This morning comes the news that NPR's CEO and president, Vivian Schiller, has been forced to resign. It's not like it's any surprise, especially after yesterday's row over an undercover sting in which a NPR executive was videotaped slamming conservatives and describing Tea Party members as "racist." But that doesn't make it any less infuriating.
The controversy began Tuesday after a political activist released a videotape showing fundraising executive Ron Schiller (no relation) criticizing conservatives. Some of his more contentious comments include:
- He said the Republican party has been “hijacked” by the Tea Party.
- He called Tea Party supporters "not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic" and “seriously racist, racist people.”
- He said: "[I]n the long run [NPR] would be better off without federal funding."
In response, Vivian Schiller did what any company president should do in such a situation: She immediately condemned his comments in a strong statement:
I consider them an affront to NPR as a news organization; those comments were really contrary to what we stand for, everything we do.
Now, Ron Schiller's comments were harsh. And, they couldn't have come at a more unfortunate time for NPR -- when some Republicans are accusing the news organization of having a liberal bias and, therefore, are calling for cutting off federal funding. But he was expressing a personal opinion in private. And, last time I checked, "the right to express a personal opinion" was something we all supposedly enjoy here in America.
Moreover, he quickly tried contain the damage: He publicly apologized, said his comments were "counter to NPR’s values," and resigned effective immediately. This -- together with Vivian Schiller's statement -- should have been a more than appropriate response to the underhanded conservative set-up.
So why is the NPR executive board being so spineless? Admittedly, it's still licking its wounds after the fallout from the decision last fall to fire news commenter Juan Williams after he made comments about Muslims. And, no doubt, the current battle in Congress over federal funding only adds fuel to the fire. But firing the CEO and president just because there's controversy and criticism is a cowardly move at a time when the board should instead take a stand in support of free speech, public debate, and the First Amendment.
Vivian Schiller had no way of knowing that Ron Schiller would make such comments; she shouldn't have to lose her job over the fact that he expressed a personal opinion -- no matter how infuriating it may have been.
Do you think Vivian Schiller should have been ousted?
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