“The fight to stop funding PBS is getting ugly. The Republicans are spreading a rumor that Elmo was born in Kenya.”–Andy Borowitz
“The fight to stop funding PBS is getting ugly. The Republicans are spreading a rumor that Elmo was born in Kenya.”–Andy Borowitz
“It turns out that the Republican budget that they submitted for next year slashes funding for the agency that issues tsunami warnings and organizes responses to the tsunami. In their defense, Republicans say that tsunamis are just a theory, they are not a real threat like ACORN, the Black Panthers, NPR, and math teachers in Wisconsin.” –Bill Maher
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.
It comes as no surprise to learn that James O’Keefe video was selectively edited to exaggerate the case against former NPR executive Ron Schiller. After all, dishonest editing is a common right wing tactic, such as with the ACORN tape. What is surprising is that the first site to expose the falsified editing was Glenn Beck’s site The Blaze.
Among the portions which were edited included those which indicated a connection to the Muslim Brotherhood and editing to falsely suggest that Schiller was amused or approving of the group’s support for Sharia law:
The cadence is jovial and upbeat and the narration moves on. The implication is that the NPR exec is aware and perhaps amused or approving of the MEAC mission statement. But when you look at the raw video you realize he was actually recounting an unrelated and innocuous issue about confusion over names in the restaurant reservation.
The full tape demonstrates that Schiller’s criticism isn’t of all Republicans but of the extremist elements. The Blaze found that “in the raw video, Schiller also speaks positively about the GOP. He expresses pride in his own Republican heritage and his belief in fiscal conservatism.” Many of the strongest critics of the extremists now in control of the GOP are former Republicans and opposition to the far right does not make one a leftist.
The attack on the Tea Party as racist was also edited:
NPR exec Ron Schiller does describe Tea Party members as “xenophobic…seriously racist people.”
This is one of the reasons why he no longer has a job!
But the clip in the edited video implies Schiller is giving simply his own analysis of the Tea Party. He does do that in part, but the raw video reveals that he is largely recounting the views expressed to him by two top Republicans, one a former ambassador, who admitted to him that they voted for Obama.
Yet more evidence that, even if Schiller’s views were representative of those of NPR, this is the view of Republicans who are opposed to the radical right taking control of the GOP and not of liberals. Undoubtedly these portions were left out of the initial release as this moderate conservative view from NPR doe snot fit the far right narrative that NPR is biased towards the left.
David Weigel discussed this point and provided another example:
Hypothetical time. Let’s say I’m interviewing a senator, and he said: “I was talking the other day to a businessman, who said he can’t support Obama anymore because he’s clearly a communist.” What if I wrote:
“He’s clearly a communist,” said the senator, referring to Obama.
That would be a lie — the senator didn’t say that, he quoted someone who said it.
Review of the full tape supports my argument that NPR was foolish to force people out of the organization based upon the initial reports. The full tape provided quite a different story from what James O’Keefe originally released. Once again, for the benefit of any conservatives who might think that this is just some sort of liberal cover up, the exposure of O’Keefe’s dishonest tactics came from Glenn Beck’s web site.
Following yesterday’s controversy in which a former NPR executive responsible for fund raising, with no connection to news or editorial policy of the network, was caught on tape stating the truth, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller has been made the sacrificial lamb. In addition, Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian Schiller), who made the comments about the right wing and Tea Party, and had previously taken a job elsewhere, has been placed on administrative leave for his limited time remaining at NPR.
There has been considerable talk about the controversy–much of it in NPR blogs and on NPR shows. For example, Diane Rehm devoted an hour to the controversy. While we naturally expect higher standards from an objective media outlet such as NPR than from Fox, compare this to what occurs at Fox whenever someone there demonstrates conservative bias. Have we ever seen Fox devote time or web space to an honest discussion of what “fair and balanced” really means? Has Fox ever fired an executive for displaying conservative bias? Has Fox ever reacted the numerous times when an anchor on a news show has slipped and referred to the Republican Party as their side?
NPR’s news reporting is high quality and unbiased–far better than any other broadcast or cable news reporting available. While it is probably true that they employ more liberals than conservatives, the liberals there generally bend over backwards to be fair, often giving conservatives an edge there. The controversial, but mostly true, comments from Ron Schilling are certainly not reflected in the shows they air.
Whether the reactionary and xenophobic views of the right wing should be discussed more on air is open to debate. On the one hand a news outfit should not be openly favorable to one party over the other (as Fox is to the Republicans). On the other hand, the extreme right wing movement which has taken control of the Republican Party does represent a serious threat to American liberty which should not be ignored. The right wing pushes its agenda by spreading misinformation to counter actual facts. Objectivity does not necessarily mean to accept the statements of each side as equally valid when one is being honest and the other is spreading untrue propaganda.
Hostility towards the extreme right wing which has taken control of the Republican Party is not the same as openly opposing formerly mainstream Republican beliefs. Many former conservatives have rejected this extremism. In his later years Barry Goldwater rejected the influence of the religious right on the Republican Party and referred to himself as a liberal. Despite the frequency with which his name is brought up, it is also doubtful that Ronald Reagan would be happy with the current direction of his party.
While NPR does an excellent job in presenting news, they have been rather awkward when it has come to firing people. Juan Williams should not have been employed as a news analyst at NPR but he also should not have been fired based upon the specific remarks which led to his dismissal.
