How NPR Left Itself Open To James OKeefe’s Smear Campaign

In previous posts on the James O’Keefes smear campaign against NPR utilizing dishonestly edited video, I noted how NPR was too quick to give into conservative pressure.Other liberals are getting frustrated with those who refuse to fight back. For example, Atrios wrote:

I’ve really lost interest in defending organizations that are uninterested in defending themselves.

Aside from the dishonesty, O’Keefe’s basic schtick is to exploit the fact that when confronted with crazy assholes, most people rationally humor them.

As I noted previously, NPR presents as balanced a view of the news as we are likely to see anywhere. While it is possible they do hire more liberals than other media outlets, they also have quite a few conservatives working there, and the liberals at NPR (as in most of the media other than MSNBC during prime time) tend to bend over backwards to appease conservatives to avoid any sign of bias. This apparently has included coverage of O’Keefe by NPR. Media Matters points out that in previous coverage of O’Keefe, such as in his use of dishonestly edited video against ACORN, NPR only once gave any indication as to the nature of O’Keefe’s tactics:

Dishonesty is James O’Keefe’s defining trait. If there is anything news organizations should tell their audiences about him, it’s that he’s repeatedly been caught lying and producing misleading videos and transcripts. His whole operation is a sham. That’s all you need to know about James O’Keefe. And yet, NPR’s reporting on O’Keefe consistently failed to make that clear — or even to hint at it. A search of NPR transcripts in the Nexis database finds 10 NPR reports that mentioned O’Keefe prior to the controversy over his NPR video. Only once in these 10 reports is there so much as a hint that O’Keefe had ever behaved dishonestly in presenting the results of his “stings” to the public — a September 23, 2009 interview in which an attorney for ACORN says “The tapes have been edited and rearranged.”

No NPR report available on Nexis that mentions James O’Keefe has included the fact that California’s attorney general said the ACORN tapes were “severely edited by O’Keefe” and constituted a “highly selective editing of reality.” None mentioned a New York Daily News report that a law enforcement source said O’Keefe “edited the tape to meet their agenda.” In several reports, NPR journalists adopted the false claim that O’Keefe had dressed as a pimp; none of the reports indicate that this was not, in fact, true. NPR never got around to telling listeners that O’Keefe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with one of his stunts. And O’Keefe’s bizarre scheme to lure CNN reporter Abbie Boudreau onto a boat under false pretenses, then secretly record her reaction to being confronted in an enclosed, unfamiliar environment by a strange man with handcuffs and sex toys? None of the NPR reports available on Nexis mentioned that.

In short, NPR repeatedly covered O’Keefe, and adopted his (false) claims about what his videos showed. But only a single NPR report available on Nexis contained so much as an allegation that he’d ever been less than honest. NPR’s coverage of O’Keefe helped enhance his stature and credibility. And then he peddled a misleading videotape of an NPR executive, and the media ran with it, badly damaging NPR.

Being objective does not mean to accept statements from liberal and conservative sources as equally valid in cases where the liberal source is being honest and the conservative source is being dishonest. Perhaps if NPR had worried less about this form of false objectivity and really reported the facts about O’Keefe in the past they would  have been in a better position to withstand his dishonest attack upon them.

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Question of the Day

Glenn Beck is calling the disaster in Japan a message from god. Is he allowed to so blatantly steal from Pat Robertson’s act?

Quote of the Day

Evan Bayh on joining Fox: “I’ve always been an asshole. I thought it was time to make it official.” –Andy Borowitz