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Posted at 2:40 PM ET, 03/ 9/2011

NPR fundraisers ignored unmistakable red flags

By Jonathan Capehart

Before I got into journalism, I worked for two years as the assistant to the president of WNYC, New York's public television and radio stations. That was 1990 to 1992, when they were still owned by the City of New York and its president, Tom Morgan, was appointed by the new mayor, David Dinkins. For about six months, Morgan detailed me to the development department. It was there that I learned the valuable lessons in fundraising basics that seem to have gone totally unheeded, unlearned or simply forgotten by the grown-ups running National Public Radio.

For the life of me, I can't remember the name of the outside consultant who enthusiastically taught us the secrets of donor cultivation. The obituaries were her first read of the morning. The richer, more connected or more famous the deceased, the better. There were estates to be approached for bequests -- but not until after a check of the will.

One afternoon, we took a field trip to the ornate Surrogates Court building across the street from the Municipal Building, where we could look up the wills of some of the Big Apple's most fabulous dead people. We could see how much they were worth, how much they left to whom and to which organizations. The knowledge gleaned there was only one step in a long process of donor cultivation. Anyone can call up and say, "Hey, I've got $5 million I want to give you. Can we have lunch?" But it is incumbent upon the institution to do due diligence.

Twenty years ago, there was no Google. You picked up the phone and you canvassed board members and friends at other institutions to see if the prospective donor is legit. You looked to see what other boards and organizations this potential benefactor is involved with. You scoured news clippings for more clues, especially hints of scandal that would make taking the donation tantamount to an endorsement of the donor's questionable dealings.

Chances are, if neither you nor your friends in well-connected development departments in your city or around the country had ever heard of the $5 million man, you probably shouldn't take the meeting. Unfortunately, all of those lessons -- and numerous Red Flags -- appear to have been completely ignored by Ron Schiller, the now-former president of the NPR Foundation and senior vice president for development for NPR, and Betsy Liley, senior director of institutional giving.

Red Flag No. 1: They accepted a meeting with a Muslim philanthropy called the Muslim Education Action Center. As reaction to tomorrow's hearings by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) on "radical Islam" show, anything connected to Muslims is a lightning rod. Throw in a philanthropy and all hell could break loose with questions about where the money comes from. Did NPR not pay attention to the controversy that engulfed Park 51, the so-called Ground Zero mosque that is really a cultural center in the style of the famed 92nd Street Y in Manhattan? King raised questions about Park 51's funding then, by the way.

Red Flag No. 2: At the lunch, one of the men says MEAC is connected with the Muslim Brotherhood. That should have been Schiller's and Liley's cue to skedaddle. The Muslim Brotherhood has been in the news of late because of fears on Capitol Hill and elsewhere that the radical group would gain power in Egypt during last month's uprising. Combine that with this statement on the MEAC website -- "share our philosophical approach to the spread of Islam and the establishment of Sharia worldwide" -- and the NPR fundraisers should have been out the door.

Red Flad No. 3: They engaged in a conversation about the Tea Party and its impact on the Republican Party and U.S. politics. Any skillful fundraiser should know how to handle this dicey topic without being rude to his host or potentially endangering his institution. But not Schiller.

Red Flag No. 4: The donors provided transportation for them, a stretched limousine. This one is minor in comparison to the others, but nevertheless instructive. Schiller and Liley should have declined the offer of transportation -- in their own city, no less. And a stretched limo? Put aside the high cheesiness factor here. Such wheels for just two people would make me question the financial management of this foundation.

NPR has been under fire for decades from Republicans and conservatives, who would love nothing more than to zero out its budget. With the GOP now back in power in the House, you'd think the folks on McPherson Square would be just a smidge more savvy about doing things that would give Republicans the ammunition needed to sink them.

The firing of Juan Williams in the run-up to the midterm elections was strike one against NPR for Republicans and conservatives. This latest undercover sting operation from James O'Keefe, who took down ACORN in a similar manner, very well might be strikes two and three. The one thing Schiller said that I thought was smart was his assertion that NPR would be better off without federal funding. Thanks to him and Liley, that day might come sooner than NPR wants.

By Jonathan Capehart  | March 9, 2011; 2:40 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Comments

So, Capehart this leads to numerous questions. Is this how they became accustomed to doing business, so really nothing unusual for them? They fired Williams over comments about Muslims, these were Muslims, so are they so idealogically driven they didn't even see the traps? Were they really only saying in the meeting what they've said to everyone and is common belief in their circles, so why would that be a red flag? Or, were they leading on these guys, as has been suggested in another column, just to get their donation. In which case, what does that say about their character and their willingness to lie to get money (even government money)? Any way you look at, they exposed a lot about NPR and demonstrated why tax dollars should not be going there.

