Published March 10, 2011
Those whom the gods seek to destroy, they first make National Public Radio executives. Euripides said that or if he didn’t, he should have.
That sentiment seems sufficiently high brow for a discussion about NPR and PBS – our nation’s elite liberal public broadcasting networks. Both are fighting to stay on welfare – roughly $430 million worth. -- NPR is one doing the Chernobyl impersonation. In a few months, it has gone from radio to radioactive. Controversies have taken a toll on the organization, its standing and its executives, who are dropping faster than Arab leaders.
Every bit of it is well deserved.
Thanks to some video from guerilla filmmaker James O’Keefe and friends, NPR was cast in its own version of “Worst Week Ever.”
It began when NPR’s top fundraiser Ron Schiller tried to impress people he thought were prospective funders by mocking conservatives, saying Tea Partiers are “seriously racist, racist people.” This oddly ended his career at NPR a few weeks earlier than he planned.
Then NPR network CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation) tried to contain the disaster. Schiller is widely credited for bringing the radio network into the digital age, yet it was that very digital age that brought her down and she lost her job in the fallout.
Conservatives were unsurprised by Ron Schiller’s comments, since they seem to reflect NPR editorial policy. Right wingers recall the “How to Speak Teabag” cartoon featured prominently on the NPR site.
It has always appeared to this observer that attacks on conservatives are OK at NPR, just don’t pick on a protected class.
The network fired Juan Williams when he made that mistake, admitting he was “worried” and “nervous” when on a plane with Muslims. The firing was handled so poorly that it cost Senior Vice President for News Ellen Weiss her job as well. Vivian Schiller was denied her annual bonus for that catastrophe.
But while Williams gets fired for his views, other NPR staffers like Nina Totenberg say whatever they want. In December, she apologized for dropping the C word, “Christmas.” “I was at – forgive the expression – a Christmas party,” she said on “Inside Washington.” And back in 1995, it was Totenberg talking about “retributive justice” for conservative Jesse Helms. Laughing, she wondered if Helms would “get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it.”
It’s also the same NPR whose board is made up almost exclusively of lefties. National Review’s Matthew Shaffer found “nearly all have demonstrably liberal political sympathies, with heavy support for the Democratic party, pro-abortion-rights groups, and environmental activism in particular.”
Now, don’t take my word for the NPR problems, read what their ombudsman Lisa Shepard said in a no-holds-barred conversation on Washingtonpost.com. She explained, Ron Schiller “comes across as an effete, well-educated, liberal intellectual – just exactly the stereotype that critics long have used against NPR and other bastions of the news media.”
During the course of the Q&A, Sheppard admitted that she thinks “many journalists tend toward liberal thinking.” Sheppard also questioned NPR’s head of institutional investing Besty Liley, who was also on the video, and “how she could continue effectively for NPR.”
The upshot of its recent scandals is that everyone involved is just as radioactive as the network. Three NPR executives – the CEO, the chief fundraiser and the head of news – are all gone, with one more exec on administrative leave.
Ron Schiller is so toxic that he didn’t just lose his NPR job, he lost his new job at the lefty Aspen Institute before he ever started. Maybe that’s because of a quote from Aspen President and CEO Walter Isaacson on March 6. “Ron Schiller embraces and lives the values that we share as a community.” Now we know those words define anti-conservative hate and Isaacson, the former CEO of CNN and current chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, couldn’t go anywhere near him.
This is an amazing implosion. NPR, and its public television sister at PBS, have for decades served the American elite and thumbed their stuck-up noses at conservatives as if they were media aristocracy. They were.
Back in 1995, conservatives tried defunding public media and lost. The Washington Post ran a memorable headline: “Big Bird Taken Off Death Row.” Even on March 9, 2011, ABC whipped out video of Big Bird, though that part of the PBS empire brought in $211 million in four years, according to S.C. GOP Sen. Jim DeMint.
This year, public media pulled out all the stops, bringing in Arthur the Aardvark to lobby Congress.
Meanwhile, conservatives decried how NPR member stations used federal funding to lobby for more federal funding.
Now this wouldn't be an op-ed about NPR editorial if we didn’t call conservative reaction a form of "schadenfreude" – for those of you who listen to normal radio, that’s the German word that means is used to describe the celebration of someone else’s misfortune. Juan Williams certainly understands the meaning of the word "schadenfreude."
Williams has learned the beauty of living well as the best revenge. Sitting atop a contract with Fox News that reportedly pays him nearly $2 million, the former NPR staffer knocked his former employers for the “worst of white condescension” in how it dumped him last year.
Who can blame him? NPR and PBS have been bastions of lefty ideology for so long that they’ve become utterly incapable of covering real America. Now, NPR finds itself without leadership, with few friends and with a GOP that has a chance to placate angry Tea Party voters who demand a budget victory.
Look for the next NPR CEO to be someone who can reach out to the right and beg forgiveness. Perhaps a former GOP congressman. Maybe the left should stop beating up conservative funder David Koch and ask his help. He sits on the board of trustees for “public media powerhouse WGBH.” Even someone of that stature probably couldn’t stop the defunding.
To you public media fans, that means the Ides of March came early this year. For the rest of us, that means welcome to the free market.
Dan Gainor has seen his shadow and is hunkering down to shiver and watch six more weeks of media about global warming. Gainor is the Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum. He can also be contacted on FaceBook and Twitter as dangainor.