Jeffrey Goldberg, on whom I run hot and cold, has a note on The Atlantic’s site about the NPR firings or, to use the
word he does to describe them, massacre. (And really, since when is 2 a massacre?) Maybe it’ s my browser, but the post seems to not be set up to accept comments, hence this post.
Here’s the meat of what Goldberg says:
What is horrible about this is that an NPR executive has lost his job (and his next job, apparently) after falling victim to a truly pernicious sting operation run by a morally-deranged individual. Schiller is being punished (everyone at NPR named Schiller is being punished, in fact) for saying a couple of dumbass things in private, and nodding in agreement to another set of dumbass statements. How about we turn this story around, and assert that these types of sting operations are what is morally egregious here; that humans often say stupid things; and that a person’s life should not be destroyed for making the sort of statements made in the Schiller entrapment.
There are a lot of places this argument falls apart. Here’s the most obvious: entrapment. Wikipedia, a source with its own problems, defines entrapment thus: “In criminal law, entrapment is constituted by a law enforcement agent inducing a person to commit an offense that the person would otherwise have been unlikely to commit.” This isn’t a criminal case by any stretch and it’s hard to imagine that Schiller would not have said similar things in different circumstances.
Partly that’s a function of the job Schiller held. Mr. Schiller is a professional fundraiser and so, we may believe, prone to say whatever he thought his potential donors might want to hear. One wonders whether Mr. Goldberg would find the situation as “pernicious” if, say, a defense contractor was tempted into saying equally dopey things about Democratic politicians and the funding of a weapons program.
It seems to me that here is a prime example of the great modern American value of relativism. Let’s be honest, Ron Schiller played his hand and lost. If he believed what he said then even supporters should wonder why he deserves support. If he did not believe it why is this behavior deserving of a free pass?
I have no idea whether Mr. Goldberg has any professional or personal affiliation with NPR or either of the fired Schillers. It does seem ,though, as if like so many other people he thinks that the conduct of people of whom he approves should have no consequence. Was pandering the only way Schiller could achieve his goal of securing a donation? And is that behavior–smarmy at the least–so excusable that unmasking it unleashes an ad hominem (e.g., “morally-deranged individual”) attack?
Goldberg is better than this and his sympathies, I think, are overwhelming his reason. In any sales situation (and if you do not believe major donor fundraising is sales you are somewhat naive) you can choose to understand the buyers’ needs and tell the truth well, or decide to pander. In the world of sales if the choice you make is unsuccessful you lose your job eventually. Schiller chose poorly. He has paid the price and there is no wrong in that.