Aspen Institute's new arts director awash in controversy

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenMarch 8, 2011
Ronald Schiller is climbing aboard the Aspen Institute in the nick of time.

Just as he is jumping ship from National Public Radio, a tidal wave of condemnation came crashing down today over Schiller's candid assessments of politics, religious influence on the media, the American people and NPR funding.

Right-wing video prankster James O'Keefe staged a luncheon between Schiller and NPR's senior director of institutional giving, Betsy Liley, and a fictional group calling itself the Muslim Education Action Center Trust, which claimed to offer $5 million to NPR. A hidden-camera depiction of the meeting went viral this morning.

Here is an outtake from O'Keefe's edited video:

Schiller: “The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian — and I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird evangelical kind of move ... it's been hijacked by this group that ...”
"Muslim": “The radical, racist, Islamophobic, Tea Party people?”
Schiller: “It's not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic. Basically, they believe in white, middle America, gun-toting — it's pretty scary. They're seriously racist, racist people.”

Ronald Schiller
Photo by Dan Dry/University of Chicago

O'Keefe's on-camera operatives claimed to represent a group founded “by a few members of the Muslim Brotherhood in America” that donates its money to Muslim schools. In the surreptitiously recorded video, Schiller tells them: “I think what we all believe is if we don’t have Muslim voices in our schools, on the air — it’s the same thing we faced as a nation when we didn’t have female voices.”

The operatives in the sting then proceed to disparage what they call Jewish control of the media, prompting Schiller to assure them that Zionist influence doesn't exist at NPR, but "it's there in those who own newspapers obviously."

Schiller laughs when one of the men jokes that NPR's reporting on the Middle East had garnered the nickname "National Palestinian Radio” while his colleague Liley chuckles: “Oh really? That's good. I like that.”

While discussing media coverage of the political uprising in Egypt, Schiller said what he is “most disappointed by," in the United States, "is that the educated, so-called elite in this country is too small a percentage of the population, so that you have this very large uneducated part of the population that carries these [unworldly] ideas."

The video's release is timed with Republicans in Congress who accuse NPR of biased news reporting. Several GOP lawmakers are threatening to cut off public funding for its affiliate stations from coast to coast.

In the video, NPR's departing senior vice president says without federal funds “NPR would definitely survive and most of the stations would survive. ... Republicans play off the belief among the general population that most of our funding comes from the government. Very little of our funding comes from the government, but they act as if all our funding comes from the government. It is very clear that in the long run we would be better off without federal funding," Schiller said. "And the challenge right now is that if we lost it altogether, we'd have a lot of stations go dark."

Schiller's statements run counter to NPR's public stance about its need for federal funding.

Dana Davis Rehm, a spokeswoman for NPR, said in a statement Tuesday, “The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept. We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for. Mr. Schiller announced last week that he is leaving NPR for another job."

The Aspen Institute last week named Schiller as the new director of its arts programs. It heaped praise on Schiller, who has lived in Aspen since 2006, saying he “embraces and lives the values that we share as a community."

A message left with an Aspen Institute spokesman was not immediately returned.

Schiller is scheduled to assume his new post in April.

Davis Rehm said "there is no connection between the video and [Schiller's] decision to leave NPR."

comments: 1 Comment on "Aspen Institute's new arts director awash in controversy "

Ann – March 08, 2011, at 4:28 p.m.

"I think what we all believe is if we don’t have Muslim voices in our schools, on the air, it’s the same thing we faced as a nation when we didn’t have female voices." Ron Schiller

Funny that Mr. Schiller would reference women's rights when speaking with representatives of a Muslim organization with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. Oh the irony.

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