Last week, prankster James O'Keefe released a multi-part undercover video series aimed at exposing corruption and hypocrisy among NPR executives. In the most damaging of the videos, disguised O'Keefe colleagues caught outgoing NPR executive Ron Schiller calling Tea Party members "scary" and "racist," leading to a lost job for Schiller and the resignation of the news organization's CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation). At the time, NPR quickly denounced Ron Schiller's statements: "We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for."
Later in the week, O'Keefe released a less explosive sequel to the video (detailed breakdown here) in which he tried to suggest another NPR employee was inappropriately helping a $5 million donation from a fake group called the Muslim Action Education Center stay anonymous. The video again put the organization on the defensive, with NPR releasing a statement criticizing its own employee's remarks, rather than assertively clarifying the situation. At the time, plenty of observers wondered why NPR wasn't defending itself.
Now, on Monday's Morning Edition, NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm was quoted by the organization's media correspondent David Folkenflik as saying O'Keefe "inappropriately edited the videos with an intent to discredit" NPR, and noting that Schiller made "egregious statements." Folkenflik also spoke with the Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins, and Thompkins described the differences between the two-and-half hours of unedited O'Keefe video and the more provocative eleven-and-a-half minute video:
Tompkins also says that O'Keefe's edited tape ignores the fact that Schiller said "six times ... over and over and over again" that donors cannot buy the kind of coverage they want on NPR.
All judgment over the quality of the video and the validity of the anti-NPR case aside, this is some pretty odd defense strategy. If NPR was going to point out that the video was questionable, what took them so long? Hasn't the damage already been done? Who's running strategy over there, and why play dead for a week only to come back to fight the next?
Update: NPR's This American Life host Ira Glass notes a similar "why isn't NPR fighting" sentiment on his show: "it is killing me that people on the right are going around trying to basically rebrand us, saying that it's biased news, it's left wing news, when I feel like anybody who listens to the shows knows that it's not. And we are not fighting back, we are not saying anything back. I find it completely annoying, and I don't understand it."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.