One mistake begets another and another
Vivian Schiller, the president of National Public Radio, has been fired — finally — by her long compliant board. Schiller was in over her head and she kept making big mistakes just as the new conservative Republican group in the U.S. House of Representatives was trying to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The CPB supports a small part of the budgets of public broadcasters (many of which have no affiliation with NPR whatsoever). By her actions, Schiller actually helped the conservatives who are trying to do in NPR.
We certainly know why they are after NPR and PBS. NPR is the best electronic news gathering organization in the country. Since the conservatives have achieved hegemony over commercial radio with the likes of Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and Savage, they must be aghast as the commercial radio audience diminishes and the public radio audience grows. There’s only one possible solution to that: “Kill them.”
Vivian Schiller made three big mistakes. The first was to announce that within five to 10 years there would be no more over-the-air terrestrial radio; it would all be online.
She may be right but her prediction raised howls from the people like me who run the NPR member stations. Under her direction, NPR started directing as many people as possible to their website. If, as she predicted, things were all going digital, who would need the member stations? Everyone would go to NPR.
If you wanted the weather, all you had to do was to put in your zip code. If you want the local news, there were moves afoot to have NPR supervise and collect that for you, too. The reaction was so swift to Schiller’s prediction that she had to apologize for it. I think the curtain opened just wide enough for some unhappy folks to get a look in. One down.
The second mistake was huge: the firing of NPR commentator Juan Williams for remarks made in his other gig on Fox News. He said he felt uncomfortable on an airplane when he saw Muslims on the same plane and was immediately dismissed for his remarks. The conservatives let up a howl saying that NPR hadn’t fired more liberal commentators who expressed their views on commercial stations. The ax fell quickly and the prickly Ellen Weiss, NPR’s news director, was shoved out.
The compliant NPR board, however, did not hold Schiller responsible even though she was in on the Williams canning. In fact, Schiller made it worse by making a snide remark about Williams and his psychiatrist. The board proudly announced that they still had faith in her but she would not be getting a bonus. A bonus?
They fired the news director but Schiller wouldn’t be getting a bonus?
Then came the piece de resistance. A group of gonzo conservatives with a record of infiltrating organizations they perceived as liberal managed to arrange a luncheon with NPR development people for the alleged purpose of discussing a $5 million donation to NPR. The generous donors were make-believe Muslims and peppered their taped conversation with anti-Semitic remarks and suggestions that maybe their donation would not have to be reported to the proper governmental authorities. A comment by one of the “contributors” referring to NPR as “National Palestinian Radio” drew a gushing response from one of the development people.
This, finally, was the end for Schiller. Of course, had it been a left-wing or liberal group doing the infiltrating, the right-wing conservatives would have been outraged. I wonder where the FBI has been. The NPR cause has been hurt. The Republicans in Congress have made great hay and even the top NPR news gatherers have signed a joint letter of disapproval. Bad news in every sense of the word.
Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 3/12/11