…Is telling the truth. This answers the NPR ombudsman’s question:
It’s hard to decide which of [fired NPR development director Ron] Schiller’s remarks [in a heavily-edited video released by dishonest jackass James O'Keefe] was worse for someone representing NPR.
- That the Republican Party is “anti-intellectual?”
- That Tea Party people aren’t “just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic.I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-American gun-toting, I mean it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”
- Or that NPR “would be better off in the long-run without federal funding” – a position that directly conflicts with NPR and public media’s stance against Congress slashing $400 million in federal funding.
- Or that Schiller seemed to be saying that conservatives, by and large, are uneducated. …
The challenge with O’Keefe’s video is that it is obviously heavily edited.
The one he got canned for was, presumably, saying that NPR would be better off without government funding. NPR is currently fighting to retain its government funding. It’s not a big part of the budget for NPR, but in these lean times, the 2% of its budget that comes from competitive federal grants isn’t something they want to lose.
The other stuff is surely what got O’Keefe most excited, but the only reason anyone would think it scandalous is the famous Kinsley gaffe: “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.”
Are teabaggers xenophobic? Hell yes (with some exceptions, surely). Are Republicans anti-intellectual? Hell yes (with some exceptions, surely). Are conservatives uneducated? Well…
In one dataset I checked quickly, there’s a trivial correlation between political ideology and education, but nothing much of practical consequence. Polychoric correlation was 0.07, non-parametric correlation was 0.05, and tests of significance were generally weak. That significant correlation says that liberals are somewhat better educated than conservatives on average. But it’s small size says that it’s wrong to say either group is uneducated in general.
But remember that, as the NPR ombudsman noted, “The challenge with O’Keefe’s video is that it is obviously heavily edited,” so it’s possible that this isn’t the sense in which Schiller intended those comments. And indeed, he clarified to the ombudsman:
“What I meant by ‘uneducated’, for example, were people who viciously attack federal funding and NPR without facts, and people who attack Muslim people because of lack of education about Muslims,” said Schiller in an email to me. “That, of course, hardly comes through at all.” Even so, Schiller admits he said some stupid things.
Are conservatives uneducated in that sense? Again, I have to say yes, with notable exceptions. When you have guys like George Will, supposedly one of the smarter conservative pundits, making blatantly false claims, and refusing attempts at correcting him, it tells to something about the state of conservatives’ willingness to be educated. When teabaggers insist on talking about the “Ground Zero Mosque” even though it isn’t a mosque and isn’t at Ground Zero, it’s fair to say that they’re uninterested in being educated, and there’s no reason not to call it xenophobia. And when members of Congress dismiss the testimony of leading climate scientists because they think scienitsts are “elitist” and “arrogant.”
There are good reasons not to be arrogant, and not to be elitist, and not to shove charges of xenophobia and anti-intellectualism and so forth in people’s faces. Schiller’s job is bringing in money, and that’s not a goal served by being incendiary. But firing him, and then having NPR’s chief executive step down, sends the signal that NPR feels politically weak, and that perception can easily turn into reality. Schiller should have apologized and NPR should have left it at that and pressed the question of what material was edited out of the video. O’Keefe has a well-established history of dishonest editing in his hit-pieces, and NPR shouldn’t have granted him credibility by treating his claims as legitimate without being able to verify the context.
And if Republicans or conservatives or teabaggers don’t want to be called uneducated or anti-intellectual or xenophobic, then the first step might be to stop attacking NPR. Attacks on NPR and PBS are attacks on a forum for intellectually stimulating discussions, venues which educate the public and the broader discourse, and which present a genuine diversity of voices, from across boundaries ethnic, racial, sexual, and nation. Attacking NPR validates thus all of Schiller’s claims.