Tag Archives: NPR

Turmoil at NPR finally reaches the top

NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller has resigned following the latest controversy to dog one of our three or four most vital news organizations. Yesterday we learned that NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller — no relation — was secretly recorded by right-wing prankster James O’Keefe. Among other things, Ron Schiller was heard trashing the Tea Party and generally coming off as a liberal.

I’m writing this up for the Guardian later today, and at the moment we don’t know much. My snap reaction, though, is good riddance. NPR handled the long-overdue departure of Juan Williams ineptly and over the wrong issue. Vivian Schiller threw her top news executive Ellen Weiss, over the side of the boat when it was all over.

Then, yesterday, Vivian Schiller publicly humiliated Ron Schiller despite O’Keefe’s flagrant history of doctoring videos of his other targets — principally ACORN.

My fear, though, is that NPR got rid of Vivian Schiller because she didn’t pander to the right hard enough at a time when its funding is in jeopardy. We’ll see.

Keeping the “public” in public radio

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that NPR and public radio stations shouldn’t walk away from government funding, even if they don’t need it. For one thing, it would hand the right a victory in the culture wars. For another, it would set a dangerous precedent for public television, which is far more dependent on public money.

NPR goes into damage-control mode over Williams

Juan Williams

After NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller said Juan Williams should keep his feelings about Muslims between himself and “his psychiatrist or his publicist,” I thought perhaps it was Schiller who ought to schedule some couch time. She apologized, and today she’s in damage-control mode.

NPR media reporter David Folkenflik did something very smart (which I learned about through Jack Shafer’s Twitter feed): he refused to attend an off-the-record staff meeting about Williams’ firing following offensive comments he made on Fox News. Instead, Folkenflik pieced together what happened by interviewing some of those who did attend. Based on Folkenflik’s tweets, Schiller seems to have hit the right notes. (I’m running them in chronological order rather than the usual reverse chrono:

The all-staff meeting was off the record, so I did not attend. However, staffers who did told me the following:

Schiller said decision to give Wms notice was not because of slip of the tongue, but latest in a series of violations of NPR ethics policy

Schiller said it had been raised several times but that he continued to inject personal opinon in his analysis in settings outside NPR.

Schiller said at some point, you have to draw the line. (more)

Though she called it the right decision, Schiller also said NPR did not handle Wms’ ouster well. She promised staffers a “full post-mortem.”

Schiller also said she was ambushed leaving her home by a two-person camera crew identifying itself as being from Fox News.

Over and out.

I feel a little better about this than I did yesterday. Schiller did the right thing for the wrong reason at the wrong time. What’s important is that she knows she blew the handling of it. No way she can undo it — not after Fox News rewarded Williams with a three-year, $2 million deal. But at least she seems determined to make the best of a bad situation. It sounds like she’s adopted the views of NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard, who writes that “a more deliberative approach might have enabled NPR to avoid what has turned into a public relations nightmare.”

Here is our discussion of the Williams matter on tonight’s “Beat the Press.” I’m also quoted in a Christian Science Monitor story on the hazards of straddling the reporter/analyst/commentator divide.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Juan Williams and political correctness

Just a quick observation about NPR’s decision to terminate Juan Williams after he expressed his fear of Muslims on airplanes during an appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

To me, Williams was clearly a victim of Rick Sanchez syndrome. That is, Williams was not an asset to NPR, and management was probably happy to stumble upon an excuse to get rid of him. Williams is a supremely uninteresting occasional commentator who will not be missed. What he said was offensive, but if he were a star he’d have been let off with a suspension and an apology.

I’ll add that many people hold the views that Williams expressed. That’s not an excuse. But if NPR hadn’t acted so precipitously, and if Williams were up to the task, Williams might have helped lead a national conversation on the Islamophobia that now pervades this country.

NPR made a mistake in firing Williams, but he should have quietly been let go a long time ago.

Off-duty reporters, political rallies and NPR

What does it mean to “participate” in a rally? It’s a question I’m asking myself after reading a memo from NPR management (via Romenesko) warning journalists to stay away from the Oct. 30 rallies being organized by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The memo, from senior vice president for news Ellen Weiss, includes this:

NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them. This restriction applies to the upcoming John [sic] Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies.

Most of Weiss’ admonitions are a matter of common sense. Journalists should not put bumper stickers on their cars, donate money to political candidates or do anything else that would amount to political involvement. But if I were an off-duty NPR reporter, I’d be offended at being ordered not to attend a rally, whether it be Colbert’s “Keep Fear Alive” event or Glenn Beck’s recent gathering.

Good journalists want to check things out whether they’re working or not. There’s a proper role for a reporter on a busman’s holiday, and it neither requires staying home nor involves waving fists and posters while chanting along with the crowd.

It’s called attending, observing, learning.

From NPR, clarity on the Bush tax cuts

Kudos to NPR for airing the first clear, understandable story I’ve come across in the mainstream media on why there’s actually a substantive argument for retaining the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

No doubt you have heard Republicans say that raising taxes on incomes above $200,000 a year ($250,000 for couples) would hurt small businesses, along with the Democratic retort that it would affect barely 2 percent of those businesses. Well, here’s the explanation in a nutshell:

  • The vast majority of small businesses might better be termed micro-businesses. NPR’s examples: “a hot dog vendor, a housecleaner, a guy selling T-shirts on eBay.” Not only do they not make $200,000 a year, but they don’t hire anyone.
  • Small businesses that are substantial enough to hire more than a handful of people are relatively few in number, and make up a large share of the 2 percent cited by Democrats.
  • Many if not most of those small businesses treat their business income as personal income for tax purposes. So, yes, raising taxes on incomes above the $200,000 threshold could very well harm their ability to invest and hire new employees.

Even so, the NPR story notes there’s a strong case to be made that small businesses would benefit far more from targeted measures than from retaining the Bush tax cut.

Bottom line: I learned something important I didn’t know about a much-debated public-policy issue. Isn’t that what journalism is for?

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Daniel Schorr, 1916-2010

Schorr (left) and Simon

NPR commentator Daniel Schorr has died at the age of 93. A legendary reporter who was on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, lost his job at CBS News after he leaked classified information and then reinvented himself at an age when most people would have been content to retire, Schorr was among the last living journalists to have covered the post-World War II reconstruction of Europe.

Schorr’s days as a working reporter were over before I had started paying attention to the news, but I enjoyed his sharp, intelligent commentaries on NPR. At one time he sounded so weak that I wondered how much longer he could continue. But despite his age, seemed to recover his strength during the past couple of years.

He was on the air as recently as July 10, talking with “Weekend Edition” host Scott Simon about the U.S.-Russian spy swap and President Obama’s visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Here’s what Schorr said about the delicate state of U.S.-Israeli relations:

Neither can afford to be very long on bad terms with the other because of their domestic constituencies. And so, they have problems. And I’m sure the problems in private are discussed at much greater length than they do in public. But in the end, it’s likely they’ll come back together again, because they are condemned to be good friends.

Schorr may well have been the last journalist alive who had been recruited to CBS News by the legendary Edward R. Murrow. His death marks not just the passing of a fine reporter, but of a piece of history as well.