Conservative activist catches NPR fundraiser expressing opinions [UPDATED]
[UPDATE: Now NPR's president and CEO Vivan Schiller, no relation to Ron, has resigned after a conversation with the organization's board. It is unclear if she quit or was forced out. That'll teach her to ... employ people who talk about their opinions at lunch?]
Conservative activist James O’Keefe has made a career out of one very specific niche: videotaping members of ‘the liberal establishment’ saying things, and then ginning up a scandal not entirely supported by the contents of the video.
The latest tape comes from a pair of O’Keefe operatives who posed as representatives of an education organization connected to the Muslim Brotherhood and secretly taped an interview with NPR fund-raising executive Ron Schiller. In the video, Schiller reveals a number of politically-embarrassing-but-not-quite-inappropriate views, including the contention that the Tea Party is "scary" and "xenophobic."
On the Tea Party:
"[The Republican Party has] been hijacked by this group that is … not just Islamaphobic but really xenophobic. Basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist people."
Inappropriate, embarrassing and probably wrong, yes. But is this view really far outside the American mainstream that it is a scandal when someone — someone, again, who is a fund-raiser and not involved in NPR’s editorial process, and who specified he was speaking as himself and not as a representative of NPR —voices them? Probably not, (even if that person’s employer, as NPR does, receives government funding.)
The bigger problem, as James Poniewozik notes, is that "Schiller’s insulting remarks about conservatives and Tea Party members read like a satirical script of a condescending, smug, insular liberal… Public broadcasting is in the position of asking people for money. Best not to send the message that you can’t stand a lot of them."
On government funding:
"Very little of our funding comes from the government, but [Republicans] act as if all our funding comes from the government… it is very clear that in the long run we would be better off without federal funding. And the challenge right now is that if we lost it altogether, we’d have a lot of stations go dark."
Coming during Republican efforts to de-fund NPR, this is is supposed to be a very damaging quote. But what, exactly, is wrong about this? NPR does receive government money, but doesn’t depend on it. If they lost it, they wouldn’t go out of business, but some stations in smaller towns and cities would be shut down. As John Cook at Gawker snarks, "This shocking endorsement of the conservative position on NPR is causing outrage among NPR’s conservative critics, because they are idiots."
"What we all believe is that if we don’t have Muslim voices, in our schools and on the air… it’s the same thing we faced as a nation when we didn’t have female voices."
That this quote is highlighted as potentially damaging says more about O’Keefe himself than it does about Schiller. As he did during his 2009 ACORN videos, O’Keefe puts his targets next to what he considers a terrifying boogeyman —then an ‘urban pimp,’ now a ‘shadowy Muslim’ —and gets outraged when they don’t scream in terror. In 2011, are we really in a world where expressing generic support for Muslims is something to be ashamed of?
To cap off this not-very-scandalous scandal, Schiller ultimately refused a $5 million donation from the fake group. He ultimately left NPR some time last month, to take a job with the Aspen Foundation.
O’Keefe’s edited video is below. The full version is available here.