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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6 Comments

  1. 1
    arkangel99 says:

    RT @RonChusid: How NPR Left Itself Open To James OKeefe's Smear Campaign #p2 #p21 #topprog http://bit.ly/gc9TOr

  2. 2
    Carol Dahlberg says:

    RT @RonChusid: How NPR Left Itself Open To James OKeefe's Smear Campaign #p2 #p21 #topprog http://bit.ly/gc9TOr

  3. 3
    BrettR4763 says:

    RT @RonChusid: How NPR Left Itself Open To James OKeefe's Smear Campaign #p2 #p21 #topprog http://bit.ly/gc9TOr

  4. 4
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I don’t know where to begin.

    This a journalism problem, a cultural problem, and a political problem. The journalism problem is that there appears to be a firm rule: attack the target of a right wing guerilla media attack, never question the source of the attack. The cultural problem is that the DLC convinced all of America that “liberal” is a bad word. Even liberals.

    I know, I don’t much care for the word myself, but I also readily admit to being a REAL socialist. I associate the word with a broken philosophical, economic, and moral system which most of us in this country call “conservative.”

    The political problem is that media outlets are deathly afraid of the “liberal” label that generally gets hung on them by the right regardless of how centrist or even semi-right-wing they might be. NPR has more to fear from the right than most because the right can cut off their funding if they take over Congress.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    To some degree it might be a result of the manner in which the right has demonized the word liberal, but NPR would be less likely than many others to fear that. In NPR’s case I think it is more a matter of not wanting to be seen as biased in any direction, often leading liberals at NPR to go overboard towards the right to reduce any appearance of liberal bias.

    The right wing also does a great job of playing the refs with their fake claims of liberal bias in the media. A media outlet can get away with leaning towards the right without criticism, but anything which could remotely be called liberal bias will lead to attacks from the right.

    This also worsens the problem of pack journalism setting the tone of news reports. With some exceptions, broadcast and cable journalism is dominated by conservatives. Therefore nobody is likely to spend much time talking about things such as how people like O’Keefe operate, and in this case NPR didn’t deviate. The’d be in a far better situation if they had already exposed O’Keefe’s tactics during coverage of stories such as ACORN.

  6. 6
    malik anderson says:

    How NPR Left Itself Open To James OKeefe's Smear Campaign Liberal …: … bizarre scheme to lure CNN reporter A… http://bit.ly/hFuHyY

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