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Published: Sunday, 3/13/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

NPR all at sea

IF NATIONAL Public Radio didn't have bad luck, it wouldn't have any luck at all these days. With a hostile Republican Congress itching to cut its federal funding along with the Public Broadcasting Service, the last thing the network needed was an incident confirming the stereotype of NPR as a bastion of anti-American elitism.

Earlier this week, Ron Schiller, one of the network's top fund-raisers was caught on hidden camera bad-mouthing the Tea Party and offering the counterproductive opinion that NPR really doesn't need federal subsidies to survive.

Posing as big donors representing a fictitious Muslim Brotherhood-backed charity, two undercover operatives working for right-wing video guerilla James O'Keefe coaxed Mr. Schiller into saying the stupidest things imaginable over lunch.

Mr. Schiller called members of the Tea Party "seriously racist," while failing to condemn an anti-Semitic rant by one of the donors. On Tuesday, Mr. Schiller, who was already planning to leave NPR, resigned in an attempt to head off the firestorm.

The next day, his boss, the hapless CEO Vivian Schiller also quit NPR. Ms. Schiller (no relation) had the dubious distinction of being at the helm during the botched firing of former commentator Juan Williams over comments he made about Muslims last year.

Former NPR executive Ellen Weiss took the fall for the Williams debacle, but an internal review laid much of the blame on Ms. Schiller.

The latest controversy sealed Ms. Schiller's fate. With her departure, a very large target has been removed from NPR's forehead. But the Republicans who hate the network won't be appeased that easily.

In a mature political era, there would be room for reasonable discussions about federal subsidies of NPR and PBS. Alas, stunts like the one that put Mr. Schiller in a compromising position feed the right's paranoia that NPR is the spear's point of a leftist plot.

The departure of Ms. Schiller clears the upper echelons of NPR of the "usual suspects" conservatives love to hate. Perhaps new leaders who know how to stay out of the news themselves can come on board and sail the ship of NPR into less treacherous waters.



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