A couple of days ago I wrote about James O'Keefe's undercover video sting of NPR fundraising executives and argued that instead of simply accepting O'Keefe's premise that the video demonstrates anti-Tea party bias at NPR, we should look at NPR's coverage of the Tea Party. Since then I've spoken with a prominent Tea Party activist, and while she supported O'Keefe's sting and believes NPR is a biased organization, she nonetheless described NPR's reporting about her Tea Party group was "fair."
As noted in my previous piece, in 2009 conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds wrote that he'd received a note from Dallas Tea Party official Lisa Davis, who wrote that she was "very pleased" with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel's reporting on her group. Reynolds observed: "People on the right don't like NPR, but as I've noted before, their reporting is generally pretty good."
I contacted Dallas Tea Party steering committee member Katrina Pierson, who largely agreed with Davis' assessment. Responding via email, Pierson wrote that "it was about time that the organization as whole was exposed," and that the video "speaks volumes discrediting [NPR's] nonpartisan liberal bias and exposes who the drivers of the organization are." However, Pierson said the NPR reporters who profiled the Dallas Tea Party were "very cordial to our group. They actually came to TX and spent a few days with us visiting our homes, and our work places."
Regarding NPR's reporting on the Dallas Tea Party, Pierson offered praise and criticism: "I think the reporting that they ended up using for All Things Considered, it was fair. It could have been more inclusive of the actual diversity of our group. [...] [W]ith race having been an important issue with regards to Tea Parties, I was shocked that they didn't [do] much reporting on that topic. The story that they did, however, we believe was as fair as we would get from such a liberal organization."
I also spoke with Pierson over the phone, and she reiterated her assessment that NPR's report was "very fair," saying that Siegel and his colleagues were "accommodating, attentive, and supportive." She also said that of all the programs on NPR, All Things Considered was the only one "at least attempting to understand" the Tea Party movement. At the same time, she said, the O'Keefe video offered "validation" of the Tea Party's view on the media, and NPR as an organization is "biased," even if individual reporters are not.
NPR responded to the controversy by placing the executives in question, Ron Schiller and Besty Liley, on administrative leave and disavowing their statements as not reflective of NPR's reporting. The Associated Press reported that NPR said Schiller "was not involved in newsgathering," and obtained a statement from interim CEO Joyce Slocum defending NPR's news coverage:
"I think if anyone believes that NPR's coverage is biased in one direction or another, all they need to do to correct that misperception is turn on their radio or log onto their computer and listen or read for an hour or two," Slocum told AP. "What they will find is balanced journalism that brings all relevant points of view to an issue and covers it in depth so that people understand the subtlety and the nuance."
O'Keefe has released additional video showing, he claims, that NPR intended to accept a donation from his bogus Middle Eastern education non-profit. As Media Matters has detailed, the evidence in the video does not support that accusation, and NPR released emails showing that they were unwilling to accept a donation without more information from the group.
Pierson's email response to Media Matters' questions is below the jump.
[Media Matters] Your overall impression of the NPR video sting is and what you think it says or reveals about NPR?
[Katrina Pierson] I think that it was about time that the organization as whole was exposed. I think it speaks volumes discrediting it's nonpartisan liberal bias and exposes who the drivers of the organization are. I believe that public funded, or standing free news organizations should be reporting ethically and evenly to maintain credibility. The fact that this video had more than just trash talk about the movement, it contained name calling and flat out lies. Anyone in that position that would be having conversations with practically strangers deserve to be fired.
[MM] How would you describe their interactions with DTP and what are your thoughts on the reporting they produced?
[KP] I think NPR was very cordial to our group. They actually came to TX and spent a few days with us visiting our homes, and our work places. They attended meetings and asked questions. I enjoyed having them here. I think the reporting that they ended up using for All Things Considered, it was fair. It could have been more inclusive of the actual diversity of our group. Our founder married to a Columbian that speaks very little English. They speak Spanish in their home. I'm an african-american woman that does the neighborhood training and media appearances. And with race having been an important issue with regards to Tea Parties, I was shocked that they didn't much reporting on that topic.
The story that they did, however, we believe was as fair as we would get from such a liberal organization.
[MM] Would you say it was reflective of NPRs coverage of the tea party as a larger movement?
[KP] I'm not sure. I would say that NPR is persistently trying to find errors in the movement. When the Tea Party Review Magazine was released, between CNN and NPR I was trying to get copies for them before the magazine was printed. It's unfortunate that I felt the only reason they wanted to see it was so they can try to immediately criticize it.
[MM] From what you've seen and heard, do you think NPR has treated the tea party fairly?
[KP] I think some reporters at NPR do the beast that they can to treat the TP fairly. However, it's never enough to it just or it doesn't contain the nuts and bolts of the movement. Basically the surface is swept and they try not to be mean. As for other NPR programs, no the TP's are not treated fairly.
[KP] If NPR had been reporting fairly on several things they may not be losing their federal funds.