Jacob Heilbrunn

NPR and Political Correctness

National Public Radio is making news again. A few months ago it created a stir when it fired Juan Williams as a commentator. Now it's embroiled in a new controversy.

James O'Keefe, known as a Republican procateur whose targets have included Acorn, managed to persuade NPR executives Ronald Schiller and Betsy Liley to attend a lunch with members of the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center Trust, which was dangling a $5 million donation. At the lunch Schiller laid into the GOP and the Tea Party, denouncing the racism allegedly pervading the latter movement. Much of what Schiller said sounds like liberal boilerplate.

The real reason to denounce Schiller isn't his clumsy statements about the GOP. They're about why a journalist would go to a lunch without even bothering to Google the organization or check into its bona fides. In other words, Schiller got suckered. What kind of standards does that represent?

There can be no doubting that NPR is filled with liberal journalists. But liberalism in its reports isn't really the problem, either. It's that the shows tend to be anodyne. The reporting that NPR does from abroad is its high-point. But otherwise the organization is listing.

What the Schiller brouhaha highlights isn't a problem with the reporters. It's with the management. Something has gone awry when executives feel like they can bloviate about their personal views to outsiders whom they don't even know. Schiller, who is apparently leaving the organization, was venting, presumably at least partly in the hopes of landing the juicy $5 million. Now it could stand to lose a lot more if the Congress does go after its federal funding. Is Vivian Schiller, NPR's head, capable of cleaning up the mess?

UPDATE: Latest reports are that Vivian Schiller has been terminated by NPR's board.