Look At NPR's Coverage; Don't Privilege The Serial Liar

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

It seems that James O'Keefe won't be ignored.

The many-times discredited activist is back with yet another "sting" video, this one of NPR executive Ron Schiller speaking with what he believes to be perspective donors from a Muslim education group (in reality, O'Keefe's operatives merely pretending to be scary Muslims). According to a press release from O'Keefe's group, the unironically named Project Veritas, the video shows Schiller "blasting Republicans, Tea Partiers, middle America, Jews, and Christians," and "expose[s] the true hearts and minds of NPR and their executives."

There's been a lot of coverage of O'Keefe's video, much of it focusing on the reportedly forced resignation of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller and NPR's move to put Ron Schiller on administrative leave (despite already having arranged to leave the company in the coming weeks). Less remarked upon is the fact that O'Keefe's video does nothing to expose NPR's news coverage as anti-Republican, anti-Tea Party, anti-"middle America," anti-Semitic, or anti-Christian, as he implies.

In fact, to take one example, NPR's coverage of the Tea Party has overall been pretty good (by assessments of tea partiers themselves), and the intemperate comments of one executive (who wasn't in charge of editorial content) doesn't change that.

Look at NPR's Tea Party coverage and the first thing you'll notice is that there's a lot of it. And in much of that coverage, NPR correspondents have sought out Tea Party activists and organizers for their perspectives. They've hosted debates between leaders of the disparate factions of the movement regarding the Tea Party's future direction. Rank-and-file tea partiers have been the focus of NPR profiles of the movement's beginnings.

The network has dug aggressively into the movement's funding from wealthy conservative donors and organizations, shedding much-needed light on implausible claims that the group is completely "grassroots." They've covered the issues that have split tea partiers into various factions, from religion to racism to extremist rhetoric.

They produced fluff pieces on tea party love for "Original Tea Party Candidate" Ronald Reagan, and they've hosted cartoons satirizing the movement by teaching people how "to speak Tea Bag." Notably, the tea party uproar over that very cartoon prompted NPR's ombudsman Alicia Shepard to weigh in, saying the cartoon was "not that funny" and was not in line "with NPR values, one of which is a belief in civility and civil discourse." She also empathized with "those on the right, including members of the Tea Party movement, which is populated by passionate Americans who don't like the direction President Obama is taking the country."

You look at all this and the all-but-inescapable conclusion is that NPR has worked very hard to be fair in their coverage of the Tea Party, and some members of that movement seem to agree. Right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds noted back in December 2009 that he received a message from a Dallas Tea Party honcho praising a report by NPR's Robert Siegel, who "understood that we are not only protesting and rallying, we are also educating our community." Reynolds himself observed: "People on the right don't like NPR, but as I've noted before, their reporting is generally pretty good."

Liars like James O'Keefe win by attrition. They repeat their lie over and over until everyone else gets tired of correcting it. Whatever mistakes NPR executives have made, they're not at all reflective of NPR's journalistic record, and we shouldn't let agenda-driven hacks succeed at conflating the two.

James O'Keefe
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