By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

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.

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The New York Times and the T-word


Turmoil at NPR finally reaches the top (II)


  1. Bob Gardner

    I used to go to workshops about dealing with the media. Invariably and repeatedly, attendees were sternly warned never to mislead the press because because our crediblity would be destroyed forever.
    So here’s this O’Keefe guy–who misled the press (eg Joe Sciacca) with a doctored video–back with another heavily edited video with doctored quotes and it’s his victims who are under scrutiny.
    The release of this video should be an opportunity to rehash and update O’Keefe’s previous deceptions.

  2. L.K. Collins

    Doubt about the pandering, Dan.

    It is much more likely that continuing Schiller in a CEO position would have both NPR and its board spending more time on the politics of what happened than on getting the organization past the trouble. Schiller was a continuing liability.

    It’s more a dive for anonymity than it is a cave-in. Do you really think that the NPR board has changed its political stripes?


    This was a get-under-the-radar move.

  3. Stephen Stein

    And yet, everything Ron Schiller said about the Tea Party is backed by lots of objective polling! Or so claims “Blue Texan” at FireDogLake.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Stephen: Since I make a living in part by shooting my mouth off, I wouldn’t have had a problem saying anything Ron Schiller said about the Tea Party which the exception of calling them racist. I think the Tea Party phenomenon is rooted in racial fear and resentment, and that it has provided a political home for some racists. But to call the Tea Party racist is to paint with way too broad a brush.

  4. C.E. Stead

    @DK – I found the Zionism comments more offensive, myself.

    BTW – the version I saw seemed to have a time clock in one corner – is there any objective evidence of editing and doctoring?

  5. L.K. Collins

    But paint you do, Dan, paint you do.

  6. Heather Greene

    Actually shows how far “don’t offend the Teabaggers” have come. TONS of folks call them racists yet now it’s taboo? I’m not sorry, but having this much soft and favorable coverage for the “Taxed Enough Already” movement when taxes have been cut during the Obama administration and haven’t been this low since 1950 is just moronic. The reason there is so much focus on the wacky and poor grammar signs at the rallies is THAT’S about it. Teabaggers are always framed as the ones who care about the bad economy. Newsflash Beltway: EVERYBODY, even the Greenwich village hipster-veagan-Kucinich voter, cares about the bad economy. Teabaggers into the streets was taxes or government spending on welfare queens, but CUTS TO MEDICARE. Think about that for second, the ACTUAL concern with those polled who support the teabaggers was cuts to MEDICARE. Nuff said on this being a serious movement.

    Anyhow, what I find odd is apparently there is nothing worst on this planet then a White American being called racist. Sure Sonia Sotamayer would have loved that after elected U.S. Senators and (cough FNC) called her a racist (putting reserve in front of it doesn’t make it any better). The President is constantly called racist for saying that it was stupid for police a man after establish he was inside the home he owned and guess what, it was.

    Doesn’t mean that two wrongs make a right, but still don’t get why people who clearly don’t like Black people by polls with trick questions i.e. Does the government do too much for Black Americans and the self-identified teabaggers overwhelming responded yes.

  7. Heather Greene

    Sidenote, everytime NPR is mentioned on Politico today, it’s as “liberal NPR.” Among the many things that awful about the glee Politico is taking in this (Politico reporters rarely show up on NPR), considering how much traffic Politico gets from the Drudge Report and that it’s aware and fishes for it, I wouldn’t be throwing stones.

  8. Brad Deltan

    @ C.E. During today’s Diane Rehm show, the NPR Ombudsman was asked this question and she said the editing on the shorter version of the video smelled fishy, but regardless she had emailed Mr. Schiller directly and he confirmed that he had said the things that he is alleged to have said.

    It’s still possible that what Mr. Schiller said was edited to look even MORE inflammatory than it already was, but it was pretty inflammatory by itself, so the point is somewhat moot.

    @ Dan, et al: the greater controversy is that Mr. Schiller said he felt NPR didn’t need federal funding and would be better off without it. This, naturally, directly contradicts the public message of NPR to Congress that federal funding IS necessary. In the unreal world of Washington, that’s pretty damning. An added dimension is that of the 17 NPR board members, 10 are representatives of NPR member stations. It’s no secret that VIVIAN Schiller has made several decisions and comments that were very unpopular with NPR member stations. Whether they were “right” or “wrong” I can’t really say, but they sure were unpopular with quite a few stations.

    BTW, is reporting that Mr. Schiller has decided he won’t take that job at the Aspen Institute after all.

