Following yesterday’s controversy in which a former NPR executive responsible for fund raising, with no connection to news or editorial policy of the network, was caught on tape stating the truth, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller has been made the sacrificial lamb. In addition, Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian Schiller), who made the comments about the right wing and Tea Party, and had previously taken a job elsewhere, has been placed on administrative leave for his limited time remaining at NPR.
There has been considerable talk about the controversy–much of it in NPR blogs and on NPR shows. For example, Diane Rehm devoted an hour to the controversy. While we naturally expect higher standards from an objective media outlet such as NPR than from Fox, compare this to what occurs at Fox whenever someone there demonstrates conservative bias. Have we ever seen Fox devote time or web space to an honest discussion of what “fair and balanced” really means? Has Fox ever fired an executive for displaying conservative bias? Has Fox ever reacted the numerous times when an anchor on a news show has slipped and referred to the Republican Party as their side?
NPR’s news reporting is high quality and unbiased–far better than any other broadcast or cable news reporting available. While it is probably true that they employ more liberals than conservatives, the liberals there generally bend over backwards to be fair, often giving conservatives an edge there. The controversial, but mostly true, comments from Ron Schilling are certainly not reflected in the shows they air.
Whether the reactionary and xenophobic views of the right wing should be discussed more on air is open to debate. On the one hand a news outfit should not be openly favorable to one party over the other (as Fox is to the Republicans). On the other hand, the extreme right wing movement which has taken control of the Republican Party does represent a serious threat to American liberty which should not be ignored. The right wing pushes its agenda by spreading misinformation to counter actual facts. Objectivity does not necessarily mean to accept the statements of each side as equally valid when one is being honest and the other is spreading untrue propaganda.
Hostility towards the extreme right wing which has taken control of the Republican Party is not the same as openly opposing formerly mainstream Republican beliefs. Many former conservatives have rejected this extremism. In his later years Barry Goldwater rejected the influence of the religious right on the Republican Party and referred to himself as a liberal. Despite the frequency with which his name is brought up, it is also doubtful that Ronald Reagan would be happy with the current direction of his party.
While NPR does an excellent job in presenting news, they have been rather awkward when it has come to firing people. Juan Williams should not have been employed as a news analyst at NPR but he also should not have been fired based upon the specific remarks which led to his dismissal.
The CEO of NPR is inevitably going to be faced with political controversy when faced with a right wing movement which is hostile to objective news and the First Amendment. Handling controversy is a necessary skill of the CEO and perhaps they ultimately need someone better than Vivian Schiller to handle this position. However to force her out today is a foolish act of capitulation to the authoritarian right. This will do nothing to reduce conservative attacks on either NPR or the free press, and more likely will only act to encourage them.