NPR's Vivian Schiller Resigns After James O'Keefe Sting; New York Times Blames Rape Victim?
Two distinctly icky stories dominate media news this Wednesday, with none bigger than the mess at National Public Radio following yesterday's release of a hidden camera video by the right-wing videographer and activist James O'Keefe. The public radio organization scrambled as a result of the (mostly feigned) outrage, turning a faux-scandal into a very real one by speeding up the resignation of outgoing fund-raising executive Ron Schiller, followed this morning by the pushing out of Chief Executive Vivian Schiller (no relation) by the board, thereby justifying the dishonest and otherwise shady actions of O'Keefe, an 'investigative journalist,' already celebrated on the right for bringing down ACORN with a similar scheme. Elsewhere, a heartbreaking New York Times article about a gang rape in a small Texas town is drawing more worthy outrage for its perceived blaming of an 11-year-old victim. More details on those stories, and two departures from The Daily, inside Press Clips, our daily media round-up.
NPR Overreaction: In short, the fund-raising Schiller sat down with two men pretending to be vaguely anti-Semitic members of the Muslim Brotherhood under the premise that they would donate $5 million to NPR. Schiller politely heard their pitch and personal complaints, because that was his job, while refusing to take their (fake) check numerous times. Along the way, he said unwise, but not unheard of things about Republicans and more specifically the Tea Party ("racist," "scary") and NPR's federal funding, but made sure to note that they were his views, not his employer's.
O'Keefe, as he's known to do, sneakily edited the hidden camera footage, cutting parts out and making others unintelligible with an ominous narrator and offensive Middle Eastern music. The Daily Caller, a conservative website, posted the result and buttressed the video with a description that, among other things, makes Schiller look complicit or at least weak in the face of anti-Zionist and radical Muslim statements made by O'Keefe's actors.
As a result, though Schiller had already resigned from NPR for a new job, effective in May, he quit immediately, and NPR, under the already problematic guise of a neutral news organization condemned his statements and apologized.
It should have ended there.
Instead, not only will Schiller not accept his new job at the Aspen Institute, but his boss, NRP's Chief Executive Vivian Schiller has also resigned, likely due to pressure from the company's board. "I obviously had no prior knowledge" of the offending comments in the sting video, "and nothing to do with them, and disavowed them as soon as I learned of them all. But I'm the C.E.O., and the buck stops here," she told the New York Times.
The chairman of the board said that in light of this incident, plus the Juan Williams controversy, in which the host was fired for insensitive comments about Muslims, "became such a distraction to the organization it hindered Vivian Schiller's ability to lead the organization going forward."
O'Keefe, for his part, said the whole thing was sparked as a revenge plot against NPR for Williams's firing.
And so we're left with an example of a flimsy media company being too afraid to weather a storm, and subsequently making someone big take the fall in another Culture War battle lost by the left. As a consolation prize, a lot of reasonable words have already been written on the subject:
- Here's Jack Shafer, before the Vivian Schiller resigned, explaining that you mustn't love NPR to stand with Schiller:
...pardon me if I'm not outraged that 1) a pair of NPR officials hosting potential donors would merrily slag conservatives, Republicans, Tea Party members, and other non-liberals or 2) display temporary deafness when deep-pocketed potential funders say ugly and demented things.
- Here's Salon's Alex Pareene nailing the hypocrisy of Juan Williams, "who was fired for expressing perfectly common views that upset a bunch of uptight liberal p.c. police ninnies," and now "is thrilled that a man was fired for expressing perfectly common views that upset a bunch of upstanding brave conservative American heroes."
- Here's a case for why NPR should push for Congress to end its government subsidy.
- Here's how O'Keefe, who fancies himself a journalist, not only lied, but landed nothing substantial from it anyway:
It'd be one thing if NPR were actually taking money from Muslim Brotherhood members announcing they wanted to get more of the Hamas and Hezbollah perspective on American airwaves. And it'd be one thing if journalists were exposing that reality. But that's not what's happened here. It's just as problematic when a conservative journalist does this to the left-wingers at NPR as when a leftist journalist calls up Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin pretending to be David Koch. Journalists are supposed to be in the business of truth-telling, not lying.
Yet then there's NPR's ombudsman, clearly peeved at the embarrassment suffered by the company, left wondering, "Doesn't anyone in NPR's top management think of the consequences before they act?"
Schiller comes across as an effete, well-educated, liberal intellectual - just exactly the stereotype that critics long have used against NPR and other bastions of the news media. It's also a stereotype that NPR journalists try hard to combat every day in their newsgathering.
And so consumers of news are left the losers, and liberals the really, really big losers.
NYT Uh Oh: Others are up in arms today about the New York Times article "Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town," in which the horrifying story of an 11-year-old's gang rape is told with far too much victim-blaming and concern for the alleged perpetrators.
Already, Change.org has posted a petition, "Tell the New York Times to Apologize for Blaming a Child for Her Gang Rape," in protest, calling it "appalling," the way in which the Times reporter "reported the victim blaming sentiments of members of the Texas community in which the rape occurred as truth." Unbelievably, the article reads:
"They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said."
"Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?" said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. "How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?"
The reporter also may give too much to the suspects when he quotes one community member saying, "These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives." The "boys" in question -- up to 18 of them in all -- range from middle schoolers to a 27-year-old. The petition concludes:
Tell the New York Times to issue a published apology for their coverage of this incident and publish an editorial from a victim's rights expert on how victim blaming in the media contributes to the prevalance of sexual assault. No one ever deserves to be raped and no victim should ever be told it was their fault. New York Times, we expect better. We demand better.
Two Down at Daily: The first iPad newspaper has had its share of problems and has now lost its first two editorial employees. Political reporter John Ward is headed to The Huffington Post, while culture writer Lauren Bans is moving to GQ.