By Arturo R. García
Another week, another politically damaging phone con. This time, National Public Radio was the mark, and it got hit hard.
NPR CEO and President Vivian Schiller was forced to resign Wednesday after a fellow executive, Ron Schiller (no relation) was caught on tape describing the Tea Party as not just “Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic. I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”
Now, what could ever have given Mr. Schiller that impression?
Photos and video are under the cut. Warning: photos contain racist language/imagery.
At the time, Ron Schiller, NPR’s senior vice-president for fundraising, was speaking to two members of a group called the Muslim Action Education Center. According to an NPR statement released later in the day, the two men insisted on giving him a check for $5 million, which he did not accept. In fact, he was speaking with two members of the ironically-named Project Veritas, led by James O’Keefe – the same man behind the 2009 ACORN hit-job.
And just like in the ACORN case, the video that went online yesterday was edited to show Schiller putting his foot in his mouth – at least from a strategic standpoint.
At various points in the video, Schiller is captured making statements like:
- “Well frankly, it is clear that we would be better off in the long-run without federal funding. The challenge right now is that if we lost it all together we would have a lot of stations go dark.”
- “I think what we all believe is that if we don’t have Muslim voices in our schools, 0n the air, it’s the same thing we faced as a nation when we didn’t have female voices.”
- “It feels to me as though there is a real anti-intellectual move on the part of a significant part of the Republican Party.”
To be sure, Ron Schiller should have been disciplined for allowing himself to get pranked so thoroughly – and for not checking his sources; a spokesperson for Public Broadcasting told MSNBC one of its’ own executives had also been contacted by Veritas/MAEC, but broke off talks when PBS couldn’t verify the group’s story. So at the very least, he should have known better than to “take his NPR hat off” here, even before his two new buddies started in with the “Our founders were part of the Muslim Brotherhood in America” and “Zionist” talk.
But sacking Valerie Schiller smacks of overcompensation, both for this incident and for the firing of Juan Williams last year. And as least one expert told the Christian Science Monitor, it might not stave off attacks and calls to pull its’ funding anyway.
“I don’t think any of this helps the survival, let alone the quality existence, of public broadcasting in the United States,” said Stephen Ward, the director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “You can argue that these comments … don’t reflect the grander importance of public broadcasting, but in a world of agenda-setting journalism, these are perfect examples for people who dislike or oppose public broadcasting to use for political purposes.”
“Obamanomics” image courtesy of Progress Now Colorado