So by now you’ve probably heard the latest news: James O’Keefe (that guy who secretly filmed ACORN) posed as a Muslim philanthropist to Ronald Schiller, Senior Vice President of Development for NPR and President of the NPR Foundation, and Betsy Liley, NPR’s Director of Institutional Giving. Over lunch, the clandestine camera records Mr. Schiller calling the Tea Party “racist”. Mr. Schiller, who had already given his notice that he was leaving to accept a position at the Aspen Institute as director of the Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence Program, made his resignation from NPR effective immediately when the video was released. He has now also resigned from Aspen. NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation) also resigned after the Board decided that “the controversies under [her] watch had become such a distraction that she could no longer effectively lead the organization” (referring, presumably, to the dismissal of Juan Williams in January).
So much fallout from one video (which I encourage you to watch), filmed by a person who has been arrested for tampering with phones at a federal building, who attempted to sexually humiliate CNN anchor Abbie Boudreau, and is the subject of various lawsuits resulting from the ACORN videos (at least the Brooklyn branch of ACORN, btw, has been cleared of wrongdoing). The video also comes at a time when conservatives are agitating for the end of government funding to NPR and public radio. And with yet another two week extension with more cuts to the arts (cuts to the arts for children, even!), that threat is becoming very real.
A lot of people are asking—is what Mr. Schiller said so unreasonable? He points out in the video that federal funding actually makes up only one percent of NPR’s funding and 10% of the station economy, and that NPR is not a government program, which many people believe. He goes on to say that while he thinks NPR would be better off in the long run without government funding (which O’Keefe will no doubt run wild with), if funding were cut now, “a lot of stations would go dark.” Mr. Schiller is also careful to “take off his NPR hat” when he starts to express his own opinion that educated “so-called elite” people in America are now the minority.
There’s not much focus on what O’Keefe and his colleague say in the video—“Jews do kind of control the media,” “what Israel does can’t be excused”—but I suppose he can always say that he was playing a role.
Incidentally, there is now evidence that NPR refused the $5 million donation check offered in the meeting. NPR isn’t stupid- they’re not going to accept money from a donor with no history and who wants to get more favorable coverage on the news.
If you still believe that federal funding is essential for non-commercial radio that promotes local cultural events and offers a public space for discussion, get involved by sending a letter to congress, or just by talking with your neighbors. And maybe just keep in mind what mama said—if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.