NPR's Reality Deficit; Chief Executive Plays Politics and Loses

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 10, 2011 | Go to article overview

NPR's Reality Deficit; Chief Executive Plays Politics and Loses


Byline: David Mastio, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

There is a simple reason news organizations such as National Public Radio (NPR) should not be funded by taxpayers: Once you get used to living on other people's money, you have to become a political player to protect the cash flow.

In the political game, it is inevitable that the truth gets shaded and twisted and inconvenient facts get left out. Listen to pretty much any politician's speech on just about any topic. But what is a necessary part of politics is fatal for a news organization whose only currency is its reputation as a truthful source of news.

It is this dichotomy between the reality of politics and the goals of a news organization that cost NPR's CEO, Vivian Schiller, her job this week. You could see her collapse and NPR's desperation even before James O'Keefe's escapade delivered the fatal blow to Ms. Schiller and her top fundraising aide on Tuesday.

On Monday, the NPR chieftain gave a speech at the National Press Club aimed at bolstering the radio network's chances of keeping its share of the Obama administration's nearly half-billion dollar 2012 funding proposal for public broadcasting.

She actually argued that because her organization takes huge cash payments - millions of dollars a month - from the very government PBS covers, NPR is actually more independent than news organizations who do not take government money:

"We rely on continued government funding .. as a critical cornerstone of public media ..

[However], the fact that [NPR] has four sources of revenue - listeners, philanthropy, corporate and government - helps ensure that public media is not beholden to any one source of revenue Indeed, it is through this diversity of funding that we are able to maintain our journalistic independence," Ms. Schiller argued.

If the New York Times decided to start taking monthly envelopes of cash from the Democratic National Committee arguing that it was now more independent, more unbiased and more authoritative because it diversified its funding sources beyond circulation and advertising, the whole journalism world would laugh.

The reason is simple. There are many NPR listeners, liberal philanthropies and credulous corporations willing to give money to the troubled radio network, just as there are many subscribers and advertisers willing to pay the New York Times. However, there is only one federal government and one Democratic National Committee. …

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