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Tilting at Windmills

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March 15, 2011

WHEN THE NPR 'STING' STORY STARTS TO CRUMBLE.... I'm glad conservatives are interested in investigative reports and journalism. I just wish they were better at it.

By now, everyone's heard about the NPR "sting," which led to a significant shake-up at the radio giant, including the ouster of the CEO. The controversy was generated by a secret recording of a discussion between a phony prospective donor and an NPR development executive.

What we're learning this week is that the recording was subjected to some creative editing, by some of the same folks who've done this before.

Last week, Media Matters documented problems with James O'Keefe's video of NPR fundraising executives and pointed out that the "sting" does nothing to undermine NPR's actual news reporting, which even conservatives acknowledge is fair.

Now, we have uncovered new evidence raising questions about whether quotes O'Keefe attributed to an NPR employee are accurate....

The Media Matters report is worth reading for the details, and it confirms what Dave Weigel, Glenn Beck's Blaze website*, and even NPR itself have found: O'Keefe's video played fast and loose with context, in order to mislead the public.

What I find especially interesting, though, is the larger pattern.

How many times have we gone through this? The Planned Parenthood expose fell apart in February. The Shirley Sherrod video became a notorious example of new-media deception. The entire ACORN controversy was built around a series of misleading and heavily-edited videos. And yet, every time O'Keefe or someone like him produces nonsense, the political mainstream tends to accept it at face value, only to learn soon after that the whole story was left on the editing-room floor.

The larger point here is recognizing that the right just doesn't seem to be good at this sort of thing.

Looking back over the last several decades, most of the time, quality investigative journalism has come from mainstream news organizations and left-leaning outlets like The Nation and Mother Jones. The right, historically, has avoided this kind of work, preferring to create outlets like Fox News, National Review, and the Weekly Standard.

Whether you find those conservative outlets valuable or not, it's fair to say investigative journalism isn't part of their m.o. The Republican-friendly outlets just don't do in-depth, shoe-leather journalism to break major news stories.

Over the last couple of years, conservatives have begun taking steps to change this, bolstered by far-right financial backing. What's wrong with this? In theory, nothing. Investigative journalism can play a valuable role in holding officials accountable and ensuring transparency. If folks on the right want to do some digging and turn up malfeasance, more power to them.

The problem isn't that conservatives are doing investigative journalism. The problem is that conservatives haven't figured out how to do investigative journalism especially well.

Laura McGann had a great piece on this in the Monthly last year, noting that "conservative investigative journalism tends to produce reports that are wrong," a problem compounded by the fact that while their efforts are ostensibly about improving transparency, the far-right activism is nearly always shrouded in secrecy.

This is bound to continue, but there's no reason for the mainstream to take it seriously.

* Postscript: As for why Beck's website played a constructive role here, no one has any idea.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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Actually, the larger issue is that the MSM (including NPR)seems incapable of learning. I suspect that if KOS came up with a revealing story it would be checked six ways 'til Sunday before being repeated without criticism by the MSM. I guess it's just another IOKIYAR.

Posted by: wordtypist on March 15, 2011 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

"Corporate media embrace conservative huckster who provides them with story." You should make that a macro. It'll save time the next time O'Keeffe releases a video.

Posted by: Tom Allen on March 15, 2011 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

What O'Keefe is doing isn't investigative journalism at all. It's manufacturing lies to further a particular partisan agenda. And they're very good at that, or at least their media enablers are giving them far more success than their amateurish efforts would normally entitle them to.

This pattern has been around for years. Somebody manufactures a lie, the media instantly spreads it around as true without any checking, then simpers "Oh, sorry, my bad" when the truth is revealed. Or ignores the truth altogether.

Remember those fake "news" stories during the George Bush years that were pure propaganda but were broadcast as real without any disclaimers? Same deal, different day.

Posted by: Curmudgeon on March 15, 2011 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

"The larger point here is recognizing that the right just doesn't seem to be good at this sort of thing."

Really? Acorn defunded. Planned Parenthood - voted for defunding and under fire. Shirley Sherrod - let go. NPR - forced out a CEO, and a dozen of their journalists publish letter of how "appalled" they are by the video and they are near defunding.

What aren't they good at?

Posted by: Jeff In Ohio on March 15, 2011 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

The question is, why, when O'Keefe releases anything at all, does the media accept it as truth rather than viewing it with the skepticism it deserves?

