National Public Radio is accusing Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., who is leading a Republican charge to cut public funding to the broadcaster, of trying to stifle free speech, a move that puts the embattled network on the offense as it fights fallout from its decision to fire Fox News contributor Juan Williams.
Lamborn immediately fired back, saying the whole point of not funding NPR is to enhance competition and viewpoints.
The tit-for-tat comes just a week after the NPR news editor who fired Williams resigned as the network's board of directors completed its independent review of the dismissal. The directors recommended new internal procedures for personnel decisions and disciplinary action, and cancelled NPR CEO Vivian Schiller's annual bonus because of "concern over her role in the termination process."
Lamborn first introduced his NPR defunding legislation in June, but it didn't receive much attention until the network fired Williams in October over remarks he made on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" about his anxiety over seeing people dressed as Muslims on airplanes.
House Democrats rejected Lamborn's bill last month. But Lamborn introduced the bill again last week in the new session of Congress, with Republicans now in control the House.
NPR issued a statement this week blasting Lamborn's two bills, one which would defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which receives 13 percent of its funding from taxpayers and awards NPR some grant money. The other would eliminate federal funding just for NPR. Local public radio stations are more dependent on federal funding than NPR is.
"Congressman Lamborn's legislation is an intrusion into the programming decision-making of America's public radio stations," the network said. "His legislation will disrupt and weaken the free and universal public media system that serves 170 million Americans each month."
"It seems ironic that Congressman Lamborn who seeks to withdraw federal support for public radio wants federal legislators in turn to assert control over how local public radio stations can make use of programming funds," NPR added. "This legislation would ultimately dictate the daily editorial schedules and news programs of nearly 1,000 public radio stations across America."
But Lamborn dismissed NPR's accusation.
"Within NPR, some bizarrely claim that my efforts are aimed at controlling and influencing the editorial content of NPR, Nothing could be further from the truth," he said in a statement. "I believe removing federal funding from NPR would give the news organization greater, not less, editorial freedom than they currently enjoy."
NPR says only 1 percent to 3 percent of its $166 million budget is funded by taxpayer dollars. But a recent report by the Congressional Research Service found that taxpayers fund at least 4 percent of NPR's budget, while an analyst at the conservative American Thinker estimated it was closer to 25 percent.