NPR Tape Edited, Re-Mixed, Then Offered as “Truth” (ruminations on the “Fox Style” of news storytelling)

It’s a curious world we live in, to be sure.

Back when I was growing up, oh so many years ago, I recall hearing about this concept of “investigative reporting”.  This would be a situation where, usually, someone was abusing their power to take advantage of others.  An intrepid reporter would then investigate, reveal the facts they collected, and once the abuser was revealed to world, they would be shamed and clean up their act.

In 21st century this trend has now been reversed.    With the unabated consolidation in media and business over the past 20 years, there are now very few large organizations that aren’t connected either via advertising deals or direct partnerships to the media conglomerates.    So now the targets of such investigations aren’t the powerful, but the weak.  

Now it is the poor and needy who are the targets of investigations, and those who look into all the facts of the case are villified.    In this new paradigm accurate reporting is not the goal, indeed, accurate reporting is the opposite of the goal here.  In accurate reporting, facts are collected first, then the story is written.   In this paradigm, we’ll call it “Fox Style”,  the story is written, then the facts are presented (or omitted) in such a way as to reflect the point of the story.

Which brings us to our latest datapoint, a “sting” on NPR.   Here is a typical headline, lede paragraph reaction to the original…

WASHINGTON — A National Public Radio executive was captured on hidden camera calling the tea party movement racist and xenophobic and said NPR would be better off without federal funding, in an embarrassment likely to fuel the latest round of conservative attacks on public broadcasting.

The video was posted Tuesday by James O’Keefe, the same activist whose undercover videos have targeted other groups opposed by conservatives, like the community organizing group ACORN and Planned Parenthood.

It drew swift reaction from Republicans in Congress, who are renewing efforts to cut funding to public broadcasters. NPR and PBS have long been targets of conservatives who claim their programming has a left-wing bias. Similar efforts in the 1990s and 2005 were not successful, although public broadcasters take the threat seriously.

[full story]

This was quickly jumped on by the usual suspects as evidence of their pre-concieved notions.

“We’ve just exposed the true hearts and minds of NPR and their executives,” O’Keefe said in a letter posted on the site. He asked supporters to sign a petition urging Congress to review NPR’s funding.

“This disturbing video makes it clear that taxpayer dollars should no longer be appropriated to NPR,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement. He added that executives have “finally admitted that they do not need taxpayer dollars to survive.”

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/03/james_okeefe_nj_conservative_activist_relea.html

It doesn’t surprise me that Eric Cantor is out there pushing this silliness.  This is the guy who complained about being targeted by violence  (after a bunch of Dems had their offices vandalized after HCR passed…and months before Giffords)  when a stray bullet came down out of the sky and broke a window in his office.*   

But enough about that, let’s look at how big this latest lie turned out to be

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.

One “big warning flag” Tompkins saw in the shorter tape was the way it made it appear that Schiller had laughed and commented “really, that’s what they said?” after being told that the fake Muslim group advocates for sharia law. In fact, the longer tape shows that Schiller made that comment during an “innocuous exchange” that had nothing to do with the supposed group’s position on sharia law, David reports.

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.

Scott Baker, editor in chief of the conservative news site The Blaze, tells David that after watching the two-hour video he came away with the impression that the NPR executives “seem to be fairly balanced people.”

[full story]

 One of the more glaring headlines that has come out of this is usually along the lines of “NPR Exec calls Tea Party racist”.   This is a fairly funny one.   First up, you’d have to be a racist or a Tea Partier to not see the solid stream of race-based crap emanating from that direction  (Whar Birf Certifikat Obamao Wher?!).  Second, the NPR exec was quoting Republicans…

Ron Schiller speaks of growing up as a Republican and admiring the party’s fiscal conservatism. He says Republican politicians and evangelicals are becoming “fanatically” involved in people’s lives.But in the shorter tape, Schiller is also presented as saying the GOP has been “hijacked” by Tea Partyers and xenophobes.

