News broke Thursday that Ellen Weiss, senior vice president for news at National Public Radio, insisted that Juan Williams must tell Fox News that his NPR affiliation should not be mentioned or pictured on The O’Reilly Factor. (Weiss also banished a Williams interview with President Bush from the airwaves of NPR in 2007, so it just aired on Fox News.) But what about Ellen Weiss’s potential conflict of interest?
Weiss is married to Rabbi David Saperstein, the chief lobbyist of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, who was just named to the advisory board of President Obama’s faith-based initiative.
In a brief phone interview with me Friday, Weiss insisted that if news came up "that had anything to do with that advisory board, I’d recuse myself, as anybody would." She added "I have on other things, including how we were going to cover our budget crisis." NPR laid off 64 employees and canceled two programs in December. (Weiss refused to discuss her decision to tell Juan Williams that his NPR affiliation should not be raised on O’Reilly's show.)
Weiss told me that she saw her husband’s appointment as "a non-political advisory council, it’s not paid," and added: "I don’t see his participation as challenging my ability to oversee the independent news coverage of NPR."
But Weiss clearly knows that a White House office on faith-based initiatives is political: her husband criticized the faith initiatives of George W. Bush, and on a panel discussion for delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last summer, denounced the Bush office as "bad for the poor, bad for religion, bad public policy, and unconstitutional."
Rabbi Saperstein also gave the invocation on the night of Obama's acceptance speech at Invesco Field, praying especially for "that mighty guardian of the contemporary American conscience, Edward Kennedy." Last March, he officiated at the funeral of ultraliberal legend Sen. Howard Metzenbaum. On January 21, he spoke at the Obama inaugural committee's National Prayer Service. The last word you might use for him is "non-political."
Perhaps the next time Rabbi Saperstein accepts an interview with Fox News, they'll do the viewers a favor and note he's married to an executive at NPR that doesn't like Fox News.
[Photo from Rabbi Saperstein's blog at the Newsweek-Washington Post site On Faith]