NPR has become a parody of itself.
Even a right-winger’s most crude stereotype of a National Public Radio executive isn’t nearly as bad as the caricature Ron Schiller portrayed.
The former NPR senior vice president stars in director James O’Keefe’s latest YouTube picture alongside newcomers Shaughn Adeleye, who plays Muslim philanthropist Ibrahim Kasaam, and Simon Templar, who plays his Muslim Education Action Center colleague Amir Malik. Set in a fancy Georgetown restaurant, the film features two Muslim benefactors seeking to unload a $5 million donation on NPR. Schiller’s tour-de-force stagecraft manipulates the viewer into thinking that greed for his lunch guests’ money or comfort with their ugly views moves him to say what he would never say if he were consciously on camera. And the grainy images those cameras catch give the movie a faux-amateurish Blair Witch Project look.
Schiller’s amazing performance has many believing it was something other than an act. A skilled thespian has that effect on his audience.
Here, Schiller expertly plays the urban snob disaffected from the rubes paying his salary, a personification of the organization he serves. His greatest disappointment in America, he explains, 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 harbors ignorant ideas.
There, Schiller exhibits theatrical dexterity by mouthing a line on tax support for public broadcasting that even conservatives rarely make: “It’s very clear that we [NPR] would be better off in the long run without federal funding.”
Here, Schiller plays with aplomb the arrogant, self-righteous liberal lacking in self-awareness. “In my personal opinion,” he explained to the ersatz Muslims, “liberals today might be more educated, fair and balanced than conservatives.”
There, Schiller demonstrates this fairness and balance by labeling the Tea Partiers “Islamophobic,” “xenophobic,” “scary,” “sort of white, middle-America gun-toting,” “seriously racist, racist people.” When he’s not diagnosing the phobias and pathologies of the Tea Party, he is exhibiting his own. He assures the double act, who identify their outfit as a Muslim Brotherhood front, that “Zionist or pro-Israel” views don’t exist at NPR, “even among funders. I mean it’s there in those who own newspapers, obviously, but no one who owns NPR.” When one of the philanthropists refers to NPR as “National Palestinian Radio,” Schiller nods approvingly.
Schiller’s lines are simply too perfect, and his character too straight from central casting, to not conclude that he wasn’t in on the act. Rather than a joke on NPR, the short movie is a brilliant satire on the dark imagination of conservatives who believe the worst of their liberal adversaries. Only Hollywood makes our enemies made-to-order, right?
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would never jeopardize their nearly half-billion-dollar annual allocation by employing such a brazenly offensive character. Did you really fall for the stereotype of a hyper-partisan state-radio executive mouthing stale, anti-Semitic defamations and insulting “the very large uneducated part of the population” that subsidizes his employer?
Schiller’s publicity stunt of resigning from NPR has been interpreted as confirmation of the authenticity of the mockumentary in which he stars. But like Andy Kaufmann stuck in character, or Joaquin Phoenix in I’m Still Here, Schiller’s ability to remain in his role long after the cameras have stopped rolling has tricked observers into thinking it real. Just as Robert De Niro gained sixty pounds for Raging Bull and a contorted Daniel Day-Lewis broke ribs for My Left Foot, Ron Schiller was willing to lose his job for his art.
What is apparently further confusing some right-wing rubes is that Ron Schiller also plays a character named Ron Schiller. People get that Alec Guinness isn’t Obi Wan Kenobi, Mark Wahlberg isn’t Dirk Diggler, and Linda Carter isn’t Wonder Woman. Why can’t conservatives understand that Ron Schiller, devoted public servant, isn’t Ron Schiller, cinematic douche-bag? This blurring of conservative suspicions and objective reality is perhaps the real genius of James O’Keefe’s film.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Sky News, PBS, CSPAN, and other broadcast networks. He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.