Here’s a Vivian Schiller story.
Ms. Schiller is suddenly infamous as the National Public Radio executive with Soviet-style values on display in the firing of Juan Williams.
Where would an American media executive ever learn that dissent is not to be tolerated?
How about a film project called Portrait of the Soviet Union?
It was lovely. A glowing documentary of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics produced in documentary film format by a big Soviet Union fan — Ted Turner.
The 1988 film was also made into a book of the same name, with Fitzroy MacLean, a onetime British MP listed as the author. By 1988 MacLean was the “chief consultant” for Turner Broadcasting.
So who cares?
As a point of interest in terms of the intolerance displayed by NPR President and CEO Schiller, it is perhaps worth noting that — yes indeed — Schiller comes about her intolerance for free speech honestly.
Ms. Schiller, it seems, had a fascination with the Russian language. Which led her to the Soviet Union after college, which led in turn to a job as a tour guide, which led to work on the documentary version of Turner’s Portrait of the Soviet Union.
Schiller was not a creative force on the film, she was simply using her Russian skills to help the Turner people get around the country. But it is interesting that a career that has blossomed in the hallowed halls of the notoriously intolerant American left-wing media began in one of the most infamously intolerant civilizations on earth — where Schiller was hired to work on what became a stunningly rose-colored look at the Communist tyranny.
Don’t take my word for it.
John Corry of the New York Times — that’s right, the New York Times –panned the film that Schiller helped facilitate. “History disappears down the memory hole in ‘Portrait of the Soviet Union,'”said Corry in his opening line of a scorching review that appeared in the Times on March 20, 1988.
The film said, said Corry caustically (Corry was the rare conservative at the Times), tells us: “The Soviet spirit just works wonders. From Moscow to Azerbaijan to deep in frozen Siberia, no one even frowns.”
Narrated by the late liberal actor Roy Scheider of Jaws fame, the Soviet Union is presented as — no kidding — the “place of tomorrow.” Asks Corry: “What happened to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago? It’s as if it never existed; the memory hole has opened up.” The series — which ran in seven parts — makes a big deal that everyone in the Soviet Union just gets along swimmingly, all marching along behind those big Red flags with the hammer and sickle.
Corry notes that actor Scheider happily prattles on about ”the greatest experiment in social engineering the world has ever seen.” Now the ”first stage of the revolution is nearing completion.”
The future was bright, the film inisited. Three years later the Soviet Union collapsed onto, as Reagan accurately predicted, the “ash heap of history.”
So what does Ms. Schiller herself have to say of this time in her life? In an interview in, of all places for an NPR executive, the February-March 2009 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine, she says
“At the time, Ted Turner went through this period of deep fascination with the Soviet Union … and they hired me to be a translator/production assistant/’fixer’–which in production terms is somebody in a foreign country who ‘makes it happen,'” Schiller says.
Understand this carefully. To be a “fixer” in a totalitarian country is to swim in the waters, understanding how it works and how to manipulate people to get things done. How, in other words, a society that will not tolerate dissent or free speech can silence that speech.
What makes one sit up and pay attention in the indescribably abysmal treatment of Juan Williams is that it comes at the hands of a woman who spent a serious part of her youth absorbing a working knowledge of how an intolerant society is run — including the media. If there is some blunt, Reagan-style condemnation of the Soviets from Schiller, it has yet to surface.
What has surfaced are admiring profiles where her time in what Reagan accurately termed the “Evil Empire” are recalled with fondness. Nary a negative word to say about Portrait of the Soviet Union. And why should there be? Schiller got a job out of the whole experience. She worked at Turner and CNN from 1988 until 2002, when she moved on and joined — yes — the New York Times Company as Senior Vice President and General Manager of NYTimes.com. And from that left-wing media perch to NPR.
Where, today, she brought the values of the Soviet Union into play against one of the more honorable and decent advocates of American liberalism — Juan Williams.
Is it a shame? Yes.
But it’s much more than that. It’s an outright assault on American First Amendment values.
From a media network that is funded by — you.