I spoke on a media roundtable today on a San Francisco public radio station about the NPR/Schiller(s) controversy. Before we began discussing that story, each of the guests on the program Your Say—myself,
Slate’s Salon’s Justin Elliott, and NPR ombudswoman Alicia Shepard—was asked to talk about a good piece of reporting they had happened upon this week. Elliott and I mentioned pieces that had nothing to do with NPR; Shepard, perhaps unavoidably, pointed to a number of solid reports on the turmoil concerning her own organization.
One of them, interestingly, came from Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze. I was surprised at the source (our host seemed, like most people, unaware the site even existed) and decided to take a look at the story that Shepard had mentioned when the roundtable finished. And sure enough, The Blaze’s Pam Key, who produces most of the website’s original videos, features in a very interesting piece in which she goes through O’Keefe’s edited and unedited videos and piece-by-piece determines how fairly the video was edited for its original release.
Key looks at issues including whether the donors-in-disguise had made their fake Muslim Brotherhood connections clear to Schiller and Liley, contextualizes Schiller’s “attacks” on Republicans (he actually “expresses pride in his Republican heritage”), and shows that Schiller was echoing the opinion of two top Republicans he had spoken to when describing the Tea Party as “racist people.”
Scott Baker, who authors the piece using Key’s review, concludes: “ even if you are of the opinion, as I am, that undercover reporting is acceptable and ethical in very defined situations, it is another thing to approve of editing tactics that seem designed to intentionally lie or mislead about the material being presented.”
It gets to the point about taking caution with these kinds of videos that we made Tuesday as the story first broke. A surprising analysis from a surprising source. Well done, Blaze.
UPDATE: NPR’s David Folkenflik has reported on the differences between the edited and unedited O’Keefe videos on Morning Edition—head to NPR to listen to the report and read further. In the broadcast:
Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member for broadcasting and online at the Poynter Institute, says to David that he tells his children there are “two ways to lie. One is to tell me something that didn’t happen. And the other is not to tell me something that did happen.” After comparing O’Keefe’s edited tape to the longer version, “I think that they employed both techniques in this,” Tompkins says.
And from the written report:
NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm told David late yesterday that O’Keefe “inappropriately edited the videos with an intent to discredit” NPR. Still, she added, Schiller made some “egregious statements.”
Might be a case of fire first, ask questions later…
Correction: This piece originally stated that Justin Elliot wrote for Slate. He actually writes for Salon. The relevant sentence has been corrected. CJR regrets the error.Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: ethics, Glenn Beck, James O'Keefe, NPR, Ron Schiller, The Blaze