Last week there was a tempest in Washington DC’s Tea Party pot over remarks made by a senior npr (National Public Radio) fund raising executive at a luncheon purportedly with Muslim investors wishing to make a multimillion dollar contribution to the network. He was instead meeting under false pretences with and being secretly videotaped by the right wing ambush ‘journalist’ James O’Keefe (of Acorn and Planned Parenthood takedown video ‘fame’).
The timing was designed to maximise Republican outrage in their call for an end to government funding for npr, PBS and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Not coincidentally, the tape was released on the day Congress began the funding debate on Capitol Hill.
It was a serving of red meat for Republican opponents. They spent last week and the Sunday talk shows expressing their “shock” at such ultra-partisan remarks by someone inside npr. Of course it mattered not a whit that fundraiser Ron Schiller had no editorial control or say, he was a senior npr executive they could skewer over and over again on live TV.
The questions here are of ethics and law. Indeed npr’s (former) head of fundraising Schiller displayed deplorably bad judgement. While it may not have been illegal to ambush videotape the conversation, what was edited out of the tape’s raw footage (shown below from an article by The Blaze.com), were comments that led up to the segment as aired.
Those comments showed Schiller, in the most damning part of the tape, was telling a story relayed to him by two high ranking Republicans, one a former Ambassador. They both admitted voting for President Obama in the 2008 election.
As a preface to his inflammatory remarks about the Republican Tea Party, they provide a completely different context that, if left in, might have provoked a different reaction.
Schiller was an idiot to think he was speaking off-the-record. His indelicate remarks were not the sort a fund-raiser should ever use. The problem is the Right’s well-oiled double standard messaging machine masquerading as a serious television network. When you have a national network for propaganda free from any regulation or rebuke, the playbook page is simple.
Allow abhorrent statements by super-righteous right wing nut jobs disappear expertly into the FOX echo chamber and never vet them. But God help anyone on the left who speaks truth about RW partisanship wing-nuttery in Washington DC. That plays on a continuous 24-7 loop on every major show.
Suddenly the GOP donned their halos and angel wing costumes while attack helicopters circled with rappelling assault teams dropping onto the deck to apply the full-on double standard assault machine making headlines for days.
This incident certainly did not make it any easier for Senate Democrats to stand on the railway tracks in the face of an oncoming npr budget trainwreck and defend public broadcasting.
Worse, there are numerous cases of journalistic ethics violations committed in this deplorable young man’s edit suite. O’Keefe and his mentor Breitbart have been publicly chastised on many occasions with zero effect. Without any real punishment for their lies, they can raise these episodes to the level of a Harry Potter Defence Against the Dark Arts course and progressives waltz right on into its pathway.
What should be illegal is the selected editing for purposeful distortion. It has long been said that the difference between a film director’s camera vision and what is transferred to celluloid lies in his or her ability to bond with and communicate that vision to the editor. The editor is the one who, through judicious cutting, creates the dramatic tension needed to carry off important scenes.
The same can be said for the news.
Unless until network executives and viewers demand that networks show the entire tape, this type of harmful magician’s misdirection will continue without consequence. And we viewers are all the poorer for it.