Ron Schiller and Dr. King: Should NPR have fired Ron Schiller? We have no real idea.
In a highly tribalized political culture, any publicly-funded news service will likely find itself under attack. Such news orgs will often respond in politicized ways. In this instance, the situation has been clouded by NPR’s nuanced discussion of Schiller’s remarks. Execs have denounced the things Schiller said, without specifying which of his comments they mean.
Which remarks is NPR outraged about? Execs keep failing to say.
Beyond that, the picture has been clouded by the “heavily edited” nature of Schiller’s remarks. (We quote Lindsay Beyerstein; click here.) Schiller was taped by agents of James O’Keefe, a deeply broken-souled fellow whose work is grossly unreliable. Did the excerpts posted by O’Keefe fairly represent the various things Schiller actually said? Many liberals have cited an analysis by Glenn Beck’s web site, The Blaze, which criticized O’Keefe for selective editing. Selectively editing themselves, these liberals have tended to ignore a second point—the Beck site criticized aspects of O’Keefe’s editing, but generally concluded that O’Keefe really did make the statements with which he’s been charged.
In her post, Beyerstein hammers mainstream journalists for posting O’Keefe’s excerpts without first watching the whole two-hour tape. Beyerstein makes a very good point—even as she picks and chooses what to discuss from the full tape, which she says she has watched.
We haven’t watched the two-hour tape, though we have watched the longer excerpts posted at Beck’s site. We tend to agree with that site’s finding—the longer excerpts suggest that O’Keefe did some funky editing, but they also suggest that Schiller really did, on balance, make the statements for which he’s been criticized. But let’s forget what Schiller actually said. Instead, let’s discuss the way many liberals have reacted to two of his comments.
Schiller’s remarks about racism: At one point, Schiller dropped the R-bomb during his luncheon performance. Yesterday, Kevin Drum summarized the matter like this:
DRUM (3/14/11): I've already defended former NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller's right to tell a prospective donor that he thinks tea partiers are motivated by racism and xenophobia. Schiller isn't a reporter and, right or wrong, his view is a fairly widely held one. There's nothing beyond the pale about expressing it.Obviously, Schiller has “the right” to make the statement in question. We were struck by the casual way Kevin defended Schiller’s remark, as he understood it. According to Kevin, Schiller told a prospective donor “that he thinks tea partiers are motivated by racism.” According to Kevin, this view “is a fairly widely held one. There's nothing beyond the pale about expressing it.”
Because Kevin is so bright and so precise, we were disappointed by his comment. Does Schiller think all tea partiers are so motivated? Is it most tea partiers? Is it only some? We’re amazed that Kevin doesn’t see the difference between these statements—that he doesn’t seem to see a problem with the failure to be more precise in making such a serious charge. Is there really “nothing beyond the pale” about such a sweeping remark? When even Kevin adopts this stance, we see the way the white liberal world has granted itself the right to denounce the whole wide world as a bunch of racists—everyone but us.
Other liberals have taken a different tack; they have cleaned up Schiller’s comment for him. In this post, Digby quotes from the Beck analysis, then ends up saying this:
DIGBY (3/11/11): I would have argued before this that Schiller's views about the Tea Party were no reason for firing him and that there is plenty of evidence to back up his impressions. There most certainly is a racist element in the Tea Party, just as there has always been a racist element in the far right. They are the same.Of course, Schiller didn’t say that “there is a racist element in the Tea Party.” In this way, Digby seems to downplay Schiller’s remarks for him.
Schiller didn’t know he was being taped. We have no idea what he would have said in public. But white liberals love accusing The Others of being racists. This is amazingly bad politics, and when such sweeping claims are made, such claims are amazingly dumb.
Schiller’s remarks about the uneducated: Liberals have barely noted Schiller’s remarks about the “uneducated,” although these remarks have gotten great play among conservatives. In this post, NPR’s ombudsman said that Schiller “seemed to be saying that conservatives, by and large, are uneducated.” We’re not entirely sure that’s accurate, but this is part of what Schiller said: "To me, this is representative of the thing that I guess I'm most disturbed by and disappointed by in this country which is that the educated, so-called elite in this country is too small a percentage of the population. So you have this very large uneducated part of the population that carries these ideas. It's much more about anti-intellectual than it is political."
Good God. Statements like that are amazingly stupid, but they do come naturally to many liberals. Perhaps for that reason, liberals have tended to ignore this chunk of Schiller’s remarks. Politically, liberals murder themselves when they indulge themselves in such thinking. By the way: Do you recall how Dr. King viewed the unwashed of the world?
DR. KING (2/4/68): Everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve.That was the view of the greatest achiever of the last century.
You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
Dr. King didn’t spend a lot of time taking a census of who was “uneducated.” Schiller may be a very nice person; in our experience, most people are. But the general attitude he expressed is deadly to progressive interests. Many white liberals just don’t seem to know that.
Can we talk? We the people rarely know what the heck we’re talking about. We fail every public information survey; for ourselves, we think progressives should find ways to point that fact out. But we liberals are extremely dumb too, especially when we fail to see why political people can’t allow themselves to think in the way suggested by Schiller’s remarks.
We liberals! We love to say that The Others are racists. We love to say that The Others are dumb. In this way, we drive wedges between the great unwashed—we split the 99 percent in half
In the process, the oligarchs win—though we get to feel very special.