The fallout from conservative prankster James O'Keefe's latest video that exposed an NPR executive's political views has been swift and immense. What was at first an Internet-driven brush fire--with the blogosphere seemingly divided about whether or not the revelations of departing NPR ad-exec Ron Schilller were even that controversial at all--became a full-fledged blaze with the resignation of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, (no relation) who it seems was forced out from an organization increasingly worried about losing government funding. If the NPR board of directors had meant to diffuse the controversy, they seemed to have done exactly the opposite.
Did NPR do the right thing by firing its CEO? NPR critics certainly think it's time for a shakeup, and want funding pulled, as well. But some, including many NPR sympathizers, think ditching Schiller may have just added fuel and legitimacy to the backlash, which they see as increasingly partisan. Here's a breakdown of their argument as it stands right now.
Trumped Up Scandal in the First Place
In regards to Ron Schiller's comments in the video that started it all, Joel Meares at Columbia Journalism Review offers this: "It’s not as if he came out in favor of infanticide, or expressed a lifelong admiration of Pol Pot. He offered the same lazy liberal nostrums common at Washington cocktail parties and presumably very familiar to NPR staffers at all levels."
Former Salon editor Joan Walsh, who had come out strongly against NPR for their firing of Juan Williams originally in October, thought the organization was currently "running scared," according to the Daily Beast. "It’s mind-blowing that [Vivian Schiller] would be forced out so quickly based on the work of a known scam artist," she's quoted as saying.
Dan Kennedy at the Guardian thought Vivian Schiller herself should have exercised more caution before condeming the video: "O'Keefe's record of selective editing and even lawbreaking should have led her to wait for all the facts to come in," he wrote.
Either Way, NPR Seemed to Hurt its Own Cause
Joel Meares, writing at Columbia Journalism Review, thinks the organization made itself more vulnerable to criticism from the right.
Then there was also Jon Stewart's response. "Obviously, in a case like this, the erection at Fox News headquarters can most likely be seen from outer space," he said. Here's the video, in which Stewart also outlines how he thinks NPR should have responded to the incident, for example by going after Fox's own bias:
But Maybe Defunding NPR Would Actually Help NPR
On the bright side, ties between NPR and the government may ultimately be doing more harm than good for the organization, says Gawker's Hamilton Nolan, noting that the 10 percent of NPR's budget that comes from the government "isn't worth having to make sure that your executive team is acceptable to John Boehner's most conservative colleagues."
James Poniewozick seems to agree, noting that "NPR is relatively flush as public-media outlets go anyway, and it would be better off being free to tell Congress to buzz off," given that when "you take government money, you invite political meddling, and worries about politics tend to make programming toothless."
Kennedy at the Guardian is more concerned. While NPR's success at fundraising could allow it to surivive without government support, "it would be a tragedy if Schiller's departure foreshadows a full-fledged retreat. NPR's board demonstrated that it has not been paying any attention to the culture wars that are raging these days. If you make a blood sacrifice to the right, it just wants more"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.