Posted by: g on March 15, 2011 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

"The larger point here is recognizing that the right just doesn't seem to be good at this sort of thing."

Are you kidding? Even my fairly center to center-left newspaper printed the NPR crap on the front page when it first came out. Do you think they will print any sort of retraction? Not hardly. In 3 months, if you ask anybody what they remember about this, they will remember the right-wing talking points, and they will want NPR funding cut. They are GREAT at this.

Posted by: estamm on March 15, 2011 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

So long as our loved ones on the far right lie down with the amoral James O'Keefe, they will surely arise with fleas!

We are in the midst of a very corrosive set of national circumstances! Attacks on the very nature of our institutions and systems have accelerated and become more intense!

The Tea Party and its supporters are anarchists - they are just too stupid to know it! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on March 15, 2011 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Their aim is most certainly not to do investigative journalism correctly. You are giving them way too much credit. Their aim is to get their targets to overreact using guerrilla tactics. They are very good at that. I'm just sorry so many organizations on our side of the aisle are such prevaricators and weaklings that they can't devise a strategy to combat O'Keefe and his minions. Why are we playing into the 'surrender monkey' mentality the right so eagerly portrays about us?

Posted by: suthrnboy on March 15, 2011 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

the differences between the Right and the Left are quite apparent here.
The guy who impersonated a Koch brother and tricked Gov. Walker into quite damning admissions and comments, comments that were taped and repeated verbatim for the world to judge without edits.
O'Keefe on the other hand, needed to heavily edit the Acorn, Planned Parenthood and NPR videos to construct incriminating stories that were, essentially, not real or even true when viewed in unedited form.

Truth vs. Lies. Left vs. Right.

Posted by: T2 on March 15, 2011 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

You might think that after all of the BS cries of "WOLF!" from O'Keefe, he'd be publicly humiliated by laughter coming from the MSM and the organizations he's "investigating."

But no, instead, we go out and shoot another poor, innocent sheep.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on March 15, 2011 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

"The larger point here is recognizing that the right just doesn't seem to be good at this sort of thing."
Your mistake is thinking the right is engaging in investigative journalism, they know it as Rat-Phucking and they are very good at that.

Posted by: craig on March 15, 2011 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK


Take a look Mr. Benen and tell me what the right isn't good at. The clear pattern hear is O'Keefe continuing to defraud the public, the right using his fraud as a weapon against funding for things they don't like and the left reaching for their ankles.

Posted by: Jeff In Ohio on March 15, 2011 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

What O'Keefe is doing isn't investigative journalism at all. It's manufacturing lies to further a particular partisan agenda.

the other thing that's not surprising is that O'Keefe seems to be emboldened by the media's acceptance of his work, so his lies become more and more blatant.

His edited footage not only omits important details - like the fact Schiller was quoting someone else, not voicing his own opinion - and even took things out of chronological sequence.

It seems like he's figured that he can be even MORE dishonest than before, since he's been given carte blanche.

I'm very glad the professionals at the Blaze did the right thing. I'm sure as a professional journalist no matter what side you're own you'd be appalled at the blatant dishonesty.

From now on, the media should show O'Keefe the door any time he presents himself. Sadly, it's probably not going to happen.

Posted by: g on March 15, 2011 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

No Steve, 'the larger point here is recognizing that' the MSM would rather report on the bad than the good without CHECKING. Washington AND the media have decided that peoples reputations are no longer as important as publishing FIRST and wrong. I watched an interview with O'Keefe where he continually referred to himself as a JOURNALIST. Really? And the pundit never bothered to correct him.

Posted by: SYSPROG on March 15, 2011 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Our MSM : for
Look ! Shiny Object ! Shiny Object!

That said , Just once I would like to see someone push back or cop to it, just something instead of skulking off.
Oh to Hear
"Ya I said it and every word is true. What are you going to do about it?"

Posted by: John R on March 15, 2011 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Open barn doors.

Check for non-existent fire.

Claim ignorance.

Rinse, repeat.

Posted by: Kill Bill on March 15, 2011 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

"The larger point here is recognizing that the right just doesn't seem to be good at this sort of thing."

No, they're very good at this sort of thing. They do an excellent job of creating a false narrative based on evidence that is at best flimsy, and at worst outright fraudulent, and ginning it up into a scandal that the media uncritically accepts.

If they were interested in getting at the truth, then maybe you could say they weren't good at it.

