March 10, 2011

One step closer to becoming [past] history

I don't like being distracted.

There are at least two new Just One Story… episodes I would love to get put together and bopped off to Vimeo. Then there is the grain of a brand new project that, once translated and subtitled in Esperanto, could give the gesamideanoj a glimpse of the United States that rarely gets seen. In other words, I've got movies to make.

The problem is, I end up having to dissect this:

©2011 James O'Keefe / Project Veritas.

For those not familiar with the story: outgoing National Public Radio fund–raising executive Ronald Schiller and a colleague named Betsy Liley arrived at Café Milano, a Georgetown, Maryland eatery, to meet who they believed to be two representatives for a Muslim organization willing to give the public broadcaster a large windfall (USD 5 million).

It didn't happen.

What happened instead… well, you can see for yourself above. Basically, Mr. Schiller and Ms. Liley — and by association, NPR — got "punk'd" (gamers would say "p8wned") by James O'Keefe and Project Veritas (ironically, the Latin word for "truth") — the same Conservative agitation team that brought you the downfall of ACORN.

It's done more, however, than just show Ronald Schiller the door (he was readying to take a new role over at the Aspen Institute, anyway). Now NPR's own CEO, Vivian Schiller (no relation, by the way), is gone, too.

One possible reaction to the above is to echo the words of NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard:

"Doesn't anyone in NPR’s top management think of the consequences before they act?"

Exactly. Didn't anyone in Mr. Schiller's team bother to check the background of the people who sent the invite? Couldn't they even had bothered to poke around the faux organization's phony website to see if there wasn't anything fishy going on — especially when it was clear that Project Veritas is made up of Conservatives determined to take down as many big name "liberal–leaning" entities as possible through video stings like this?

"Embarrassing" doesn't begin to describe my sentiments right now.

Worse, still, this is happening at a time when public radio and television stations are trying to raise funds through their occasional beg–a–thons, something I am very resistant to.

Does this mean that I don't value public broadcasting? Well, my hangup isn't with the idea of non–commercial radio and TV — rather, it's over how NPR, PRI (Public Radio International), APM (American Public Media), and television's PBS have (d–)evolved.

Worse, I don't hear any big names in the Republican–led House of Representatives raising questions about Public Radio Capital. It too gets funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — so it can grease the wheels of buying out (in back room deals) and taking over college and university radio stations that were better off being programmed by their students and members of their surrounding communities. That alone takes the "public" out of public broadcasting, as does making programming decisions (whether for TV or radio) without direct public participation, even if those who participate have no money to give (but whose voices should still count).

Sadly, the current tone of the arguments for the de–funding (and in some quarters, the abolition) of U.S. public broadcasting remain fixed on perceived "liberal bias." I don't have the bandwidth to hyperlink every essay that would disprove that (a good round of Googling will fish them up), but it's clear that, while, yes, public broadcasting is riddled with issues, you won't see them getting much air time. Especially when a Conservative operative who believes himself to be a filmmaker (Damon Packard he isn't) is the latest media darling.

As I said, "embarrassing" is hardly the word that describes my current sentiments.

Joel Meares has a more emotionally–metered assessment of the sad affair over on the Columbia Journalism Review website. Read and digest deeply.

[UPDATE 2011.03.11: More words of wisdom and reflection, from Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, over at Common Dreams. Like me, they question how someone like Ronald Schiller could just fall for James O'Keefe's bait. Read it in full, and ask yourself what you can do to deal with this mess.]

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