Special Edition: A Tale of Two Fake Interviews: Walker vs. Schiller
Last month, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker got “punked” by a Buffalo, NY radio morning-show host pretending to be billionaire Conservative activist “David Koch”. And yesterday, Conservative slam-journalist and convicted felon James O’Keefe posted a hidden-camera video interview with National Public Radio’s Senior VP Ron Schiller and Senior Director of Giving Betsy Liley. The video, shot last February, yet being released only now (after sufficient editing?) shows a lunch meeting with two men they believed to be “representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood” looking to make “a $5million dollar donation to NPR”. O’Keefe went the extra mile on this one, even setting up a fake website for the donor organization, in case anyone at NPR decided to check them out (is it just me, or does this smack of entrapment? Like parking a Mercedes with the keys in it, in a bad neighborhood). Both men, Walker & Schiller, said indefensible things in their interviews. Only one said things potentially criminal. Likewise, only one of them actually resigned over their comments, and it wasn’t the guy that admitted to considering engaging in criminal activity like sending in “rabble-rousers” into the protest crowds (many with their children) to “stir up trouble”. No, it was the guy that dared suggest that the Tea Party has become “an Ultra Right Wing organization” that is “becoming more & more extremist”, “racists” and full of “religious zealots”. Can’t imagine what might make him say all that.
I watched the entire “interview” posted on YouTube to see just what was creating such a media firestorm. Of greatest concern to me, ABC World News opened Wednesday night claiming Shiller resigned “after making anti-Semitic comments”. Knowing O’Keefe’s penchant for selective editing, I wanted to see/hear for myself just what was really said (I offset the video to start 95 seconds in, bypassing the “explanatory intro”):
Early in the interview, Schiller actually says, “I’m going to take my NPR hat off for a moment” and speak candidly. At this point, Schiller KNOWS what he is about to say reflects his OWN views and not those of NPR (but NOT because he’s about to say anything racist). Whether any NPR programming is influenced by Schiller’s opinions, the authors of the video never say. And it is clear that is exactly what they are suggesting by this “expose’”. The entire point of this video is to “expose NPR’s Liberal bias”, but if they can’t provide any examples of that bias leaking over into their programing decisions, the entire point of the video is moot.
Conservatives are all jumping on the fact that Schiller does claim in the video that NPR would not only “survive without Federal funding”, but that it might in fact be “better off without it”… because it would free up their programming decisions. From what I saw, Schiller wasn’t going off the record so he could make racists comments, it’s because he was about to proffer his own opinion of NPR’s funding. One of the very reasons why Federal funding of public media like NPR and PBS is necessary is to free them from having to worry about offending sponsors. There’s a reason why defense contractors McDonnell/Douglas and Boeing sponsor the Sunday talkshows. Just WHO, watching “Meet the Press” on Sunday, is in the market for an oil drilling platform? They run ads so they can dictate content and receive favorable press. Public funding frees NPR and PBS of that influence. So whether NPR “can survive without Federal funding” is irrelevant. OF COURSE NPR “can survive without Federal funding”. Simply turn it into “commercial” TV. But we do so, so that they can remain unbiased without worrying about content offending a big donor. We don’t WANT NPR and PBS relying on corporate money. THAT is why we fund them.
What the Conservative Media leaves out of Schiller’s “admission” is the statement immediately following, that if they did lose Federal funding, “a lot of stations would go dark.” There’s a big difference between just “surviving” and widespread availability. Schiller goes on to clarify his statement to say the reason the loss of Federal funding might actually be good is because it might “boost donations, because a lot of people falsely believe most of NPR’s funding comes from the government” when in fact it is closer to “only 10%” (UPDATE: According to NPR, they receive only 5.8% of their funding from the government – Mugsy). Makes you wonder why NPR is even such a huge target of the Right that it requires such an elaborate sting to discredit them? We’re talking about less than $10 million dollars, or less than three tenths* of 1% of the Federal budget. No, this is about “getting” so-called “Liberal programming” off the air… a claim that, as I note above, O’Keefe neither makes nor attempts to prove.
