James O'Keefe's lastest undercover investigation has blown the lid off the rampant liberalism at New York University: journalism professors Clay Shirky and Jay Rosen have been outed as opinionated men. In what appears to be an NYU classroom, one of O'Keefe's collaborators films Shirky (that's O'Keefe's misspelling of his name above), billed as a consultant to The New York Times, giving a talk (probably to NYU students) about everything from The Times's coverage of Obama's election and Occupy Wall Street to the idea that journalists are members of the Manhattan elite. The video attempts to draw attention to a pair of quotes: Shirky referring to those in the room as "chardonnay-swilling news junkies" and Rosen saying, "We are the one percent," in reference to access to newspapers. With shots of Columbia Journalism School and The Times building, O'Keefe introduces the video as "part two of our series: To Catch a Journalist."
Only problem is: neither Shirky nor Rosen are really journalists, even if they have many opinions about journalism. They're both faculty members at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, but neither of them work for a newspaper. Shirky and Rosen both maintain blogs and speak at conferences, but they don't get paid to report stories. Sometimes Rosen's posts, which tend to focus on news analysis and opinion, appear at The Huffington Post, but in the unpaid blogger section. O'Keefe accuses both of airing their biases in the undercover video, but many would argue that being upfront about biases is something to be admired in academia. Rosen, for one, has long argued that the media should be more transparent about bias, not to adopt disingenuously what he calls "the view from nowhere."
And The Times is keeping their distance from Shirky. "We have looked into it and I can tell you he is not now and has never been a consultant to The New York Times," the paper's vice president of corporate communications told the Poynter Institute. Rosen, similarly, has partnered with news organizations like HuffPost, The Times and ProPublica as part of his curriculum, but he was working in the capacity of a journalism professor, not a journalist.
Update: Shirky told The Atlantic Wire point blank that he does not commit acts of journalism (nor did he bother to watch the O'Keefe video. "My tenure at the Journalism department is predicated on what I know about social media being useful to journalists, not about me teaching reporting," Shirky said in an email. As for the his relationship with The Times, Shirky told us, "My admiration for the New York Times knows no bounds, and, like most New Yorkers, I am not shy about expressing my opinion about what they should be doing. However, also like most New Yorkers, they have never paid me for those opinions. Shirky clarified, "They've never paid me for an opinion about how they run their business." Shirky has contributed opinion columns in the past and said that if the paper gives honorariums, then he got one. "But thats offering an opinion to their readers, not to their workers," he said.
Update 2: Jay Rosen blogged about the whole affair and explained how a prospective graduate student named "Lucas" showed up and asked the leading questions that led to the responses highlighted in the video:
When I got to class, Lucas was already there. I welcomed him, introduced him to the class, and asked my students to be nice to him because he was thinking of coming to study at NYU. About 30 minutes later Clay showed up and we did what college professors do thousands of times a day at universities everywhere. We tell stories with ideas inside them and share how we think. We answer students’ questions and get them to share how and get them to share how they think. We try to complicate their picture of the world and inspire them to inquire further. This is the work of education. And this is what Clay and I did.
We've also reached out to James O'Keefe to see how he defends his argument. Until then, it appears that the undercover journalist best known for his gotcha stunts directed at ACORN and NPR is swinging in the dark on his latest project since his probation was lifted.
(Disclosure: I sat in on a few of Rosen's classes this past spring and worked with him in a professional capacity in 2009, when I was an editor at the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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