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March 10, 2011

Former Vermont Journalist at Center of NPR Scandal

Spring11_Liley_Betsy* updated below * 

A former reporter for the Burlington Free Press — who later went on to a career in grantwriting and fundraising — is one of the two key figures at the center of a fracas involving National Public Radio and an undercover video.

Betsy Liley, who is currently the senior director of institutional giving at NPR, was one of two people caught on videotape by two undercover "journalists" trained by Project Veritas, an outfit created by James O'Keefe. The other NPR exec in the video is Rob Schiller, NPR's senior vice president of development.

Schiller and Liley thought they were lunching with two members of the Muslim Education Action Center (MEAC), founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, that wanted to give $5 million to NPR. NPR officials rejected the offer because the group failed a due diligence test. Instead, it was two undercover videographers who were on a mission to "out" NPR as the liberal-leaning, conservative-hating station they believe it to be.

Schiller and Liley gave them plenty of material.

Nprlogo_138x46Liley was a reporter and editor at the Burlington Free Press from 1989 to 1998. During that tenure, Liley had a memorable run-in with Peter Freyne who was then the spokesman for Gov. Madeleine M. Kunin, Vermont's first — and only — female governor.

During a meeting with reporters in 1990, Liley pressed Freyne for a copy of the governor's revenue forecast and Freyne refused. He suggested that Liley could sit on his face. But "even if you did that, I wouldn't tell you," he added, according to news reports at the time.

When word of the interaction reached Kunin, she put Freyne on two weeks paid leave. But, two days later he resigned and later returned to journalism as a columnist for The Vermont Times and later Seven Days.

Liley left journalism to work in public relations before landing a job the Burlington School District as a grants manager. She left there in 2006 to become the director of foundation relations at Purdue University, her alma mater. She joined NPR last July.

NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher told Seven Days that Liley has been placed on "administrative leave" for her role in the video and the comments she made.

Last week, Schiller had announced he was leaving NPR for the Aspen Institute later this year. He resigned effective immediately. Also, NPR's CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation) abruptly resigned yesterday amidst rumors that NPR's Board of Directors was about to ask her to resign.

"While the meeting I participated in turned out to be a ruse, I made statements during the course of the meeting that are counter to NPR's values and also not reflective of my own beliefs," Schiller said in a statement issued by NPR. "I offer my sincere apology to those I offended. I resigned from NPR, previously effective May 6th, to accept another job. In an effort to put this unfortunate matter behind us, NPR and I have agreed that my resignation is effective today."

In the NPR video, Liley can be heard talking about pressure that one donor put on NPR to not interview scientists who didn't believe in global warming and even dissed the so-called "birther" movement. Her comments comparing "birther" beliefs to people who once believed the world was flat didn't sit well with the crowd that believes Pres. Barack Obama wasn't really born in the United States.

"I think the challenge in our society now is that we are questioning facts. It's not opinion we are debating. I mean, what are the facts? The world is flat? Is that the next question that we're going to debate?" asked Liley.

Liley also laughed heartily at one of the fake Muslim's jokes who said NPR's pro-Palestinian coverage had earned them the moniker of "National Palestinian Radio."

“Oh really? That’s good! I like that!," Liley can be heard exclaiming.

O'Keefe is best known for posing as a pimp and attempting to get tax help for himself and his alleged prostitute girlfriend at several offices run by the nonprofit group ACORN. Those videos were eventually found to be largely edited and doctored, but by the time that information hit the media the damage had been done and ACORN's federal funding was yanked.

A similar fate may befall NPR. Congressional Republicans have been leading a charge to cut NPR's federal funding, which currently totals $90 million. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as a whole, receives $450 million annually in federal funding.

In 2010, Vermont Public Television received a CPB grant of $1,026,207, or about 18 percents of its total revenue. Vermont Public Radio received about $820,000 in FY 2009, or roughly 12 percent of its revenue, from a CPB grant. That was a larger amount than most years. On average, VPR has received about 10 percent of its funding from the CPB.

* Update: Friday, March 11 *

As if a video isn't bad enough, Project Veritas released a secretly taped phone conservation yesterday that further implicates Liley and contradicts, in part, previous NPR statements that the organization didn't do anything else to garner the donation from this fictitious foundation.

The Washington Post has a succinct rundown here.