    And Slate has a piece by Jack Shafer, not really a friend to NPR, actually defending Ron Schiller’s actions, saying Schiller’s pandering is essentially part of the job when you’re soliciting big money from rich people.

    The bigger fallout here is that now every charitable organization essentially has no choice but to run significant background checks on whoever approaches them to donate money. That’s unfortunate, wasteful, and inevitably will turn some donors off.

  9. Mike Benedict

    Methinks the Teabaggers doth protest too much.

  10. Alan Grossberg

    NPR was probably quick to cave because 1) Democrats/Liberals are notorious for backing down and quickly ceding ground when the fit hits the shan (sic). They’ve always been too nice for their own good, simply lacking the Atwater/Rove/Limbaugh, etc. nasty predator instinct. Examples abound, but for the best recent one, look no further than Obama’s starting negotiating position during the health care debate; and 2) of course they were cowed by the current funding debate.

    Come to think of it, NPR needn’t have looked back even a year or two for the classic paradigm of how the GOP fights. That pig of a Governor in Wisconsin not only stayed put, he doubled down and became even more intransigent after being similarly punked. This incident reminds me of what happened to Dan Rather: CBS quickly kowtowed to pressure and forced Rather out, even though, as is the case with NPR, the basic facts are TRUE.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Alan: I don’t want to give CBS a pass for promoting phony documents. But other than that, yeah.

  11. Mike Benedict

    It’s the old adage: Tough liberals win, weak liberals lose.

    Tough: Truman, Clinton, Kennedy, LBJ

    Weak: Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry

    Convictions are worth something, even if they are completely misguided.

    Of course, Gov. Walker so overstepped, he’ll be lucky to avoid a recall vote at this point. It won’t work, but it will undermine the rest of his term. The GOP found a convenient proxy; Walker’s so dumb, he doesn’t realize he is a patsy.

  12. Doug Shugarts

    The headline for this fiasco should read, “Journalists Screwed Again by Inept Management.”

    Reporting / producing news from “white, gun-toting America,” in the words of Ron Schiller, is a tough job if folks who live west of I-95 believe that Schiller’s idiotic comments reflect the attitude of public radio journalists humping for stories.

    Good riddance.

  13. Ken Gornstein

    Not sure whether you’re aware, Dan, that Schiller was a vice president of development at good old Northeastern in the mid-1990s.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Ken: Ron Schiller. No, I had no idea. Very interesting.

  14. Laurence Glavin

    Some media sites (tvbythenumber link) report that a new tape of the NPR discussion is now out with other revelations. Over 40 minutes long; haven’t heard it yet.

  15. C.E. Stead

    DK – now that tape #2 has been released, with the lady at the table offering helpful comments to the faux Muslims about how she can shield their donor identities and avoid Federal auditors – can you say that there are troubles at NPR that go way beyond partisan issues?

    BTW – I am disappointed at your toleration for referring to political opponents with sexual slurs and innuendo. If their ideas were more compelling, they wouldn’t have to resort to such namecalling.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @C.E.: I’m always happy to disappoint people for being insufficiently censorious.

  16. Rick Peterson

    @C.E.:the fragmentation of opinion on the web almost guarantees double-standards galore. The slurs you refer to infuriate me as well but facts long ago stopped being as relevant as we would prefer. Idealogues use whatever tool suits their agenda, including name-calling and lies. I guess the best we can hope for is that the person doing the lying is exposed. Once that happens, if someone wants to be a dope and believe them, that’s their right. Some people still think the moon-shot took place on a Hollywood backlot.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Rick and @C.E.: I should make it clear that I don’t use “teabagger,” though I might have early on. I just don’t think it’s a big enough deal to prohibit others from using it.

  17. Mike Benedict

    @Rick and C.E.: The way the teabaggers practice their very unAmerican form of patriotism infuriates me. So I guess we’re even.

  18. Sean Griffin

    Interesting piece in the National Review by Jay Nordlinger about the rise of the “teabagger” epithet:

    “The first big day for this movement was Tax Day, April 15. And organizers had a gimmick. They asked people to send a tea bag to the Oval Office. One of the exhortations was “Tea Bag the Fools in D.C.” A protester was spotted with a sign saying, “Tea Bag the Liberal Dems Before They Tea Bag You.” So, conservatives started it: started with this terminology. But others ran with it and ran with it”

  19. Cassie Bristol

    Sue Schardt is the executive director of the Association of Independents in Radio.

    Her comments prove exactly why NPR and PBS no longer need pubic funding from Taxpayers.

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