NPR, Public Discourse, and Common Sense

Today NPR Chief Executive Vivian Schiller resignedafter an NPR fundraising executive, Ronald Schiller, — coincidence, no relation — was caught in one of Republican “journalist” James O’Keefe’s traps…and there is a lot about this that should make people angry. 

The problem of deception and entrapment leading to conclusions of fact and intention should be obvious.  However issues surrounding the response to this entrapment, both from NPR defenders and critics, say a lot about double-standards.  It also reveals how pathetically weak any answer to conservative messaging is in this country.  The rhetorical right controls public discourse.  It is that simple. 

First, why do the opinions of one person — Ron Schiller — represent all that is NPR and what it stands for, but  the almost ubiquitous crazy right wingers and Tea Partiers we see everywhere can be dismissed as existing on the fringe and not indicative of mainstream conservative politics? 

If we applied the same standard used to judge Ron Schiller to judge American conservativism, you could argue that Ron Schiller was absolutely correct about the disparaging opinions he expressed about conservatives. 

Don’t we see racist, jingoistic, and utterly stupid signs at Tea Party rallies, for example?  Or take the self-fashioned  Tea Party Caucus leader in Washington, Michele Bachmann.  She has said plenty of outrageous things.  Should we conclude, therefore, that all GOP Congressmen and Congresswomen are equally nuts? 

We don’t draw this conclusion.  The right would never admit it and the left is too damn careful to be truly fair and balanced.  Need an example?  Listen to NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard being interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio Midmorning with Kerri Miller today.

Alicia Shepard falls all over herself to concede everything.  She all but throws in the towel, lamenting that the battle for public funding is all but lost now.  She vilifies Ron Schiller repeatedly, presumably trying to put distance between Schiller and NPR.  Ok, fine…the outcome of that staged trap is embarrassing and makes defending NPR more difficult, but at least try to defend NPR!

It might even pay to come to Schiller’s defense by explaining that in the course of trying to measure up a potentially major donor he went too far in trying to earn the donor’s confidence and expressed opinions that are not shared by NPR nor by its programming. 

Shepard did a horrible job re-framing the NPR message.  Running away from Schiller and throwing barbs at him as you run only seems to reinforce and magnify the negative message that the event created.  That is the wrong way to answer a crisis like this. 

But that’s more or less the liberal way.  Maybe we should capitalize it and take ownership:  The Liberal Way.  Roll over and concede.  Apologize.  Back track.  Don’t counter attack.  Maybe the attackers will get bored and go away…

Strong and positive counter attack is the responsible action.  Pushing back is not necessarily a bad thing.

I would have acknowledged Ron Schiller’s mistake, but put it into a context that lets you defend NPR and even defend the work he was trying to do.  You might change the narrative, for example; explain that raising money from private donors is a necessary and high-pressure reality, requiring many individual judgement calls, which in this case went wrong.

Sesame Street

Embrace the mistake then move on to the NPR message. 

How about:  “Without our combination of public funding and private fundraising many small NPR stations could go off the air, impacting millions of people who depend on NPR for news and information…”  And rebuild your positive NPR message.  Constructively go back on the offensive.  Yes?  No?  Why not?

Once again common sense has been hijacked by conservative rhetoric and hysteria, and the liberal left is complicit. 

Where is the talk about the value of NPR to the people of the United States?  How about PBS?  Television stands to lose even more in this race to de-fund America.  Why are we answering the critics…and agreeing with them in crisis in a misguided attempt (once again) to win their favor and compromise? 

We are watching the American way of life that made this country great and strong eviscerated before our eyes and no one is getting into the fight to defend it.  The NPR fiasco — a program that costs taxpayers about $1 per person annually — is a very public example of how pathetic our nation’s  impending losses appear to be.

The course of public discourse must change and constantly placating the angry right in debate is not going to get it done.


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