Posted by: Area Man on March 15, 2011 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

The NPR comments were and are damning

Yeah , for the Republicans who made them

Claims that they were taken out of context is pathetic .

Yeah right , they weren't just taken out of context but mispositioned for maximum distortion

Investigative journalism ? The right wing should discover it , and drop the slander and distortion , ya know ?

One should be afraid of any wild idea of taking a comment and distinguishing the truth in it by weighing it against its advantage or disadvantage of use as a distortion or lie . Wow , to actually need to say that , tsk .

Recall elections , and ballot initiatives should take some of the shine off of our disturbingly bold sociopaths , glorying in their anti American blood baths

Posted by: FRP on March 15, 2011 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?

Posted by: Jamie on March 15, 2011 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

what i wonder is how many times this has to happen before a board refuses to base its decision on this type of "reporting".
Why do they fall over themselves in their hurry to react ? could they not say: based on the source of this 'report' we reserve our judgement for when we have seen the unedited content ?

Posted by: vv on March 15, 2011 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

"I just wish they were better at it."

They can get whoever they feel like fired even if there's literally nothing to their claims. I think they're very, very good at whatever it is they're doing and there's no incentive for them to change a thing.

Posted by: mcc on March 15, 2011 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Not that I'm happy with it, but lies and distortion are working for the conservatives of late.

Posted by: Jamie on March 15, 2011 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Jeus, Benen, naive much?

Posted by: HyperIon on March 15, 2011 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

The bottom line , the bottom line . Why worry about something that only misrepresents an institution your corporate parent opposes ?
If you read the NYT's there used to be a retraction column on the second page , if I recall . The information was corrected here , although the paper may have been sold with the uncorrected type on page one .

Posted by: FRP on March 15, 2011 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

No, the "larger point" is why does the left or even the very questionable political leanings of those in power of NPR accept the tapes without question. When, the tape came out about Sherrod, neither the White House nor Vilsack exactly circled the John Deere's around her. The smear about ACORN was accepted, immediately. No one at the White House called the bluff on any of the other smears.

It is as though the left is ever so willing to show "Yes, we clean our own house as we never try to cover up any transgression on our side"
without ever checking into the veracity of the
claims. This is becoming far too common to just knee jerk over any accusation. Grow some and begin to stand tall. It really is OK to fight back.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 15, 2011 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Why would anyone, not just the abysmally stupid and bought and sold mainstream media, credit ANY of this convicted guy's videos?

Jon Stewart should have taught everyone to be skeptical of videos by showing how easy it is to distort through editing.

But why the targets of these attacks react SO defensively, firing Sherrod, getting rid of Acorn, pulling the plug on the NPR guys, is what is truly LUDICROUS. Couldn't they WAIT to find out the truth???

There is something way too hair triggered in the 'liberals'' responsiveness to flawed and outrageous and unfounded criticism.

Posted by: jjm on March 15, 2011 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I'm with Jim in Ohio, et al., above. The Right are in fact VERY good at this.

What I want to know is, why does the Left -- and the Obama White House -- let them get away with it?

Why did the head of NPR resign? Why was Shirley Sherrod hounded incessantly to quit by her superiors in DC?

Until the good guys start to fight back, of course the bad guys will win, even with toy guns and empty threats.

I sure wish I knew what the WH is saving their ammunition for ...

Posted by: bleh on March 15, 2011 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

They succeed at promoting their lies and when the truth is out, no one remembers it. People are still ranting about ACORN and don't realize or don't want to know that it was bogus.
That is very successful propaganda.

Posted by: Schtick on March 15, 2011 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

The larger point is that the left doesn't seem to have learnt a thing since the ACORN scam.

O'Keefe uses the same pattern, over and over -- go after an organisation (or person) that's of help to Dems and try to set them up. If the set up doesn't quite work as hoped for, "doctor" it till it does. Release and watch the feathers fly.

And his victims worked to the same pattern too. With the exception of the Planned Parenthood, which had enough sense to notify FBI, everyone else -- including NPR -- acted in the same, headless-hen, way: fire first, inquire later.

One might have thought that, after ACORN, people would have been a little leery of O'Keefe's bombs. But, no. NAACP nearly choked itself in its haste to condemn Sherrod (I'm not even talking about the administration's shameful reaction), even though some of them were there, when her speech had been given and should have known that she never said what she was supposed to have said, as per O'K's "tape". And NPR ditto. Where's the due caution before action?

Posted by: exlibra on March 15, 2011 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "... the right just doesn't seem to be good at this sort of thing."

