NPR Ombudsman Lisa Shepard took questions from readers today on the Washington Post‘s website and spent most of the time discussing the Ron Schiller affair.
She was objective and honest, but pointed.
“Certainly he wasn’t fired for harboring negative views about conservatives. it was the unprofessional manner that cost him his job. Who blabs to total strangers in public about their personal biases? Who doesn’t vet a prospective donor before meeting. PBS got the same offer and turned it down.”
“He was meeting in public representing NPR. His personal views should be kept to himself. his job WAS to sell donors on NPR’s commitment to fairness, accuracy, thoroughness, and diversity of voices. He hardly did that. Look, we all have personal views, but journalists and people at Mr. Schillers’ level need to be professional, and he was anything but.”
“Of course, he was required to be objective. He knew what lines shouldn’t be crossed. I still can’t believe you would divulge so much to a stranger. That’s what I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around. He was a fundraiser at Univ. of Chicago and reputed to be excellent. He had to have known better. Makes you also wonder what else he said to potential donors. I hope nothing like this.”
Shepard also wondered if Betsy Liley, who sat next to Schiller during the meeting with the undercover agents, could keep her job.
“AND, how about this. When the Washington Post was undergoing so much criticism during Watergate, the venerable Katherine Graham sat a few reporters and editors down and said, “Be Careful. People will be out to get us, to trick us. Ron Schiller should have been thinking like that. So should Betsy Liley, in charge of institutional giving. She’s on administrative leave. I’m not sure how she could continue effectively for NPR.”
“[Schiller] also hired Ron Schiller. And the board decided, according to its chair, Dave Edwards, that she had become a distraction. And NPR has the fight of its life on its hands.”
Is Shepard worried her candor could cost her a job? Not really.
“I hope you notice that I use NPR in the third person. I am independent. I have a contract. I will be leaving May 31. So it’s hard to fire me for being honest.”
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