Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Cowards and conservatives: Much ridiculous ado about Ron Schiller, NPR, and James O'Keefe's latest right-wing scam

There has been much ado today -- I'm late coming to this, but I haven't been feeling well -- about NPR being caught in yet another gotcha sting by right-wing activist James O'Keefe and his ironically-named Project Veritas.

Basically, if you haven't heard the details yet, NPR executives Ron Schiller and Betsy Liley had lunch with two men posing as representatives of the so-called Muslim Education Action Center Trust, a fictitious philanthropic organization backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. The group, the two men said, wanted to give $5 million to NPR because, they said, "the Zionist coverage is quite substantial elsewhere." During the lunch, Schiller went off on Republicans and conservatives, saying, for example:

-- "The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian – I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird evangelical kind of move."

-- On the Tea Party: "It's not just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America, gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."

That's about it. O'Keefe got it all on video, and now the story's flying around the Internet, with the anti-NPR ire of the right ramped up to new levels of vitriol.
Let me address the above comments first:

-- The Republican Party is indeed socially conservative and deeply theocratic. On the whole, it seeks to impose right-wing, fundamentalist Christian "values" on the country. One might object to Schiller's assertion that such evangelical fundamentalism isn't "Christian," but Schiller is right.

-- Schiller does somewhat misrepresent the Tea Party. While there are indeed racist elements in it, it is for the most part an anti-tax, anti-government, hyper-libertarian movement.

Undeniably, there are xenophobic and anti-Muslim strains in the Republican Party, significant if not dominant strains, but they are to be found more among the paleo-conservatives (and some neoconservatives), as well as within the party "establishment," not really, or at least not exclusively, among the Tea Partiers. (Rand Paul isn't really the problem here, it's more the likes of fear- and hatemongers like Pete King.) Still, the Tea Party is overwhelmingly white, pro-gun, and "middle" American. It may not be as racist as Schiller suggests, but it's certainly scary.

Okay, so what else did Schiller say?

-- "What NPR did I'm very proud of. What NPR stood for is a non-racist, non-bigoted, straightforward telling of the news. Our feeling is that if a person expresses his or her personal opinion, which anyone is entitled to do in a free society, they are compromised as a journalist. They can no longer fairly report. And the question we asked internally was, can Juan Williams, when he makes a statement like that, can he report to the Muslim population, and be believed, for example? And the answer is no. He lost all credibility and that breaks your ethics as a journalist."

I didn't necessarily think Williams should have been fired on the grounds that what he said crossed the line -- though I certainly would have supported firing him for his long record of being a shoddy pundit -- but it's not like Schiller said anything outrageous in defending NPR's decision.

-- "I think what we all believe is if we don't have Muslim voices in our schools, on the air... it's the same thing we faced as a nation when we didn't have female voices."

And? There is widespread anti-Muslim bigotry in America right now, most of it stoked and espoused by the right, and there should indeed be "Muslim voices in our schools." That doesn't mean that "our schools" should be Muslim, though conservatives are also stoking fears of a Muslim takeover and the imposition of Sharia law, just that Muslims in America are part of the American fabric.

-- NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding."

This was perhaps the most controversial thing he said, but only because it contradicts NPR's official position. If it's just his opinion, so what? He should have avoided talking corporate policy, and shouldn't have spoken for NPR given his dissenting view, but that's an error of judgement, nothing more.

So can we move on? Conservatives will make a big deal of this, but they were already anti-NPR, and, as far as I'm concerned, Schiller's remarks don't amount to much.

Well, let's address a few points first:

-- NPR has commented officially on the matter already:

The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept.

We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for.

Mr. Schiller announced last week that he is leaving NPR for another job.

In other words, NPR was not about to take the money, quickly distanced itself from Schiller's remarks (going so far as to call them appalling), and further distanced itself from Schiller, who had already announced that he was leaving NPR to take a job elsewhere.

-- I am actually somewhat appalled the NPR called Schiller's remarks appalling. Again, is what he said really so bad, so outrageous? Fox News people, including on-air personalities, say far worse all the time. NPR has different (i.e., higher) standards, obviously, but it seems to me that NPR is going too far the other way, trying to defend itself from any and all possible association with partisanship. And for what? For the small amount NPR takes in federal funding every year?

-- NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation) said Schiller's remarks were "deeply distressing to reporters, editors and others who bring fairness, civility and respect for a wide variety of viewpoints to their work every day." They may have been, and may still be -- how should I know? -- but Schiller was a fundraiser and was not involved with NPR content. So it's not like it was an editor or reporter, or executive responsible for such matters, was caught saying such partisan things.

-- Schiller himself has already apologized:

While the meeting I participated in turned out to be a ruse, I made statements during the course of the meeting that are counter to NPR's values and also not reflective of my own beliefs. I offer my sincere apology to those I offended. I resigned from NPR, previously effective May 6th, to accept another job. In an effort to put this unfortunate matter behind us, NPR and I have agreed that my resignation is effective today.

Again, why this embarrassing self-flagellation? Were his remarks really "not reflective" of his "own beliefs"? So what? And whom exactly did he offend? Republicans? Tea Partiers? Anti-Muslim bigots? Why does he need to apologize to them? Perhaps he should have apologized to NPR to openly objecting to corporate policy, at least in terms of federal funding, and perhaps he should have admitted that he spoke too freely, but more than that was hardly necessary.

And yet here he is, along with NPR itself, issuing one big mea culpa while conservatives point fingers, sneer, and gloat.

Please. Does he have no self-respect? Does NPR have no self-respect? Do we liberals have no self-respect?

I'm sick and fucking tired of the double standard. Conservatives can say whatever the hell they want, going so far as to promote extremist views on every media channel they can get hold of, but liberals have to bend over backwards to apologize for even the slightest hint of bias. It's truly and utterly pathetic.

And, in this case, it's coming from a guy who was already on the way out! (And a cowardly NPR just kicked him out the door sooner.)

-- As John Cole puts it in his usual blunt way: "The latest scoop from the wingnutosphere is that some former NPR fundraiser thinks that the teahadists are nuts and that the GOP has been hijacked by crazy people. This is being spun as some grave sin, when in reality it should be met with a resounding -- 'No shit.'"

My thought exactly.

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  • It's an attack against organizati¬ons with an opposing political ideology. That is their intent, and the ends justify the means. Fail to see how this exposes wide spread corruption¬, or has any significan¬t journalist¬ic quality.

    By Anonymous Atlanta Roofing, at 10:06 PM  

  • And there are no elements of racism in all the democratic states filled with White Teamsters. Are you serious?

    Please. THere are no elements to the Tea Party that are racist. NONE> I konw ZERO conseratives who are racist.. but southern white democrats? Gimme a break.. its a nest of racism.

    So please. STOP using racism and even your little snide 'elements' comment is PUKE

    Liberals cannot handle freedom. THAT is the problem. You cannot deal with people being FREE> You Want FREAKING CONTROL!!!!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:38 PM  

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