James O'Keefe and Journalistic Malpractice

"That's the thing I don't like about this country, people like to make snap judgements," NPR's top fundraising officer, Ron Schiller, told two prospective "donors" at a tony Georgetown trattoria. Schiller didn't know he was being covertly recorded by two operatives from James O'Keefe's right-wing propaganda outlet, Project Veritas.

James O'Keefe's "exposé" of a meeting between two NPR fundraisers and two men purporting to be members of the made-up Muslim Education Action Center (MEAC) drew criticism from an unexpected quarter last week. Glenn Beck's website, "The Blaze," ran a critique titled, "Does Raw Video of NPR Expose Reveal Questionable Editing & Tactics?" The short answer: Yes.

The post compares sections of the heavily edited video segment that O'Keefe released last week with what O'Keefe claims is the raw video of the two-hour lunch meeting. The author of the post, Scott Baker, and his colleague, video producer Pam Key, demonstrate how the tapes were dishonestly edited. The release of the video prompted NPR's top fundraiser to re-resign. Schiller had already announced his departure for a new job the week before, but in classic NPR style he felt it necessary to preemptively re-resign. The head of NPR, Vivian Schiller (no relation), resigned or was fired shortly thereafter.

The Blaze identifies eight questionable aspects of the edited video, ranging from how much the NPR execs supposedly knew about MEAC to possible audio tampering.

I don't usually regard The Blaze as a credible source, and I wonder why a Glenn Beck platform is giving space to debunk James O'Keefe -- but their critique seemed plausible enough that I was moved to watch the entire two-hour meeting to see for myself. Baker and Key did a bang-up job.

If you watch the entire conversation, it becomes crystal clear that O'Keefe's provocateurs didn't get what they were looking for. They were ostensibly offering $5 million to NPR. Their goal is clearly to get Schiller and his colleague Betsy Liley to agree to slant coverage for cash. Again and again, they refuse, saying that NPR just wants to report the facts and be a nonpartisan voice of reason. Schiller pointedly informs the fake donors that NPR broke with some very generous Jewish benefactors who had supported NPR for over a decade because they tried to tell NPR that it "couldn't have so much Palestinian coverage."

"And we said, 'sorry,'" Schiller says, "And we lost their funding, and it's gone."

In light of the Blaze post, James Poniewozik of TIME's "Tuned In" blog admits that he reposted O'Keefe's video without watching the entire two-hour exchange and suggests that many other reporters did the same.

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