Posted by: Marin823 | March 9, 2011 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Jonathan, you are so right. Schiller arrogantly spoke of the "uneducated" and "anti-intellectual" majority of Americans that he apparently despises. The fact that he fell for a semi-pro sting operation raises questions about the wattage installed in his own cranium.

Posted by: rwe123 | March 9, 2011 3:44 PM | Report abuse

So you are basically admitting that NPR is run by a bunch of buffoons. Was there any other point to the article?

Posted by: dnha | March 9, 2011 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Who gives a crap what you think, you gutless sissy Uncle Tom?

Posted by: jos587 | March 9, 2011 3:45 PM | Report abuse

We no longer have the freedom in America to tell the truth about the fascist Tea Party.

I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK!

Posted by: thomasmc1957 | March 9, 2011 3:49 PM | Report abuse

@jos587, So you must be a Liberal?

Posted by: donniewv | March 9, 2011 3:51 PM | Report abuse

@jos587, So you must be a Liberal?

Posted by: donniewv | March 9, 2011 3:53 PM | Report abuse

@jos587, So you must be a Liberal?

Posted by: donniewv | March 9, 2011 3:53 PM | Report abuse

NPR has always had big axes to grind against conservatives. Schiller's recent remarks about America not having enough "educated elite" is probably the single most revealing comment that could have come from NPR's collective mouth. Yes, NPR is arrogant, self-centered, and elitist. They regard conservatives, the religious, and anyone who doesn't embrace European liberalism as an idiot. Okay. Fine. They are entitled to their opinion. And now, their opinions have been made public so they can't milk off the nation's public money and pretend to be impartial.

Posted by: mmagliaro | March 9, 2011 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Sorry about the multiple post, the page malfunctioned!

Posted by: donniewv | March 9, 2011 3:55 PM | Report abuse

definitely. they should have skedaddled the moment they heard they were muslims. i mean, we have religious freedom in this country, but there are limits to that, right?

Posted by: deibichan | March 9, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Shiller offered up entirely too many opinions for someone in public.
These know it alls feel that theirs is the path for all and that nobody else could possibly have an alternate opinion without
somehow being incapacitated by racial bias
or someother catch phrase which they assign to folks with differing opinions.
They are the academics that spend countless resources on misguided programs, meetings and publicly funded individual departments that are geared soley to promote their agendas which do not work in the real world. For them, encouragement is one thing but, intimidation works even better. They spend a tremendous amount of energy daily that would be better focused on the tasks that are other than what their job descriptions are and insist that others join in with them in their causes.
Good luck to you Mr. Shiller but, really, not that much luck

Posted by: bobby_olson | March 9, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

give me a break, NPR knows exactly what it's doing. What it doesn't know is that it can't get away with it anymore. Their cozy little leftist world has been breached and they're just a little too slow in realizing it. After all, the left has held sway for decades so why not assume that it could continue indefinitely?

Posted by: thebink | March 9, 2011 4:16 PM | Report abuse

These liberals "call" themselves intellectuals-- notice they don't claim to be INTELLIGENT! Big Difference!
Intelligent people don't sit on the sidelines and critique for a living ... Intelligent people work real jobs, run businesses, they're managers, problem solvers.
(Show me a so-called "intellectual" who ever solved a problem, though)

Posted by: ohioan | March 9, 2011 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Wait a sec - Red Flag 1.

"They were Muslim."

WTF is this? Are you serious?

Oh, I'm gonna make sure a boatload of Muslims read this gem.

Posted by: yoursfaithfully | March 9, 2011 4:24 PM | Report abuse

ThomasMc1957: We still have our freedom to complain about the Tea Party. The problem is that Mr. Schiller did it on company time in a position that is supposed to be nonpartisan.

I can't do that in my job. In fact, most employers would discourage employees getting involved in divisive political conversation. Not a smart move.

Politics off the clock is another matter.

Posted by: Misty88 | March 9, 2011 4:37 PM | Report abuse

i do not understand "red flags". it is obvisously that these 2 NPR executives are typical liberals. they support the Muslim brotherhood, hamas, and hezbollah. they do not like jews. they do not like white americans christians.
any jew who is a liberal after this.....there are no words for him or her.

Posted by: moreprivateemail | March 9, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse

yoursfaithfully

Wait a sec - Red Flag 1.

"They were Muslim."

WTF is this? Are you serious?

Oh, I'm gonna make sure a boatload of Muslims read this gem.

==========================================
And exactly what kind of boatload are you referring to:
1) The kind they use to hijack civilian ships on the open seas?
2) The kind they use to transport oil for profit from the west as they say they despise the west?
3) The kind they would glad ship your shredded body in as they send it home to your mother after the most recent suicide attack?