The CEO of NPR is inevitably going to be faced with political controversy when faced with a right wing movement which is hostile to objective news and the First Amendment. Handling controversy is a necessary skill of the CEO and perhaps they ultimately need someone better than Vivian Schiller to handle this position. However to force her out today is a foolish act of capitulation to the authoritarian right. This will do nothing to reduce conservative attacks on either NPR or the free press, and more likely will only act to encourage them.
With conservatives dominating broadcast and cable news (and with much of it being of poor quality regardless of whether there is any bias), NPR has become the primary source for quality, objective broadcast news. This makes it a prime target of the right wing, which requires that people be exposed to their falsehoods as opposed to the actual facts in order to obtain support. The latest attack on NPR comes from James O’Keefe, the same person responsible for the faked tapes in the right wing smear campaign against ACORN.
The attempted smear against NPR has multiple problems. O’Keefe used people pretending to be Muslims connected with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood offering a contribution. The person caught on tape, Ron Schiller, previously worked in fund raising at NPR and had nothing to do with editorial or news content of shows. He is not even currently working at NPR. The statements which the right wing finds sh0king are quite true:
Schiller: The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian — and I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move… it’s been hijacked by this group that…
Fake Muslim: The radical, racist, Islamophobic, Tea Party people?
Schiller: It’s not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic. Basically, they believe in white, middle America, gun-toting — it’s pretty scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.
The tape was heavily edited, but regardless of context these statements about extremist elements taking over the Republican Party and Tea Party are true. He also discussed government funding of NPR:
Republicans play off the belief among the general population that most of our funding comes from the government. Very little of our funding comes from the government, but they act as if all our funding comes from the government… it is very clear that in the long run we would be better off without federal funding. And the challenge right now is that if we lost it altogether, we’d have a lot of stations go dark.
NPR gets about $90 million out out of a budget of $800 million a year from the federal government. In responding, NPR points out that the view that Schiller’s statement that “in the long run we would be better off without federal funding” is “a position in direct conflict with the organization’s official position.” Dana Davis Rehm, NPR’s senior vice president of marketing, communications and external relations, has released this statement:
“The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept.
“We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for.
“Mr. Schiller announced last week that he is leaving NPR for another job.”
There were also some portions which are of questionable meaning, such as laughing at NPR being referred to as “National Palestinian Radio” due to both editing of the tape and due to questions as, if true, they simply represent pandering to potential donors. As David Weigel (who also found at least one case of dishonest editing of the tape) put it, “Schiller is a professional fundraiser, not a journalist. His pandering to the group is actually sort of masterful.”
Here we have a case of someone who spoke the truth about the Republican Party, but which NPR is still not going to accept to preserve their journalistic integrity. (It is a totally different question as to whether these standards of objectivity are a mistake, making it easier for the right wing media to spread misinformation by giving a false equivalency to honest news and right wing propaganda.) The right wing regularly defends Fox for making statements which not only are biased towards their side but which are also untrue.
Here we have a statement from someone who is not at NPR, who was never involved in editorial decisions, and which (while true), NPR objected to. The donation offered was not even accepted. There’s nothing here to support the right wing crusade against NPR.
This week my radio listening is being interrupted by pledge breaks on my local NPR station. This points out another way in which the web can do things old media cannot. Often subscribing to a web site will allow you to avoid being interrupted by ads. It is a shame there is no way for members to similarly bypass NPR pledge breaks.
There’s some hope for the country. PBS is the most trusted television news source:
The annual GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media poll released its results today and PBS was named the most trusted name in news, as well as one of the most trusted institutions in America, reports B&C.
When asked to assess PBS’ news and public affairs programs, 40% of Americans responded that they trust the network a “great deal.” Fox News was trusted a great deal by 29%, a bit better than CNN at 27%.
When it came to qualifying the news coverage as liberal, mostly fair or conservative, 40% of respondents said PBS was mostly fair.
Both NBC and ABC received 33% mostly fair from those surveyed, then CNN with 31%, NPR with 29%, Fox News with 25% and MSNBC with 24%.
Although Fox is neither accurate or fair it is not surprising that a sizable number of people believe they are. We know there are people who have been brain watched into believing the propaganda spread by Fox.
In the previous post I noted an example of how weak cable news is compared to either the blogs or The Daily Show with regards to fact checking and meaningful analysis of the news. Matthew Yglesias, returning from Europe where he became spoiled by the superior BBC and CNN International newscasts, found the return to American cable news to be a rude shock:
It makes you think about the strange influence that daytime cable news has on American politics. The three networks combined have an aggregate daytime audience of roughly zero. But even though the audience, looked at nationally, amounts to rounding error the networks are hugely popular among the tiny number of people who work in professional politics. Just like traders have CNBC and Bloomberg on in their offices, political operatives are constantly tuned in to what’s happening on cable news. The result is a really bizarre hothouse scenario in which people are basically watching . . . well . . . nothing, but they’re riveted to it. How things “play” on cable news is considered fairly important even though no persuadable voters are watching it. And cable news’ hyper-agitated style starts to infect everyone’s frame of mind, making it extremely difficult for everyone to forget that the networks have huge incentives to massively and systematically overstate the significance of everything that happens.
While I’m aware that some do so, I cannot imagine wasting time with any of the cable news networks if the goal is to be informed about what is going on. Periodically monitoring a news aggregator, and having text messages sent with true breaking news, is far more effective. If you really feel that having some portion of the media on constantly to present and discuss the news, at least put on NPR as opposed to the cable news networks. If you do feel it is necessary to monitor cable news because of their influence on the professionals it is only necessary to turn on the television for short periods of time as they tend to repeat coverage of the same stories throughout the day to minimize their expenses and minimize their need to actually keep up with what is going on in the world.