NPR: Battered, Beaten, and Broken, but Still Important

On Tuesday, NPR went on the defensive as the conservative Daily Caller posted a video of an NPR executive calling the Tea Party "racists."

by Matthew L. Schafer

On Tuesday, The Dailey Caller posted an edited video showing two NPR executives talking with two men representing themselves as potential NPR donors from an Islamic organization.  During the meeting, Ron Schiller, NPR’s senior vice president for development and president of the NPR Foundation, disparaged the Republican Party, Tea Party, and others on the right.

“The Tea Party is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian,” Schiller said at one point.  “I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move.”

“Tea Party people [aren’t] 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,” Schiller said.  “They’re seriously racist, racist people.”

In 2009, Vivian Schiller, President of NPR, who is not related to Ron Schiller, said that “Ron has performed far beyond expectations at every institution he has served.”  She went on to say that she was confident that he would improve NPR’s fundraising potential.  Both Schillers have now resigned.

The newest embarrassment comes after a long string of NPR blunders.  Just last year, NPR took jabs from those on the left who complained that NPR’s internal memo advising NPR employees not to go to the Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity was inappropriate.

In October, NPR fired Juan Williams, a news analyst, after comments he made about Muslims in airports.

This most recent blunder could not have come at a worse time for public media.  Currently, there are three Republican sponsored bills in Congress that seek to defund public media.  Those include, the appropriations bill, a bill introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), and a bill introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC).  All the bills seek to defund the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB) by 2013.

“The issue about taxpayers funding public broadcasting isn’t about who gets hired or fired, it’s about two simple facts: we can’t afford it and they don’t need it,” DeMint said.

NPR receives about 2% of its federal funding directly, and relies heavily on donations.  It also receives programming fees from member stations (the local one’s you listen to on your drive to work), which receive about 10% of their funding from the government.

While DeMint’s comments are shared by several Republicans, some on the right have been even more critical of NPR.  Indeed, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Michelle Malkin have all disparaged the embattled NPR.

“They don’t seem to have a problem accepting tax money from those gun-totin’ racists though, do they?”  Malkin recently wrote.  “Well worry not, my fellow hayseeds, because this particular NPR exec is just begging to be defunded.”

It seems obvious that Schiller’s statements were inappropriate and uncalled for; NPR even called them “appalling.”

Alicia Shepard, NPR’s ombudsman, recently released a response to Schiller’s comments, writing that “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.”

She’s exactly right, and her comments show just why we need public media; It’s honest.  Indeed, during the Juan Williams situation, NPR paid a prominent law firm to reevaluate its policies with regards to firing employees after the firing.  It also responded to complaints regarding the Daily Show rally.  In just twenty-four hours since the video has leaked, NPR has covered–relentlessly and honestly–developments to the story.

One article alone was updated twelve times throughout the day yesterday.  It was a swift response to an untenable situation, which immediately condemned Schiller’s comments.  In some places, NPR’s coverage of Schiller’s comments has been more critical than others in the media.  Indeed, while some organizations may have tried to ignore this incident, NPR is highlighting the incident, and demonstrating that they are, indeed, a reliable news organization.

It is also important to mention that at the time Ron Schiller made his comments, he had already tendered his resignation to NPR.  Moreover, Schiller had no part in editorial decisions at NPR while he was at NPR.

As previously reported, NPR and PBS continue to receive high marks in public opinion polls.  Indeed, a March poll found that most people believe that PBS is an excellent value.  In an earlier poll, the Pew Research Center found that 50% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans had a favorable view of NPR.

Publicly funded media are important.  They remain trusted, and provide programming that normally may not survive in a media market flooded in otherwise vacuous but entertaining content.  This is not to say that commercial media provide no benefit–indeed, they do.  Nonetheless, those commercial outlets simply don’t have the resources to provide the public with varied reliable content.

Foreign bureaus and state house reporting is all but gone.  Yet, NPR still has 17 foreign bureaus in places like Kabul, Afghanistan and Beijing, China.  CBS, for example, has just four.  This is why NPR is important.  Currently, it may be battered, beaten, and broken, but it’s still important to democracy and journalism.

Flickr/Todd Huffman


About Matthew L. Schafer

Matthew L. Schafer graduated from the University of Illinois in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Media Studies. He later attended Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication where he earned a Masters of Mass Communication and Georgetown University Law Center where he earned his J.D.
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