Yet More On Ron Schiller


I really don’t want to beat the NPR/Ron Schiller affair to death, but I guess I’m going to anyway. I continue to think that Schiller flatly did nothing wrong — at least, nothing wrong in the actionable, firing sense of the word — and I continue to be bugged by the fact that virtually nobody seems to agree with me about this. Even reporters who have finally listened to James O’Keefe’s entire sting video, and now understand just how deceptively it was edited, always add a “to be sure” like this one from Time’s James Poniewozik:

Whether you agree with [Schiller] or believe he’s lumping economic, small-government Tea Partiers with Evangelical Christians, the fact that he’s offering this political speech while representing NPR would probably be enough to get him in hot water.

Poniewozik is talking about Schiller’s infamous statement that tea partiers tend to be racist and xenophobic. But here’s what Schiller said right before that:

Now I’ll talk personally, as opposed to wearing my NPR hat….I grew up a Republican, and am proud of that, even though I’ve voted mostly Democratic lately. I like the Republican Party in terms of fiscal conservatism and the fact that the Republican Party of old really believed that government has no role in personal lives, in family lives, and that government is really about other things.

So here’s my question: why is nobody outraged about this? An NPR executive was caught on video saying that he admires the Republican Party’s fiscal conservatism! He’s obviously taking sides here and implicitly criticizing Democrats for fiscal profligacy. Is that allowable behavior?

Look: it’s either a fireable offense for an NPR executive to take a political position in a private conversation or it’s not. This isn’t a question of whether Schiller was right or wrong. As it happens, I think he’s wrong on both counts: I don’t think racism is a primary motivating force behind the tea party movement, and I obviously don’t believe the Republican Party is even remotely fiscally prudent. Still, there’s plenty of survey evidence suggesting that tea partiers, as Jon Chait puts it, “hold distinctly reactionary views on racial issues,” just as there’s an argument to be made that Republicans are more fiscally prudent than Democrats. Neither view is outrageous enough to get you banned from polite society, nor should they be.

So again: it’s not really a matter of the context of Schiller’s remarks (though his caveat about taking off his “NPR hat” is obviously relevant). Nor is it a matter of whether it’s politically counterproductive to say the things Schiller did (it probably is). Rather, it’s a matter of whether an NPR fundraising executive is allowed to express provocative but widely held political opinions in a private conversation. If he’s not, then we should be just as outraged about his admiration of the GOP’s fiscal conservatism as we are about his belief that tea partiers are xenophobic.

One More Thing

And it's a big one. Mother Jones is launching a new Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on the corruption that is both the cause and result of the crisis in our democracy.

The more we thought about how Mother Jones can have the most impact right now, the more we realized that so many stories come down to corruption: People with wealth and power putting their interests first—and often getting away with it.

Our goal is to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We're aiming to create a reporting position dedicated to uncovering corruption, build a team, and let them investigate for a year—publishing our stories in a concerted window: a special issue of our magazine, video and podcast series, and a dedicated online portal so they don't get lost in the daily deluge of headlines and breaking news.

We want to go all in, and we've got seed funding to get started—but we're looking to raise $500,000 in donations this spring so we can go even bigger. You can read about why we think this project is what the moment demands and what we hope to accomplish—and if you like how it sounds, please help us go big with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate