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Why Fox News Will Keep Bullying NPR

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In the wake of the James O'Keefe smear campaign against NPR, which arrived in the form of dishonestly edited undercover tapes (does O'Keefe know any other form?), public radio host Ira Glass expressed dismay that nobody was "fighting back" against the right-wing attacks. "I find it completely annoying, and I don't understand it," said Glass.

Instead of fighting back against the right-wing attacks led by Fox News, NPR hit the panic button last week. It prematurely condemned a colleague and got busy "rolling bodies out the back of the truck," as the New York Times' David Carr put it, referencing the public sacking of CEO Vivian Schiller and senior fundraiser Ron Schiller, who was featured in the O'Keefe tapes. Both were made sacrificial lambs for the O'Keefe stings; lambs that were sacrificed before the full truth about theunethical tapes were revealed.

Note to NPR: If you don't stand up, the bullying is never going to stop.

It seems obvious that Fox's odd, deeply personal hatred for the venerable news institution comes from the very top. Roger Ailes recently likened NPR executives to members of Hitler's Nazi regime. Y'know, the Nazis who sought to conquer Europe and eradicate Jews. That's who Ailes compared NPR executives to. (Ailes later apologized to the ADL for using the Nazi term. Ailes though, refused to apologize to NPR.)

Meaning, the brand of radical conservative who has NPR in their sights today is not the same type of conservative critic who tweaked the network's supposedly liberal bias in the past. This new brand of bully is borderline delusional about NPR and sees it as a genuine force of evil; a hub of sinister activity.

For years when confronted with partisan taunts from the right, NPR took the high road and let its journalism speak for itself. The thinking seemed to be that sensible people could distinguish between the award-winning work the network produced and the unfair mischaracterization of NPR that got paraded around by conservatives. Also, in terms of landing critical funding support on Capitol Hill, public brawls with conservatives were frowned upon. (It's unseemly.) So low-key won out the day.

And for years that noble approach worked. But the game has changed. Against its will, NPR has been dragged into the arena for a showdown and is now seen by its frothing critics as partisan prey. Fox News senses weakness and feasts off it.

More weakness was advertised last week when, in the wake of her resignation, CEO Schiller suggested her stepping down might placate her critics and improve NPR's chances of securing funding:

I'm hopeful that my departure from NPR will have the intended effect of easing the defunding pressure on public broadcasting.

No such luck. This week Republicans responded to Schiller's resignation by convening an "emergency" session of the House Rules Committee to consider a bill that would permanently strip NPR of its federal funding.

As Earl Ofari Hutchinson recently noted at Huffington Post:

In fact, NPR could clean house of every top official and its top programmers and it still wouldn't satisfy its GOP inquisitors. The GOP's point is not to just change the regime at NPR but to drive home the message that the media is the sole playground for corporate, right of center, views and that anything or anyone who doesn't toe that line will find no regular place in front of public or mainstream microphones or on the airwaves.

Meanwhile, NPR itself hasn't done itself any favors with the kind of news coverage it's produced when sugar coating dirty trickster James O'Keefe's background. Instead, of being factually accurate and noting that O'Keefe's reputation as an undercover "journalist" had been pretty much destroyed by his own misguided stunts and unethical behavior in the editing room, NPR has routinely glossed over that unpleasantness. (More recently, NPR has been more clear about O'Keefe's past.)

In other words, while NPR empowered O'Keefe and presented him as a legitimate newsmaker, O'Keefe used that mainstream media stature and prestige to plot an attack against NPR in hopes of crippling the venerable news agency.

Sadly, that dynamic isn't unusual among Beltway journalists. When conservatives work the refs and condemn reporters for being liberally biased, what's the best way to prove you're not liberal? You bend over backwards when covering conservatives like O'Keefe. (Just like you bend over backwards when covering the Republican Bush administration.)

Fact: Faced with a bully like Fox News, NPR ought to do less placating and a more fighting back.

Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters blog.