Last night, NPR released this official statement in regard to Liley's comments, which included the inference that she could help make their donation remain anonymous to avoid government auditing scrutiny.

The statement was issued by Dana Davis Rehm, an NPR spokeswoman.

The statement made by Betsy Liley in the audiotapes released today regarding the possibility of making an anonymous gift that would remain invisible to tax authorities is factually inaccurate and not reflective of NPR’s gift practices.  All donations – anonymous and named – are fully reported to the IRS. NPR complies with all financial, tax and disclosure regulations.

Through unequivocal words and actions, NPR has renounced and condemned the secretly recorded statements of Ron Schiller and Betsy Liley. Mr. Schiller is no longer with NPR and Ms. Liley has been placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation of the matter.

No stronger statement of disavowal and disapproval is possible. NPR will not be deterred from its news mission and will ultimately be judged by the millions and millions of listeners and readers who have come to rely on us every day.

I really miss Peter Freyne.

I miss Peter, too.

Don't we all.

This item didn't mention anything terribly controversial from Betsy Liley. Unless she said something else that wasn't reported here... I don't see what the fuss was about, as to her. Rob Schiller -- good riddance. Vivian Schiller -- double good riddance.

Not me. The incredibly shocking and anti-female anecdote cited above was typical of the low level of gossipy, one-sided, character-assassination, and name-calling style of "journalism" that he consistently engaged in right up to the end.

But, on the subject of this thread, I'm getting sick and tired of the secret-taping s___ pulled by O'Keefe.

[the tea party]... "are white middle american gun toting racist...."


As for Liley, she just sits there looking all confused for the most part. But hey what are you going to expect out of a BFP trainee.

You miss Peter Freyne? You MISS Peter Freyne!?
If only middle school newspapers weren't edited...
Puerile, snickering, pointless mocking of everything and everyone, making fun of people's names for crying out loud, from someone so personally repulsive and despicable, yeah, too bad we don't have that cartoon on the funny pages any more.

Well, in defense of Freyne he did a good job covering the issues in Montpelier. And he did have a blog that was pretty much uncensored. But man he was out there, I can remember when he critized a candidate as "unqualified" to run for office because they hadn't seen An Inconvient Truth.

Granted the tea partiers/republicans may not have liked what she said, but she didn't actually say anything incorrect. Based on what I've been seeing about this "scandal" everyone is over reacting because these undercover farces persecute people who don't do anything wrong by editing tapes and releasing only certain bits to the media. And in order to avoid losing funding they cut the person that supposedly made these horrible statements.

Maybe someone should go up to a tea partier and ask them "so you don't actually support gun toting, middle americans? Then who DO you support?"

"And he did have a blog that was pretty much uncensored."

Um, no, jcarter, that's not true. He took down my comments on more than one occasion, summarily and without even acknowledging that he did it, simply because they questioned his opinions. When I asked him to at least acknowledge online that he had removed a comment, he refused to do so. At least the current bloggers on 7D will state when they've taken down a comment.

In addition to being exactly what Another Vermonter describes him as, Freyne also was in favor of free speech ONLY FOR HIMSELF. And for a guy who claimed to be against any form of censorship, and who dished out personal attacks and slams and character-assassinations every week, he couldn't tolerate any questioning of HIS opinions and took down blog comments that he didn't like.

We will never know how many other people may have had their comments taken down from his blog.

My apologies Webber, I commented on their frequently and sometimes rather heated with a certain BBB poster. I also was pretty open about criticizing Freyne. I did not have any posts taken down that I recall so I assumed he didn't bother censoring much. Clearly I was wrong.

@ I BE Pirate, I don't think Liley did anything wrong, embarassing but not wrong. I wouldn't say the same thing about Schiller.

I've updated the post with an additional report that details follow-up phone calls and emails with Liley in which she appears to work with the fictitious group to ensure ther donation is not only anonymous, but kept hidden from government auditors. NPR has issued a statement in response.

Are we really expected to believe that recent events expose a near totality of the impact of the executive’s political world view? House Republicans bent on spending budget cuts are focusing on a traditional GOP bogey: National Public Radio. The recent video entrapment of an NPR official by right wing activist O'Keefe has further spiced up the debate Budget-wise however, reducing government funds would have a negligible impact on NPR operations.

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