NPR's ombudsman has weighed in on the organization's recent undercover video debacle. And even she has some harsh criticism for the outlet's recently departed executives.
In a candid Q&A session Wednesday afternoon hosted by the Washington Post, NPR's hired self-critic Lisa Shepard tore into both recently-resigned executive Ron Schiller. She did discuss, to a lesser extent, newly-ousted CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation), although most of her ire was directed toward Ron.
Here are some excerpts from the full session (Note: all spelling and grammar errors are Shepard's).
-On the reason behind Ron's resignation:
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.
-Regarding whether Schiller's comments should have been treated as "off the record:"
Because Ron Schiller wasn't holdling a private conversation. 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.
-Can NPR ever be trusted again?
Senior excecutives at NPR have made some serious mistakes in the last six months. Working inside NPR I can see it's very disheartening to the reporters, hosts, producers. They are angry that top managment hasn't handled NPR more carefully. It's a complicated situation. I'm basically suggesting you separate the executive staff from the editorial staff, many of whm have been here for decades.
-Regarding why Vivian Schiller eventually paid for Ron's mistake:
Running a large news organization is complicated. I would ask you to read Paul Farhi take on what happened withformer SVP for news Ellen Weiss and Juan Williams. It's such a complicated story. So much has happened since October. I can hardly absorb it.
Schiller was kept on after Juan becasue the NPR board of directors said they had confidence in her. She has done an amazing job of "rescuing" NPR and bringing it into the digital age. When she arrived two years ago, NPR was in a financial mess. She was instrumental in changing that. she also had a vision about moving NPR to where listeners/readers are wehther on air, mobile phones, ipads, etc.
But she 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.
-Why was Ron Schiller confiding in complete strangers?
Amen to that. That is what baffles me most. When you first meet a complete stranger do you share your personal feelings about conservatives, liberals, politics? UNBELIEVABLE.
And then to not closely vet them.
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 instittuional giving. She's on administrative leave. I'm not sure how she could continue effectively for NPR.
-On whether executives should be held to the same "objective" standard as journalists:
Of course, he was required to be objective. He knew what lines shoudln'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 fundrasier 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.
Despite being critical of the Schillers, Shepard does take time to defend NPR and its coverage in general. You can read all her thoughts here.
(via Business Insider)