Until now, the Obama administration, the New York Times, and Congressional Democrats failed to criticize the right wing media for their serious violations of ethics, good taste, and truth-telling. But apparently the attack on National Public Radio, inspired by the stance of NPR's top executives, was the straw that finally broke their backs.
Two days ago, Ronald Schiller, an NPR executive, resigned after being exposed in an undercover video tape criticizing Republicans and their Tea Party supporters. Today, in a surprise move, he withdrew his resignation, explaining, "It took me two days to realize that I have nothing to apologize for." "What I said on that tape is true. The Republican Party has been hijacked by a racist Tea Party. Not only that, it has become a wholly owned subsidiary of not just the Tea Party, but by greedy, rich businessmen, like the Koch brothers, who care only about their profits and political influence-peddling. Moreover, Republicans constantly attack NPR. Nothing I said, or anyone else at NPR has said, rivals the daily lies repeated on the GOP's favorite media outlets, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal."
Following Schiller's announcement, NPR's chief executive Vivian Shiller, who resigned yesterday, also withdrew her resignation. "The fact is," said Ms. Shiller, "the nation needs NPR to counter the distortions in the media by Fox as well as the mainstream beltway-oriented media." Ms. Shiller, no relation to Ronald, said, "The right-wing media are trying to do to NPR what they did to ACORN and to Shirley Sherrod. In those cases, the mainstream media, including CNN, the Washington Post, and the NY Times, botched the story because they relied on hidden videos from right-wing activists with a history of blatant lies and even criminal behavior. It is time for the mainstream media to take Andrew Breitbart and James O'Keefe off their speed-dials. They are not credible sources.
The NPR tempest-in-a-teapot began Tuesday when conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe released a hidden camera video on his Project Veritas website, a site that also includes hidden-camera investigations of other right wing targets, including teacher's unions and ACORN, the anti-poverty self-help group.
Mr. Schiller appears on one of the videos at Georgetown's Café Milano with two men--Shaughn Adeleye and Simon Templar--posing as executives from a fake Islamic organization. The two men offered a $5 million donation to the NPR network.
NPR's chairman, Dave Edwards, said in a statement that NPR accepted the withdrawal of their resignations. "We were prompted to act after Sen. Jim DeMint said that the resignations of our chief executive and a top fundraiser weren't enough." The South Carolina Republican is leading his party's drive in Congress to defund all public broadcasting, including NPR.
"I also came to my senses, when I realized O'Keefe, a convicted criminal, not a journalist, was behind the secret taping," Edwards added.
He also defended Mr. Schiller against charges of religious bigotry. When the O'Keefe-trained phony donors condemned Jewish control of the media. Shiller explained, "Those anti-Semitic comments made me sick. I was just trying to be polite, and really didn't respond appropriately."
O'Keefe first drew media attention in September 2009 when he visited ACORN and defamed ACORN with his "pimp and prostitute" secret videos. ACORN, like NPR, Planned Parenthood, public employees, and the NAACP has long been a target of the GOP and right-wing groups. For over three decades, the Republican Party has tried to suppress voter turnout by minorities, while ACORN had successfully registered millions of these voters making it a target for Karl Rove and the Bush White House.
Rove and other GOP officials alleged that ACORN had engaged in voter fraud - an accusation that they escalated during the 2008 presidential campaign when they tried to tarnish Barack Obama. Every subsequent independent investigation http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/06/15-7 " target="_hplink">vindicated ACORN of any wrongdoing. These investigations revealed that O'Keefe's ACORN tapes were misleading and distorted. Most of the original versions of O'Keefe's heavily edited ACORN tapes have never released.
But once Andrew Breitbart posted the distorted videos on his right-wing website Big Government, and after Glenn Beck and other Fox News hosts broadcast the videos on their shows, the mainstream media kept the story alive, manufacturing a controversy.
To remind the public of the importance of NPR, Edwards, its chairman, referred to the ACORN incident and the inaccurate reporting by the New York Times, which botched the ACORN story by failing to check its facts - a miscue that its own public editor acknowledged.
Having been empowered with their ACORN tapes, and seeing no push back by the Democratic Party, and a compliant media, O'Keefe's sponsor, Andrew Breitbart, posted another misleading tape -- this one smearing Shirley Sherrod, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official in Georgia, falsely showing her giving a speech boasting that she favored blacks over whites in providing federal support to rural farmers. The Breitbart video quickly became "news," first on Fox News, then in the mainstream media. The Obama administration forced Sherrod to resign from her job without checking the facts, and then had to apologize to her.
"The Right and their big business allies have done an effective job intimidating the mainstream media," said Edwards, "getting them to print or broadcast stories that lack substance or importance. It's time someone in the media, beside Rachel Maddow, stood up to these bullies. NPR is drawing a line in the stand. We are here to tell the truth. And we know the truth and James O'Keefe rarely inhabit the same space."
A spokesman for President Obama said, "Isn't O'Keefe the guy who plotted to humiliate a CNN journalist Abby Boudreau by seducing her on a boat, probably violated Maryland's Wiretap laws and has been convicted of entering federal property under false pretenses when he attempted to embarrass Senator Mary Landrieu? Why is his group a source of information for anything?"
Senate President Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said, "Even if what the right is claiming is true, this one error is small potatoes and will have no effect on the Democrats' continued support of public radio."
Bill Keller acknowledge that the New York Times had been suckered too many times by Breitbart and O'Keefe and pledged to treat them as ideological activists, not credible news sources.
Last year, Keller confessed that the Times mishandled the ACORN story. After an internal review, he discovered that at least 14 different Times reporters had covered some part of the ACORN story - its work stopping predatory lending, thwarting foreclosures, building affordable housing, supporting living wage laws in cities around the country, and its efforts at voter registration in inner city neighborhoods, as well as Republicans' attacks on the group. Keller admitted that the paper should have assigned one reporter to be responsible for following ACORN.
Keller said, "It turns out that ACORN was a multi-faceted organization. None of the reporters really understood it, and that's why we got the story wrong. I now realize that ACORN was a canary in the coalmine. The conservative activists figured how to manufacture stories and we bought them. Now I intend to stop the intimidation by the right, starting now. We will not report this story unless we're convinced that it is real news. I have requested one of our bloggers to check it out."
"At a time when 15 million Americans are out of work, our states and cities are broke, and the Middle East is in upheaval, we can't waste valuable media space on phony stories. We're about 'all the news that's fit to print.' That's not what Breitbart and O'Keefe are about."
Note: Everything in this story is true and well documented except the statements made by the Obama administration, the NPR executives, and Harry Reed in response to the NPR videos. The concession by the New York Times editor Bill Keller about mishandling the ACORN story is true, the rest of his quotes are fake.
John Atlas's new book Seeds of Change, The Story of ACORN, America's Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group, Vanderbilt University Press. Buy it at Amazon or better yet at your local book store.