NPR arouses watchdog ire, PBS seeks separation


The National Alliance on Mental Illness says NPR President/CEO Vivian Schiller went over the line when referencing Juan Williams’ psychiatrist in the wake of his abrupt dismissal from the noncommercial radio network. Meanwhile, PBS is trying to assure concerned citizens that it is not NPR and has nothing whatsoever to do with his hiring or firing.

Discussing the comments that got Williams fired, Schiller had publicly stated that his personal feelings should have remained a matter for himself and his “psychiatrist or publicist — take your pick.”

NAMI said the comments may “violate the letter or spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

“NAMI remains greatly concerned about the cruel signal the incident has sent to millions of Americans — and its chilling effect both on people seeking help for mental health concerns and their expectation of privacy and support in employment relationships,” said Executive Director Michael Fitzpatrick. “Once again, someone has played ‘the stigma card,’ suggesting mental illness to discredit a person rather than debating issues on their merits.”

Meanwhile, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard is dealing with a deluge of citizen complaints, and PBS is getting a substantial spillover effect from other citizens who seem not to be aware that they are two separate organizations. According to Huffington Post, PBS ombudsman Michael Getler said, “Unless you have been on Mars for the past week, you probably know as much about this as you want to, and I don’t intend to get into it.”

He continued, “My interest in mentioning this is simply to remind the vast majority of those who wrote to me or called is to explain that PBS is not NPR, that Juan Williams does not work for PBS, that PBS did not fire him, and that both organizations, while part of public broadcasting in this country, are separate organizations and separate public media entities. They are also quite separate in other ways. NPR does radio. PBS does television.”

RBR-TVBR observation: You do have to hand it to Schiller. Faced with a three-alarm fire of her own making, one that she desperately needed to put out, she walked right up to it and infused it with a great big bucket of gasoline. PBS is unfortunate enough to be in the same media neighborhood, and through no fault of its own may be singed by Schiller’s conflagration.