National Public Radio is in full defensive crouch. In the wake of the James O'Keefe sting, the CEO and the chief fundraiser have been sent packing. And now the bosses have released e-mails that prove that the $5 million offered by the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center was never accepted.
Dave Weigel runs the e-mails in his post at Slate. All the right questions were asked and the right things were said. They asked for proof of MEAC's nonprofit status. They wanted the group's 990 form. They said they understood the desire for anonymity but made it clear that the gift would have to be reported to the IRS. Bravi!
Here's the problem: The meeting that led to the exchange of e-mails between NPR and the prospective donor should never have happened.
The first "something's fishy" e-mail was sent from Vivian Schiller, the bounced CEO, to top staffers, including Betsy Liley, on March 3. The ill-fated lunch between Liley, Ron Schiller, the now-former president of the NPR Foundation and senior vice president for development for NPR, and representatives from MEAC took place the previous week on Feb. 22.
Had NPR before that lunch done the due diligence that we now know they did after the fact perhaps Schiller (no relation to Vivian Schiller) and Liley would have begged off supping at Cafe Milano. And they would have denied O'Keefe another sting victim had they politely ended the lunch meeting the moment one of the men said MEAC was connected with the Muslim Brotherhood.
I'm glad the e-mails are out there. They show that NPR's development office isn't totally running on autopilot. But events of this week have given ammo to Republicans and conservatives who would love nothing more than to zero out NPR's federal financial support.
"We are determined to continue bringing you the daily journalism that you've come to expect and rely upon: fair, fact-based, in-depth reporting from at home and around the world," NPR journalists wrote in an open letter to listeners and supporters today. "With your support we have no doubt NPR will come out of this difficult period stronger than ever."
Thanks to a stunning lack of judgment that determination and support might be needed sooner than they expect.