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Former Vermont Journalist at Center of NPR Scandal 

Published March 10, 2011 at 10:17 a.m.

* 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.

Liley 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.

One or more images has been removed from this article. For further information, contact [email protected].
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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.

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