Come on now: Let's take a breath and put this NPR fracas into perspective.
Just as public radio struggles against yet another assault from the its long-time nemesis -- the right-wing machine that would thrill if our sole sources of information were Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and ads paid for by the Koch Brothers -- it walks into a trap perpetrated by one of the sleaziest operatives ever to climb out of a sewer.
First, in the interest of full disclosure: While not presently committing journalism on public television, the two of us have been colleagues on PBS for almost 40 years (although never for NPR). We've lived through every one of the fierce and often unscrupulous efforts by the right to shut down both public television and radio. Our work has sometimes been the explicit bull's eye on the dartboard, as conservative ideologues sought to extinguish the independent reporting and analysis they find so threatening to their phobic worldview.
Richard Nixon was the first who tried to shut down public broadcasting, strangling and diverting funding, attacking alleged bias and even placing public broadcasters on his legendary enemies list. Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich tried to gut public broadcasting, too, and the George W. Bush White House planted partisan operatives at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in an attempt to challenge journalists who didn't hew to the party line.
But what's happening now is the worst yet. Just as Republicans again clamor for the elimination of government funding and public broadcasting once more fights for life, it steps on its own oxygen line. The details are well-known: how NPR's development chief Ron Schiller stupidly fell into a sting perpetrated by an organization run by the young conservative hit man James O'Keefe, a product of that grimy underworld of ideologically based harassment which feeds the right's slime machine. Posing as members of a phony Muslim group, O'Keefe's agents provocateurs offered NPR a check for $5 million -- an offer that was rejected.
Unfortunately, Ron Schiller couldn't leave it there. Unaware that he was speaking into a hidden camera and microphone, and violating everything we're told from childhood about not talking to strangers, he allowed the two co-conspirators to goad him into a loquacious display of personal opinions -- although subsequent disclosure of the unedited tape shows he was, to a large degree, quoted out of context.
Still, Schiller's a fundraiser, not a news director. NPR keeps a high, thick firewall between its successful development office and its superb news division. If you would see how this integrity is upheld, go to the NPR website and pull up any of its reporting since 2009 on the Tea Party movement. Further, examine how over the past few days NPR has covered the O'Keefe/Schiller contretemps and made no attempt to cover up or ignore its own failings and responsibilities.
Then reverse the situation and contemplate how, say, Fox News would handle a similar incident if they were the target of a sting. Would their coverage be as "fair and balanced" as NPR's? Would they apologize or punish their outspoken employee if he or she demeaned liberals? Don't kid yourself. A raise and promotion would be more likely. Remember what Fox News chief Roger Ailes said about NPR executives after they fired Fox contributor Juan Williams? "They are, of course, Nazis," Ailes told an interviewer. "They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don't want any other point of view." When the Anti-Defamation League objected to the characterization, Ailes apologized but then described NPR as "nasty, inflexible" bigots.
Double standard? You bet. A fundraiser for NPR is axed for his own personal bias and unprofessionalism but Ailes gets away scot free, still running a news division that is constantly pumping arsenic into democracy's drinking water while he slanders public radio as equal to the monsters and murderers of the Third Reich.
Sure, public broadcasting has made its share of mistakes, and there have been times when we who practice our craft under its aegis have been less than stalwart in taking a stand and speaking truth to power. But for all its flaws, consider an America without public media. Consider a society where the distortions and dissembling would go unchallenged, where fact-based reporting is eliminated, and where the field is abandoned to the likes of James O'Keefe, whose "journalism" relies on lying and deceit.
Come on, people: Speak up!