In the longer tape, it’s evident Schiller is not giving his own views but instead quoting two influential Republicans — one an ambassador, another a senior Republican donor. Schiller notably does not take issue with their conclusions — but they are not his own.

Another example…

On the shorter tape, for instance, one of the fake donors is heard assailing a “Zionist” influence on the media — and Liley, NPR’s senior director of institutional giving, is heard responding affirmingly.

The O’Keefe associate posing as potential donor Ibrahim Kassam says NPR is “one of the few places that has the courage to present it [fairly]. There’s kind of a joke that we used to call it National Palestinian Radio.”

Some laughter follows. But the shorter tape does not include Ron Schiller immediately telling the two men that donors cannot expect to influence news coverage.

“There is such a big firewall between funding and reporting: Reporters will not be swayed in any way, shape or form,” Schiller says on that longer tape, in one of several such remarks.

The entire thing was re-mixed to get reaction quotes to stuff said waaay earlier.

In addition, several times the donors seek to goad Schiller and Liley into making inflammatory statements about conservatives or Fox News personalities, and they deflect them. At one point, Liley explains that she attended Purdue University, which she describes as a conservative and respected research university, and that people there relied on Fox to get much of their news.

Menz, the digital forensics consultant, said he found some of Schiller’s actual remarks disturbing. But by analyzing time stamps, Menz concluded that many of Schiller’s remarks in that shorter video are presented out of sequence from the questions that were posed.

“For me, in my background, it immediately puts things into question,” Menz said. “You really don’t know what context these were in, what was going on in the 20 minutes before and after this question was asked.”

Finally we got to why this crap gets pushed out, and who fell for it…again…

Tompkins said O’Keefe’s editing is repeatedly and blatantly unfair.

“Except for a couple of unfortunate forays for political opinion, I think that 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,” Tompkins said.

Blaze editor Baker said he emerged from analyzing the tapes with a surprising degree of respect for the professionalism of the two NPR executives, Ron Schiller and Betsy Liley.

“I think if you look at two hours in total, you largely get an impression that these are pretty — they seem to be fairly balanced people, trying to do a fairly good job,” Baker said.

In recent days, several influential journalists have written that they regret giving O’Keefe’s NPR videos wider circulation without scrutinizing them for themselves, given his past record and some of the objections that the Blaze first raised. They include Ben Smith of Politico, James Poniewozik of Time magazine and Dave Weigel of Slate.

“The speed at which the media operates when a video comes out is a problem,” Weigel said Sunday. “I mean, the rush to be the first to report on a video — and, let’s be brutally honest, the rush is to get traffic and to get people booked on [cable TV] shows to talk about it — and that nature leads you to not do the rigor and fact-checking that you would do in other situations.”

And that, I think, is my point:  “Fox Style” journalism: Big Headline and Conclusions First, Fact-Checking later, if ever….is now the norm.   Congrats, Roger, you won.   You’ve turned the news world in its head.  Now it’s the impression, not the facts, that matter. 

This story is now added to piles of crap that make up much “common wisdom” around these parts.   Not only has pretty much everyone reported on the initial b.s. story (and won’t do much, if any, of a mea culpa), but those of us who waited to see how it played out before going off not only lost of the initial reaction, but now have to deal with the legions of derp-tards who have had their wildest dreams validated and won’t spend nary a second contemplating how dishonest this whole thing turned out to be.

Nor will they do so next time, if history is a good judge of the future.

——

*

When Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican leader in the House, held a news conference Thursday to accuse Democrats of exploiting the threats and vandalism they have faced since passing the health care bill, to reap publicity and partisan advantage, he got quite a bit of publicity himself by announcing that a bullet had been shot through the window of one of his Richmond campaign offices earlier in the week.

But an investigation indicated that the bullet, which was fired Tuesday about 1 a.m., was probably not aimed at his office, the police said Friday.

“We believe it was a stray bullet as a result of random gunfire,” Gene Lepley, the public information manager for the Richmond Police Department, said in an interview.

 [full story]

Yes, Eric Cantor is *that big* of a hypocrite.

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