I hope that my affection for NPR is quite clear. I think the programming they produce is invaluable. I really don't know what I'd do without Talk of the Nation or Fresh Air. With that said, I don't know how you defend this:
The NPR fund-raiser who was taped, Betsy Liley, believed she was talking to prospective donors from a group called the Muslim Education Action Center. In the recording, one of the fake donors asks her if a proposed $5 million donation could be kept secret from the federal government, even if NPR's books are audited.
At one point he says, "It sounded like you were saying that NPR would be able to shield us from a government audit -- is that correct?"
Ms. Liley responds, "I think that is the case, especially if you were anonymous, and I can inquire about that."
In a statement late Thursday, NPR disavowed the comments, saying that the statement by Ms. Liley, its senior director of institutional giving, was "factually inaccurate and not reflective of NPR's gift practices." It said, "All donations -- anonymous and named -- are fully reported to the I.R.S."
As of that last statement, NPR isn't defending it. I guess we can talk about the heinous and disreputable acts of James O'Keefe. You guys are welcome to it. We can also talk about how water tends to leave you wet. For me, the trenchant fact remains that NPR's officers were in conversation over a multi-million dollar donation with people who they didn't really know. I understand that NPR never signed on to take the money, and that toward the end they started to get suspicious. It still looks really sloppy to me.
But that said, I'm a journalist. Within five minutes of talking to any source, I tell them how I got to them (who sent me, where I came across their name) and where I'm from. If I'm writing about an organization like NPR, and someone their has consented to an interview, they have PR people who've googled me before any interview is scheduled. If they haven't, they aren't very good at their job.
Perhaps it's different in fundraising, but given the stakes, it's hard to imagine it would be. With that said, I'm more interested in hearing from people who work in fundraising. Is it normal to enter this blindly into discussions over multi-million dollar gifts? Should it be so?
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is a national correspondent for The Atlantic
, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle
, Between the World and Me,
and We Were Eight Years in Power