuting to the NPR job in Washington, D.C., NPR reported this evening.

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