WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim DeMint vowed Friday to introduce legislation to eliminate $430 million in federal funding of public broadcasting in response to National Public Radio's firing of Juan Williams over the news analyst's remarks about Muslims.
The South Carolina Republican, whose hard-line stances have raised his profile among conservative activists across the country, accused NPR of having a liberal bias that he said taxpayers shouldn't fund.
"Once again we find the only free speech liberals support is the speech with which they agree," DeMint said. "The incident with Mr. Williams shows that NPR is not concerned about providing the listening public with an honest debate of today's issues, but rather with promoting a one-sided liberal agenda."
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said he would add ending taxpayer funding of public broadcasting to his website, on which visitors are asked to decide which federal programs should be cut.
NPR Wednesday ended its contract with Williams, two days after he told Fox News that other airline passengers "in Muslim garb" make him nervous when he's on a flight.
NPR said Williams' comments were "inconsistent with our editorial standards" and had "undermined his credibility as a news analyst."
Williams, who reportedly signed a $2 million contract with Fox News, said Thursday night that NPR had used his most recent comments as an excuse to fire him.
"They were looking for a reason to get rid of me because I appear on Fox News," Williams said.
Prominent Republicans quickly jumped on the brouhaha to renew a long-time quest by conservative politicians, first begun by the late North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms in the 1990s, to cut off federal funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
DeMint is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. The panel oversees federal funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which Congress established in 1967.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin led a loud chorus of criticism of NPR over Williams' firing.
"If NPR is unable to tolerate an honest debate about an issue as important as Islamic terrorism, then it's time for 'National Public Radio' to become 'National Private Radio,'" Palin said Thursday on Facebook.
Vivian Schiller, the head of NPR, defended the decision to fire Williams in a luncheon address Thursday to the Atlanta Press Club.
"If you want to be a political activist, you may not also be a reporter or news analyst for NPR," she said.
DeMint said cutting off federal funds to NPR and PBS, the nation's two largest publicly funded broadcast networks, makes good fiscal sense in the current difficult economy.
"With record debt and unemployment, there's simply no reason to force taxpayers to subsidize liberal programming they disagree with," he said.
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