(*UPDATE: 5.8%, would be less than 2/10th of 1 percent of the Federal Budget.)
Later, the controversial talk about Jewish involvement in the media that led to accusations of anti-Semitism, comes up. Watching this portion of the video, I noticed that SCHILLER IS NOT SAYING A WORD. It is not Schiller making anti-Semitic remarks, it is O’Keefe’s fake Muslim donor doing all the talking, bashing Jews in the media and praising NPR for doing stories that show the plight of Palestinians. Schiller nods and laughs uncomfortably (IMHO), all the while stuffing food in his mouth so that he doesn’t say anything to offend what he believes may be a big donor to NPR. The way this story has been promoted, the suggestion has been that Schiller himself made anti-Semitic comments. In fact, Schiller makes a point of disagreeing with his host, saying he does NOT see an excess of Jewish influence at NPR. He does however say that there is a strong Jewish influence over “newspapers”, but he goes on to say that influence comes from “Zionists”… typically far-Right Christians, not Jews… shaping print media. Based upon MY judgment of his words in the video, Schiller NEVER slammed Jews, nor expressed any anti-Semitic comments about them.
Betsy Liley then goes on to point out to her hosts in the midst of their anti-Semitic rant, that the Jewish community actually supports NPR’s efforts to report on many of the problems facing Palestinians and the Middle East, even if it doesn’t show Israel in the best of light:
Liley: “They [their Jewish donors] may not agree with what we put on the air, but they find us important to them. And sometimes it’s not easy to hear what we say, and what our reporters say, but they still think NPR is important to support.”
I don’t know about you, but to me, Liley is defending the Jewish community to the Muslim racists sitting across from her at the table. Schiller joins in their defense, adding:
“Right, because I think they are really looking for a fair point of view, and many Jewish organizations are not. Frankly, I’m sure there are Muslim organizations not looking for a fair point of view, and that’s fine. We’re not one of them.“
Personally, I think that’s a pretty gutsy thing to say to a guy you’re trying to convince to give you a $5million dollar check.
Towards the end, the subject of the firing of Juan Williams comes up. Schiller says that he is “proud” of firing Williams because NPR just “could not tolerate his racist remarks”. Once again, Schiller is going out of his way to condemn racism to his racist hosts. Schiller explains, “How could Williams report on the Muslim Community” with any credibility after saying that “seeing Muslims on his plane makes him nervous”? Once he lost all credibility with the Muslim community as an “unbiased journalist”, he could no longer do his job, and therefore was fired. I don’t see how you argue with that logic.
I’m also wondering why it was so important for these hacks to pose as “Muslims” to defame NPR? As if dealing with “Muslims” alone was worthy of condemnation? Couldn’t they just as easily posed as Chinese industrialists or Wall Street bankers? Why “Muslims”? And not just any Muslims, but members of “the Muslim Brotherhood”, which the Right was going apoplectic over during the Egyptian protests (when this meeting took place).
Compare all this to some of the comments by WI governor Walker: Never saying a word about the crisis in his state having anything to do with their financial situation. It was all about crushing the unions and setting a precedent to render them impotent from here on out. He spoke of a political agenda, not an economic one. He spoke of engaging in dirty tricks and likely criminal activity. Compared to this latest O’Keefe video, the wrong person resigned.
(UPDATE 3/10: Gov. Walker Proves All He Really Wanted Was To Bust State Unions.)
(UPDATE 3/11: E-mails released yesterday show NPR’s recently departed CEO Vivian Schiller refused a donation from a phony group of supposed Muslim activists, led by James O’Keefe. When NPR could not verify that the group was in fact a legit non-profit, they asked for paperwork before going further — something O’Keefe could not provide.)
(UPDATE: 3/15: Slate follows up on… of all people… Glenn Beck’s discovery that O’Keefe’s video was highly edited to the point where the accusations made can not be trusted. Beck obtained the unedited video and discovered Schiller’s slam of Tea Partiers was him quoting “what two Republican Congressmen” told him their opinion of the group. Slate goes on to argue with participants in the video, with them claiming to know the thoughts & beliefs of Schiller based upon his answers without actually bothering to ask him what he personally believed.)
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