That's ridiculous. "The right" has been VERY good at using deceptively edited videos to attack and destroy their targets.

Steve Benen wrote: "... there's no reason for the mainstream to take it seriously."

That's ridiculous -- taking right-wing propaganda "seriously" to legitimize it for a wider audience is the whole and entire function of the corporate-owned, so-called "mainstream" media.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 15, 2011 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

When will someone sue this little piece of rancid crap? I sure would. He lied about something, published it to damage a person who is NOT a public figure, and the damage resulted in the loss of a job and the loss of a future possibility. This is actionable, and if I were an agressive lawyer, I would have this little piece of crap in court tomorrow.

Posted by: POed Lib on March 15, 2011 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Originally published February 19, 2011
Shirley Sherrod Suing Right-Wing Blogger Over Video
Seeking Defamation Damages from Breitbart
by AFRO Staff
According to the Associated Press, Sherrod’s lawyer issued a statement Feb. 14 saying she was suing Andrew Breitbart, a conservative blogger who posted a video online of Sherrod at an NAACP event that was edited to appear as if she was making racist comments. She is seeking an apology, the removal of the video that triggered her resignation and unspecified damages.

The suit was filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and accuses Breitbart of “defamation, false light and infliction of emotional distress,” according to the AP.

Posted by: FRP on March 15, 2011 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

The Wash Post still considers it a valid story.

See the link.


Posted by: racersave on March 15, 2011 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Fraud is not protected speech. It's Fraud. That little worm should have been thrown in jail after the ACORN scam.

Posted by: Rob on March 15, 2011 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

The larger point here is recognizing that the right just doesn't seem to be good at this sort of thing.

I disagree. The larger larger point is that despite having been caught pushing bogus doctored video at least three times -- never mind the abortive misfire of O'Keefe's vile "rape boat" sting of a CNN reporter -- the so-called "liberal media" once again proved that Matt Drudge rules their world by swallowing O'Keefe's phony video hook, line and sinker.

Posted by: Gregory on March 15, 2011 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

The Right isn't very good at investigative journalism, but they are very good at propaganda. They don't actually want to discover Truth, they just want to confirm their delusions. They will manipulate everything to achieve a propaganda point.

I wonder if Beck spoke the truth this time because it implies that the nutso things he says all the rest of the time might also be true?

Posted by: PTate in MN on March 15, 2011 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Agree with Estamm: they are GREAT at this; it works every time.

Posted by: keith on March 15, 2011 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

No one has any idea why Glenn Beck's web site was involved in debunking this? Au contraire, I do. Remember "Black Swan?" (Spoiler alert coming, for those who haven't seen the flick). The prima ballerina tries to bump off her doppelganger, who is also her chief rival for the lead role in Swan Lake. Beck is the biggest self-regarding prima donna in media. He makes your average ballerina or operatic soprano look like a modest little mouse. And he sees a showboater like O'Keefe getting attention with dishonest stunts that put his own to shame. Time to strike down that evil twin with a piece of his own dressing-room mirror, by gad!

Posted by: T-Rex on March 15, 2011 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

Actually the right is very good at this sort of thing. Nobody knows about the follow-up done by Media Matters and if they do probably don't care. The general public now thinks what O'Keefe wants them to think about NPR, which is why those two executives resigned. It is regrettable, but these people aren't dumb. A saving grace may be that only 1% of the population watches Glenn Beck at any one time.

Posted by: Robert Abbott on March 15, 2011 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK

The only thing truly disturbing about this piece by Steve Bennen is his continuing unwillingness to call out this Administration on ANYTHING. Why did Obama's admin fire Shirley Sherrod without first checking? Why didn't the Prez go on the offensive here to fight for NPR (not my favorite news organization but never mind) as soon as he heard about it? Pres Obama has proven over and over again during the past two years that he is a great speaker, and a great brain but he has no leadership skills. As the far right runs over our liberties and remakes the USA into a Banana Republic Mr. O is silent.

Posted by: Lynn on March 15, 2011 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

I heard Dave Weigel on "All Things Considered" defending his promoting the phony story in the first place. The news cycle moves too fast, he had to do it before anyone else did, no time to fact check, no suspicion at all that O'Keefe was playing the whole main-stream media once again...

What I want to know is why does Dave Weigel still have a job and why is he considered reliable enough to listen to?

Posted by: Nothing But the Ruth on March 15, 2011 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK



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