More on NPR, then a break

    I’ve gotten some interesting reaction to my Monday post arguing that NPR reacted too quickly and defensively to the video assault sprung by conservative activist James O’Keefe on March 8.

    Note: This will be my last post for a few days – I’m off for some R&R. I’ll return Wednesday.

    I’ve gotten some interesting reaction to my Monday post arguing that NPR reacted too quickly and defensively to the video assault sprung by conservative activist James O’Keefe on March 8.

    The frenzied demands of a constant news cycle pressured the network into capitulating on the story before noon the day the highly-edited 11-minute video of NPR executive Ron Schiller was posted, before anybody at the network had even seen the un-edited tape. You can read my argument here.

    NPR’s ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, disagrees. Here’s her note to me:

    Hi Dave – read your thoughtful column on the rush to judgment on the Schillers. As Ombudsman, the first thing I did when the video dropped was contact Ron Schiller. And he replied: I said some “stupid and sweeping things” and that the video was heavily edited. While he said some really stupid things, the editing doesn’t really change them in this case. It’s not like the Shirley Sherrod case, and I’ve been following this very closely.

    Schiller behaved very unprofessionally. Amazingly so, and that’s why they dumped him instantly: www.npr.org/ombudsman is the second column I wrote, exploring why NPR even met w/ this bogus Muslim group and how they vet.

    It’s easy in hindsight to judge, but Schiller did major damage to NPR. Here’s what one graph I wrote: “And his lapse did in him and former CEO Vivian Schiller, demoralized his hard-working development team, infuriated the editorial staff, severely damaged NPR’s public reputation, and provided red meat for those hungry to end taxpayer funding to public broadcasting. He accomplished all that in a two-hour lunch meeting.” recorded by a hidden camera.

    NPR is now working with a crisis management team, My major concern was that they weren’t throwing him under the bus in a knee-jerk reaction.

    Vivian Schiller basically ran out of luck – Juan Williams and Ron Schiller. The board thought she couldn’t effectively lead and represent NPR. It’s all very sad for NPR, as the mistakes made were by management and not the reporters, who are demoralized. And now O’Keefe is asking folks to donate to his group to cover the $50,000 he spent making the edited videos: OKeefe asking for money.

    I admire you for having your email on your column. Wish NPR folks would do that.

    Best, Alicia Shepard

    I also got this comment from Elliot Mitchell: “NPR News knew who O’Keefe was, management should have also. Management’s first comment should have been “no comment until we’ve seen the unedited tape.”

    Shepard’s posts on the unfolding saga are valuable reading, and I agree with her that many of Schiller’s comments were indefensible and he had to go. But I still believe that if NPR could have held off for a day, more journalists would have gone to the unedited video and started asking O’Keefe questions, resulting in a more balanced consideration of events.

    I’m reminded of something I read years ago in Seymour Hersch’s book about the 1986 shooting of Korean Air flight 007 by Russian fighter planes. He relates that when one top Japanese official heard about the incident, he did something an American leader would never have done: He spend the next hour in reflection, thinking about how the event would affect his country’s relations with the powers involved.

    There’s a lesson there about how to act in a crisis.

    Also if you haven’t seen it, Steve Inskeep has an outstanding piece in the Wall Street Journal about the character of NPR and its audience.

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