NPR Sting Video Was Edited to Accentuate Negative

Posted:
03/15/11
A surreptitious video depicting an NPR fundraiser criticizing Republicans and tea party activists during a meeting with phony Muslim donors was edited, leaving out important context for the controversial remarks.

The sting, conducted by conservative video-maker James O'Keefe, led to the removal last week of NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller, who was not one of those shown in the video but took responsibility for her subordinates' loose talk -- including a comment asserting that the tea party movement is "scary" and "seriously racist."

But an analysis of the full, two-hour video -- a much shorter version lit up the Internet -- shows that NPR fundraisers Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian) and Betsy Liley also talked positively about Republicans and conservatives during their lunch date with the bogus donors. And they make it clear to the prospective contributors that their money would not influence news coverage.

"There is such a big firewall between funding and reporting," Ron Schiller says in the longer version of the video. "Reporters will not be swayed in any way, shape or form."

NPR reporter David Folkenflik and The Blaze, a conservative news aggregator set up by Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, analyzed the longer O'Keefe tape and discovered the short version had been edited in a misleading way. Some of Ron Schiller's remarks were run out of sequence in the flow of questions and answers.

While Schiller does say the Republican Party has been "hijacked" by the tea party and Christian evangelicals -- and is "fanatically involved in people's personal lives" -- it is evident in the full tape that he is not giving his own view but rather quoting two influential Republicans, according to reporter Folkenflik. Schiller does not challenge those assertions, but they are not his.

"Except for a couple of unfortunate forays [into] political opinion, I think Ron Schiller actually did a fairly remarkably good job of explaining how NPR works and what you can and cannot expect if you contribute money to the NPR foundation," said Al Tompkins, who teaches journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla.

But the first version of the video that showed up on the Internet last week seemed to confirm conservatives' suspicions about a liberal bias at NPR. And the revelations came as Republicans in Congress pushed to cut off federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which allocates financial support to NPR. While Schiller, in the video, said NPR "would be better off" in the long run without federal money, he also said losing the government assistance would be very hurtful in the short term.

Ron Schiller had already announced he was leaving NPR for another job when the video surfaced last week. His departure was then accelerated.

O'Keefe, who employs people he calls citizen journalists for his hidden camera stings, first popped up in 2009 with a video showing a worker for the liberal community activist group ACORN giving improper tax advice to individuals masquerading as a pimp and prostitute. Last year, O'Keefe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after being charged with trying to tamper with the phone lines in the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.)

O'Keefe did not answer requests this week for comment on the editing of the video, Folkenflik said.

Folo Tom Diemer on Twitter http://twitter.com/tomdiemer