Mar 14, 2011

James O'Keefe's heavily edited version of the truth

James O'Keefe and his Project Veritas crew like to edit things.

For instance, in the surreptitious video O'Keefe made of NPR fund-raiser Ron Schiller and his lunch date with fake Muslims, Schiller says he thinks NPR will be fine without federal funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In the unedited video, Schiller says something quite different. Here's what NPR's David Folkenflik reported:
Upon their release last week, O'Keefe's videos gave fresh life to the push by Congressional Republicans to strip federal funding for public broadcasting. In the shorter video, Schiller appears to be saying that NPR would do just fine without federal dollars, though some stations would go dark. On the longer tape, it's clear Schiller says it would be disastrous in the short term.
There's more. In the edited tape, Schiller says very little about his role as a fundraiser who has no influence over the NPR news department (which O'Keefe and his cohorts were really targeting). But Schiller made repeated references to his role. Again, from Folkenflik:
"There is such a big firewall between funding and reporting: Reporters will not be swayed in any way, shape or form," Schiller says on that longer tape, in one of several such remarks.
Tompkins found that meaningful, noting that Ron Schiller was a fundraiser, not an official affecting the newsroom.
"The message that he said most often — I counted six times: He told these two people that he had never met before that you cannot buy coverage," Tompkins said. "He says it over and over and over again."
Most concerning, Schiller's comments about conservatives and the tea party - the comments that led to his and NPR President Vivian Schiller's being fired - were taken completely out of context. Folkenflik:
Take the political remarks. Ron Schiller speaks of growing up as a Republican and admiring the party's fiscal conservatism. He says Republican politicians and evangelicals are becoming "fanatically" involved in people's lives.
But in the shorter tape, Schiller is also presented as saying the GOP has been "hijacked" by Tea Partyers and xenophobes.
In the longer tape, it's evident Schiller is not giving his own views but instead quoting two influential Republicans — one an ambassador, another a senior Republican donor. Schiller notably does not take issue with their conclusions — but they are not his own.
Menz, the digital forensics consultant, said he found some of Schiller's actual remarks disturbing. But by analyzing time stamps, Menz concluded that many of Schiller's remarks in that shorter video are presented out of sequence from the questions that were posed.
"For me, in my background, it immediately puts things into question," Menz said. "You really don't know what context these were in, what was going on in the 20 minutes before and after this question was asked."
In other words, the O'Keefe gotcha video is total bullshit. Nothing that O'Keefe has "reported" can be trusted. If he worked for one of the many newsrooms he simultaneously criticizes and says he's emulating (in terms of journalism standards), he'd be fired and left in a heap of shame. This is the problem with agenda journalism - the agenda drives the ethics (and usually runs them over) and very little in the way of journalism results.

The NPR board needs to do some serious soul searching over it's terrible crisis management. And everyone should do as Eric Alterman of CUNY suggested on "To the Point" the other day: Wait a couple days before reacting to an O'Keefe-style "scoop." You'll avoid embarrassment and severely stupid decision-making. I put myself in this group - when I first blogged about the O'Keefe video, I headlined my blog post: "NPR exec tells conservative pranksters exactly what they want to hear." Obviously, he didn't, or the conservative pranksters wouldn't have had to edit the video. And I failed to add my own context: O'Keefe is shady and his reporting is as crooked as a dog's hind leg.

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