Ron Schiller, Tellin’ It Like It Is.

Good stuff that punk’d interview with (former) NPR fund-raising exec, Ron Schiller. As an admitted fan of guerrilla tactics that flood light on otherwise discreet activities — like lobbying, government-to-business palm-greasing and anything else relevant to impoverishing the common culture and the pocketbooks of the unwitting — I can not criticize this latest “attack” on a vaunted liberal institution. Other than to say I wish the institution, NPR, was actually as dangerous an advocate for liberal causes as the punksters believe, or that what Schiller said over that two-hour lunch wasn’t all but completely defensible. (His worst moment is not saying anything when the two fake Muslims go off on a Jewish/Zionist/media control bender. But come on, Schiller’s a professional fund-raiser who I’m sure has trained himself to listen to all sorts of crackpot things from potential donors.)

The heavily-edited 11-minute video making the YouTube rounds emphasizes the familiar, primary arguments of public broadcasting’s detractors. The full two-hour video provides a bit more context, but since NPR and Schiller have already folded on this one, (with NPR CEO Vivian Schiller — no relation — announcing her resignation this morning), there’s no point getting into a heavily finessed argument over what Schiller was really saying. He said what he said, and I agree with practically all of it.

The crown jewel of the punk is Schiller asserting that NPR, and by extension, public broadcasting, would be better off without federal money. He’s absolutely right. The relative pittance in taxpayer money that goes to all public broadcasting, equivalent last time I looked to about $1.21 for every man, woman and child in America, reaps a blowback in constant, raging, irrational, uninformed invective far beyond that modest number. (You have to wonder how much CPB/NPR/PBS staff time is taken up every year schmoozing gutless politicians to retain that staggering windfall of socialized loot.)

On the video Schiller points out, correctly, that big market public stations — like MPR here in Minnesota — would get along pretty much fine, but that smaller stations, like those in northern Wisconsin and other rural areas could possibly go dark. (More likely those smaller stations would get folded in to large regional networks … like MPR … and become less local.) But his underlying point is that NPR’s service has a unique value. Namely, in bringing a much greater diversity and depth of story selection (science, arts, etc.) and reporting to markets where 90 seconds to three minutes of headlines at the top of the hour, before returning to Classic Rock, Hot Country and 30 minutes of commercials is pretty much the norm. (Good God, try picking up any useful information from Sioux Falls to Denver sometime if you can’t find a public radio station. You’d be convinced that Charlie Sheen and the NFL draft really were  the lead stories of the day.)

Schiller, who again was NPR’s exec for fund-raising and had been invited to a lunch by two men offering a $5 million contribution, (NPR declined), agrees that weaning NPR completely from the public teat would give it more independence when reporting on federal government issues, (not something I’d call NPR’s greatest weakness), and would lessen confusion in the minds of some “philanthropists” who mistakenly think the network gets most of its funding from the Feds, not just 10% . I’m skeptical that any savvy philanthropist is all that confused about the percentages involved. Schiller’s better argument is that committed philanthropists, of which public radio at least has many, would probably give more if NPR said adieu to taxpayer cash.

The punksters are of course the same crowd that concocted the notorious, heavily-edited, fundamentally dishonest but in the end politically effective hit on ACORN, every gormless Teabagger’s spoon-fed idea of a radical, transformative force in American politics. But when it comes to punking, ethics are never really the critical question. Again, I only complain that more of this sort of thing isn’t aimed at defense contractors sucking literally hundreds of billions out of taxpayer coffers, or self-righteous, religion-wrapped politicians exchanging hot intern phone numbers over prayer breakfasts. But, whatever.

Where Schiller of course has it exactly right is when he gets into describing the current state of the Republican party and its association with anti-intellectualism. I eagerly wait a convincing argument that the Tea Party, which the Republicans and Republicans only pander to and enable in the most preposterous misconceptions, is anything other than anti-intellectual. Or for that matter that the Tea Party is not primarily white, rife with weirdly obsessed “gun-toters” and seriously racist — which includes a hysterical suspicion of  Muslims and not just tough-looking black dudes in sagging jeans. (What I’ll get instead are the usual trolls outraged over “liberal elitism”, which is another way of saying, “How dare you call stupid people stupid!”)

The implicit connection between Schiller’s view of modern Republicans and NPR is that the latter provides a vital counter-balance to anti-science, anti-teacher, anti-liberal arts, anti-intellectualism. Which it clearly does … without question.

What he doesn’t get in to is that rejecting taxpayer cash might mean more inflow from philanthropists, but it would also have Schiller’s replacement out whoring for more corporate cash, which is a problem for public broadcasting far beyond taking government money.  There are all sorts of inside-government stories I’d like to see NPR do, or do better, but the far more suspicious omissions of coverage invariably involve major business organizations.

Point being that Republican anti-intellectualism is not only threatened by the deeper, broader reporting of NPR, but it wants NPR driven down to the thoroughly bought-off, professionally-compromised and irrelevant levels of your average FoxNews Newsbreak.

Try getting all intellectual-ly and elite-y with a straight diet of that.

 

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