Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Is that Glenn Beck riding that white-ish horse: the story of The O'Keefe Sting that at Least Partially Wasn't . . .

Not since prideful Elizabeth Bennett accepted help from prejudiced Mr. Darcy, has there been such a satisfyingly bamboozling alliance.

NPR's humiliated (and "rickety") management, caught last week in a front-page making James O'Keefe gotcha sting, has been partially vindicated by . . . Glenn Beck! Or at least the journalistic wing of Glenn Beck's enterprises, which he calls The Blaze.

Holy Jane Austen! 

Here's a bit of back-story on The Blaze/O'Keefe/NPR affair.

When The Blaze launched in September of 2010, Mr. Beck had this to say about his website's name:

The image of flame is powerful. It has long stood for a burning truth. A truth that is not consumed. The Blaze will pursue truth. Of course we will make mistakes. Honest mistakes. And we’ll be quick with corrections. We intend to earn your trust and keep it day in and day out with hard work and a lot of transparency. 
And don’t expect everything to be deadly serious. Boring is bad. We intend to have plenty of fun. 
We’ve put together a solid team of writers and reporters. I intend to keep them busy by sending a zillion story ideas at all hours.
Hmmmmmm. Okay. Pretty high-falutin' morality from the man who commented as forest fires raged in California:
 "I think there is a handful of people who hate America. Unfortunately for them, a lot of them are losing their homes in a forest fire today." 
Zip forward to last week. The story of O'Keefe's NPR sting on hapless Ron Schiller breaks big-time, garnering all kinds of splashy, front-page news coverage on both the Washington Post and the New York Times. At the time, I noted Glenn Beck's comments that included this rather diabolically gleeful description of the stingee, former NPR executive Ron Schiller:
"... this guy Schiller is not a leader of anything. He's a coward. He's an effeminate little waif sitting up there waxing eloquent about how woe is the country because not everybody is as smart as he is -- while he's being duped! He's in the middle of being duped here by a couple of people who have set him up royally. ..."
David Folkenflik
I tend to give myself a break from the news on Sunday, so the next major development I became aware of came yesterday, when I heard David Folkenflik's report on Morning Edition. According to research done by the staff at Glenn Beck's The Blaze, Mr. Fokenflik tells us, the O'Keefe sting tape had been seriously edited. Some of the statements on it are presented completely out of context. Thus, in many minds, the tape is a partial lie: David quotes Al Tompkins:
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.
Wow! Glenn Beck providing a soupçon of vindication for the antics of NPR's senior management! Off I go to The Blaze (for the first time ever, I blush to admit), where I read* this posted by Blaze Editor-in-Chief Scott Baker,
Plenty of readers felt the new NPR exposé justified any ethical misgivings involved in producing it. Others felt that those seeking truths should hold to higher standards. 
When undercover video like the NPR story first surfaces, we often look to see if there is raw video of the material used to produce the report as a basis for evaluating the accuracy of the representations made. 
And we decided to do that in this case. 
Pam Key
The Blaze’s Pam Key, who produces most of our original videos, is experienced in reviewing hours and hours of raw audio/video to find key sections that can then be used in proper context.  
Her review of the NPR exposé identifies a number of areas to examine.
Do these areas reveal problematic editing choices?  Are assertions made in the video misleading? Are the tactics used by the video producers unethical? 
Clearly the NPR executives, particularly Ron Schiller, show poor and, at times, despicable judgment.  Do any of the revelations from the raw video ameliorate that?  Do [sic] their wrongdoing justify any wrongdoing by the video producers?  
These are sometimes difficult matters to consider, especially for those who are pleased with the outcomes produced by the release of video reports like this; however, the ethical implications can be significant. And as we say around The Blaze watercooler…the truth has no agenda. Perspective and context are essential elements in bringing truth to the forefront.  To exclude or alter them can obscure truths rather than reveal them.
Glenn Beck does have a point, doesn't he, from his perch (at least for the moment) atop the High Moral Ground? I like that he admits that plenty of his readers would delight in anything that helps take down NPR.

I find nothing about this story on the front page of either yesterday's Washington Post or New York Times.

Of course, quite a lot has happened since the story of the sting was plastered all over those papers' front pages.

Yesterday afternoon Andy Schmookler (of blog and Civic Soapbox fame) sent me a link to an article in the Huffington Post, which did cover the story.

The Blaze's partial unraveling of the O'Keefe undercover sting did garner considerable blog coverage -- which The Blaze has conveniently compiled on its site. There I found a reference to NYTimes Editor Patrick LaForge's tweet that "seems to hint at one of the most common reactions: bewilderment over why, out of all the sites out there, we were one of the only ones to take the time to comb through the video and ask tough questions."

The Blaze also re-posts the following:
“It’s either depressing or sort of wonderful that Glenn Beck’s The Blaze was the one to catch some really serious, dishonest lily-gilding in the NPR sting,” Politico’s Ben Smith writes on his blog from Friday, adding a mild mea culpa: “I regret having, even in what I thought was a cautious way, picked up the story.”
I do wonder why the story of The Sting That at Least Partially Wasn't didn't (as far as I can tell) make the front pages of two of the big city newspapers that spent days covering that same sting when it was.  Did NPR simply get bumped off the front page by Japan?  Did mainstream newspapers simply not know what to do with a story broken by Glenn Beck? Were they unwilling to say, as Politico's Ben Smith put it, that they regretted having gone with such a flawed story with so much gusto?

You got any thoughts?
* This site also contains the edited and raw tape of the O'Keefe sting, should you care to compare the two.

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