NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller turned in her resignation Wednesday, in view of a video by conservative prankster James O'Keefe in which an NPR senior official slammed the Tea Party and said, among other things, that NPR might fare better without public funding, hoping to attract a $5 million donation from a group that claimed to be an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The best part of the NPR/James O'Keefe situation is the giant leaps it made for prank journalism.
This is delightful to me. I make a lot of prank calls. Once I sold vowels on a street corner. I have been known to wander up and down the streets dressed as an omelet. Once, as a new year's resolution, I called the Extenze hotline every night for a month. Sometimes I show up at parties in tony neighborhoods pretending to be the son of Sidney Poitier. One day I called Glenn Beck pretending to be Hitler, but he just said normal Glenn Beck things, and it wasn't newsworthy.
I had no idea this was journalism.
It's very freeing. "What?" I tell cops, as they arrest me for lurking outside Anderson Cooper's home in a sexy rabbit suit. "I was just committing journalism!"
On the flip side, all this is making me wary. If there's one thing I've learned from the Scott Walker "David Koch" conversation and the NPR/James O'Keefe/Muslim Brotherhood sting, it's that you should never be polite to someone you think could be a major donor. "How dare you allege that!" you should shout, when he suggests anything. "I will have you taken out and shot!"
This poses problems, too (sometimes it will turn out to be a real donor, and he will call the state troopers on you), but at least you will be confident that no one will be able to post your conversation online and mistake moments of polite agreement for back-room collusion.
It used to be that this sort of pranking was limited to Ashton Kutcher and the folks at Dateline. "It seems kind of weird that our cops are spending so much time online pretending to be 14-year-olds," people said, "but those are pedophiles, so go ahead!" Most journalism, on the other hand, used to imply that You Had an Editor Somewhere Who Had Agreed This Was a Good Idea. Now that's no longer the case. Want to go to Planned Parenthood and pretend to be a pimp? Knock yourself out, and then post it on YouTube!
The question with this, as with all journalism, is: does it convey meaningful information? In this case, the consensus has been that it did -- the NPR CEO has been pushed out, and Ron Schiller, the NPR executive who made the remarks, who was leaving NPR for the Aspen Institute, now isn't welcome there, either.
But are we agreed? Is this just okay now? Because I'm in a very inflammatory costume right now about to go visit the White House, so I need everyone to sign off on this.
Or maybe I don't.