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
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!