NPR’s Schiller put money above principles
In all the coverage of the meeting between Ron Schiller, at that time with NPR, and two men pretending to be Muslims who talked about making a significant donation to the network, few in the media have added Schiller’s remarks about Jews to all the other inflammatory statements he made (about Republicans, members of the Tea Party, the vast majority of Americans, and so on).
In fact, Schiller’s casual, throw-away comment was a chilling reminder to anyone who knows his or her history, of the kind of attitude that eventually can lead to actions against one race, or religion, or ethnicity. I do not believe that Schiller is anti-Semitic, and I’ll bet he has friends who are Republicans (“some of my best friends are Republicans”). If so, then we must assume he was so anxious to secure the donation to his organization that he was willing to curry favor with so-called Muslims by listening impassively to anti-Semitic remarks about Jews and Zionists, and then adding a touch of his own.
This is a shame for two reasons. First, intolerance thrives only when people permit it, and permission begins with a creeping kind of acceptance based on the sort of casual comment Schiller made (and the more egregious ones he allowed his guests to make uncontradicted). And, second, it takes only a few good people – the kind you would expect to fight vigorously any suggestion of bias or hatred – to make hatred seem respectable, the first step to violence aimed at a group within society.
I am not suggesting Schiller’s remarks, and his silence in the face of lies about Jews, will lead to a holocaust. But enough people doing what he did eventually could lead to suppression of a group (it could be against blacks or Muslims or Catholics or people with blue eyes), and, especially in this nation with a better history of tolerance than any other in the world, that would be a tragedy, destroying the American experiment and its citizens’ (most of them anyway) hopes for a world without hatred and war.
The problem here was not that Schiller was secretly taped, though that was a reprehensible act, but that he showed himself to be a man willing to slough off his principles (he now claims he said things at that lunch he does not really believe) for whatever glory would be his for coming to NPR with a check. He was, at that lunch, representing a great and necessary organization in America – the only source of news that makes an attempt to be thorough, thoughtful and adult – and in that position he had no right to “take off my NPR hat” and indulge in the kind of outrageous behavior he thought would please his guests, and cement the deal. Do we have to believe we are taped before we hold fast to our principles – or can we be people who live what we believe, whether others are watching or not?
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