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Post Partisan
Posted at 12:37 PM ET, 03/09/2011

NPR executive caught on camera -- doing what, exactly?


Conservative trickster James O'Keefe apparently has Ron Schiller, National Public Radio's chief fundraiser, on tape calling Tea Partyers racist and nodding politely while his lunch companions decry Jewish control of the media. NPR's CEO resigned Wednesday over the scandal.

But what, exactly, does this say about NPR's journalism?

The NPR executive isn't a reporter, commentator, producer or editor. I'd hardly like my work to be judged based on the off-the-record, lunch-time commentary of a Post business executive uninvolved in its production.

And, yet, the fund-raiser does sell NPR's journalism, and, in the process, he makes its work a player in this scandal. He insinuates that those with whom he's meeting -- two men who claim to be associated with a Muslim Brotherhood front group and who say they might want to give NPR $5 million -- will find satisfaction in the network's coverage, which he terms "fair." What does he mean? Does this reflect some covert biases he might know about at NPR, or just a fund-raiser's toadyish attempt to pull in $5 million? A bit of both?

That's the problem with this Sasha Baron Cohen-style, hidden camera gotcha "journalism" that O'Keefe and others conduct. One player in the act is purposefully outrageous. The other's response -- or lack thereof -- can seem pretty damning. The crazier the circumstances, the more an inadequately disapproving response seems telling, as we saw with the recent prank phone call to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).

I'm always left wondering just how much those folks on tape are behaving sincerely, and how much they are trying to be polite, to muddle through in unusual circumstances. Or, in this case, how much this NPR fund-raiser is simply trying to raise some money, no matter what he needs to nod at. This NPR executive really seems to dislike the Tea Party, gratuitously detailing his wild-eyed disdain for its members. But is he just exaggerating for his audience? And does he buy into the Zionist media conspiracy stuff?

These Borat-esque traps don't necessarily reveal the true values of those on tape or the organizations they represent. But they do throw a bunch of extreme statements up into the air and allow whoever's watching to interpret their trajectories -- all too often according to the viewer's political preferences. Instead of clarifying attitudes, they usually become more fuel for ideological spinners.

So, yes, O'Keefe's latest video is outrageous. But I'm still not quite sure what I'm reacting to -- the notion that an unseemly fund-raiser is clumsily catering to these clowns or the chance that he might actually agree with anything they're saying.

By  |  12:37 PM ET, 03/09/2011

 
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