Postscript: Did NPR Learn Anything From O'Keefe Attack?

03/22/2011 05:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the wake of James O'Keefe's orchestrated gotcha on National Public Radio, Republicans in the House passed a bill to permanently strip public radio of its federal funding support. The bill appears to have little chance of passing in the Senate, but it's clear the Republican Party and the conservative movement have made NPR a prime target of partisan attacks; attacks that will continue for years to come. (Cultural wars are never-ending.)

So even the though O'Keefe's videos have receded from the headlines, how the public radio network responds to the increasingly unethical volleys in the future remains crucial. It's crucial for NPR and it's crucial for other targets of dishonest right-wing assaults. Following the O'Keefe sting, for instance, a defensive NPR made several missteps, including not waiting until all the facts were known about the undercover tapes. (Just like the Dept. of Agriculture did in the Shirley Sherrod case.)

Incredibly though, NPR leaders deny they moved too quickly, which raises questions about what NPR learned from its unwanted time in the partisan spotlight.

Given how the story played out, I was baffled by these revelations, found in a recent Wall Street Journal report [emphasis added]:

An NPR spokeswoman said the organization knew right away the original video was "heavily edited" to discredit NPR but confirmed in a phone call with Mr. Schiller that he made "inappropriate statements that were not, in fact, misrepresented, and which were inexcusable." The spokeswoman said NPR wouldn't have acted differently had it waited to view the full video.

First of all, if NPR leaders knew immediately when the O'Keefe story broke that the tapes he was peddling had been "heavily edited" to discredit NPR, then NPR did a very good job keeping that information to themselves. I followed the breaking news coverage very closely, and I don't recall NPR executives stressing to the public as part of the network's response that the tapes everyone was seeing on TV had been "heavily edited."

Maybe if NPR had made that point emphatically in the press it could have curtailed some of the public relations damage it suffered. (Note to NPR: You have to fight back when bullies attack.)

Secondly, and even more surprising, is NPR's claim that even if it had waited until after The Blaze had weighed in with its detailed debunking of the Schiller tapes, NPR still would have followed the same course of action.

So if The Blaze had somehow been able to show, just hours after the O'Keefe sting was launched (instead of days), that the NPR tapes were heavily and dishonestly edited, NPR still would have moved to publicly disassociated itself with Schiller? NPR still would have essentially conceded defeat at the hands of O'Keefe's operation?

That's hard to believe because under that scenario the bigger story would have been then (as it is now) about the depths to which right-wing activists will stoop to try to embarrass their political enemies, not whatever a professional NPR fundraiser might have said at a lunch.

Read full column here, at Media Matters.

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