Funny how you leftist can use nothing but pejorative terms when discussing predominantly US religions but somehow you think Muslims are just peace loving souls. I bet the 10's of thousands they have slaughtered in the name of Allah over the last few decades would disagree.

Posted by: Bcamp55 | March 9, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm delighted to see that Mr. Capehart chose to focus on the subject of "I can't believe you got caught" rather than the more important issue of "how do Schiller's comments contribute to the charge of conservatives that the mainstream press is really quite liberally biased?" Bernie Goldberg, are you laughing at this one? Morning Joe, will you call out your friend on this next time he's on your show? I'm not holding my breath...

Posted by: pvsbond | March 9, 2011 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm convinced liberals have No critical thinking ability.
ObamaCare is falling apart at this moment.
Over 1,000 companies and 1 entire state so far have "waivers" that they don't have to comply with ObamaCare.
Over half the states are declaring it unconstitutional.
Fla. judge ruled the entire bill unconstitutional.
Kathy Sebelius admitted yesterday that Half a Billion Dollars of the bill was supposed to be Medicare "savings" but then they allocated it to help pay for the bill. (??)
This is Incompetence at its Highest.
We watched this debacle, it was rammed down our throats and PEOPLE SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THIS DISASTER.
People should LOSE THEIR JOBS over this piece of Garbage.
Taxpayers need to Demand Better from our elected officials.
If these people were working for a private business-- they would've been FIRED a long time ago.

Posted by: ohioan | March 9, 2011 5:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm convinced liberals have No critical thinking ability.
ObamaCare is falling apart at this moment.
Over 1,000 companies and 1 entire state so far have "waivers" that they don't have to comply with ObamaCare.
Over half the states are declaring it unconstitutional.
Fla. judge ruled the entire bill unconstitutional.
Kathy Sebelius admitted yesterday that Half a Billion Dollars of the bill was supposed to be Medicare "savings" but then they allocated it to help pay for the bill. (??)
This is Incompetence at its Highest.
We watched this debacle, it was rammed down our throats and PEOPLE SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THIS DISASTER.
People should LOSE THEIR JOBS over this piece of Garbage.
Taxpayers need to Demand Better from our elected officials.
If these people were working for a private business-- they would've been FIRED a long time ago.

Posted by: ohioan | March 9, 2011 5:33 PM | Report abuse

As per jos587's post, I get a real kick out of those that call any African American that's not into keeping the African Americans down, an "Uncle Tom". Shame on you, whoever the heck you are.

Posted by: thebink | March 9, 2011 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Oh for corn sake.........I have the original tape of this sting saved on my computer. That snobbish cretin said that NPR would be better off without the Government funding. Doesn't matter whether he resigned or not......give NPR his wish and pull the funding!!

Posted by: OregonStorm | March 9, 2011 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Any other conservative posters having trouble posting? I've been counting the double an triple posts, including mine, that don't seem to go through in an timely manner and so end up being multiple posts. Also, I'm seem to hum right along until I hit the WAPO blogs. I admit it may be simple paranoia on my part but it does seem odd.

Posted by: thebink | March 9, 2011 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Mr Capeheart for your article. I actually learned something- about the fund-raising business, in this case- which was great, since so often people write who really have nothing new or interesting to say.

Posted by: DrRichard1 | March 9, 2011 8:15 PM | Report abuse

How NPR did or did not vet donors is enlightening, but secondary.

Whether NPR is or is not biased is controversial, but secondary.

Whether NPR is of value to our society is debatable, but secondary (I rather enjoy some of the programming).

What is primary to me is whether or not funding such activities as public broadcasting is Constitutional, and I think they are not. This business of broadly construing the "general welfare" phrase in the Preamble, and neglecting the last amendment in the Bill Of Rights, is sinking this nation. We need to honor amendment number ten. If something truly is vital to national welfare, ratify yet another amendment, put that power alongside those already enumerated, and then (and only then) fund it. We can do this. Defund NPR, and all similar programs, until we have due process.

The "tenthers" have it correct.

Posted by: MKS1 | March 10, 2011 12:35 PM | Report abuse

It's surprising to read how scrupulous WNYC was about its fundraising in its city-owned days. Because what it put on the air back then was anything but scrupulous.

I remember writing letters complaining about the frequent "editorials" by people advocating bizarre and sometimes frightening things (not all on the left, either) and averring that I would never pledge until they stopped running them. In retrospect, I'm not sure all of those folks would have passed a Peter King muster.

Posted by: Itzajob | March 10, 2011 1:24 PM | Report abuse

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