James O'Keefe III has a funny definition of the word "explosive." Earlier today, he promised over Twitter a "new explosive tape" from his "sting" on National Public Radio. But if you actually watch the video he was referring to, you get the sense that this was less of an explosion than a fizzle. Sure, O'Keefe and the rest of the right-wing attack machine are trying to play it up by claiming it proves NPR was up to something deeply sinister -- the only problem for them is that the video doesn't show that at all.
Here's what it does show: a 40-minute phone conversation between Betsy Liley, NPR's senior director of institutional giving, and O'Keefe croney Simon Templar, here pretending to be "Ibraham Kasaam" of the phony Muslim Education Action Center. The video identifies the MEAC as a "Muslim Brotherhood front group," but there's nothing in the video to give that indication.
Over the course of the call, Liley requests a written letter from the MEAC with more details about the donation and suggests that NPR's legal team and the MEAC hammer out a gift agreement. She also gently prods "Kasaam" to reveal more information about the MEAC's history and legal structure, requests a 990 form, and notes, unprompted, that "At Perdue, we've turned down some significant gifts."
The takeaway was that the discussion over a donation was in the preliminary stages at best, and NPR had not committed to accepting MEAC's offer. There is no evidence in the tape to suggest that NPR ever planned on accepting the gift -- much less that they were going to "hide it from the government" as the Daily Caller blithely suggests. When "Kasaam" asks if "NPR would be able to shield us from a government audit," Liley's response is: "I think that is the case, especially if you are anonymous, and I will inquire about that."
By the way, NPR has released a statement. Politico reported:
NPR released a statement condemning Liley's statements in the video.
"The statement made by Betsy Liley in the audio tapes released today regarding the possibility of making an anonymous gift that would remain invisible to tax authorities is factually inaccurate and not reflective of NPR's gift practices. All donations - anonymous and named - are fully reported to the IRS. NPR complies with all financial, tax and disclosure regulations."
Liley, who was caught on the initial videotape laughing at the suggestion that NPR was sometimes called National Palestinian Radio, was placed on administrative leave with Ron Schiller on Tuesday afternoon.
"Through unequivocal words and actions, NPR has renounced and condemned the secretly recorded statements of Ron Schiller and Betsy Liley. Mr. Schiller is no longer with NPR and Ms. Liley has been placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation of the matter," the NPR statement continued.
"No stronger statement of disavowal and disapproval is possible. NPR will not be deterred from its news mission and will ultimately be judged by the millions and millions of listeners and readers who have come to rely on us every day."
Expect this to get a lot of play in the hysterical, cyclonic right-wing scandal factory. Big Government's Larry O'Connor, displaying either deep incredulity or a stunning ignorance of American history, has already gone so far as to label this "NPR's Watergate Moment." Others have followed and will follow. Even if there is no money to follow.
UPDATE: NPR has released a series of emails making clear that they were unwilling to accept any MEAC donations without more information about the organization, and that NPR would be required to disclose any such donations to the IRS. Here is one such email:
From: Joyce Slocum
Sent: Friday, March 04, 2011 11:00 AM
Cc: Vivian Schiller; Betsy Liley; 'firstname.lastname@example.org'
Subject: Contributing to NPR
Dear Mr. Kasaam,
We are very grateful for the kind consideration being given by the Muslim Education Action Center to a generous gift to NPR. I'm sure you will understand that we need to verify certain information with respect to any organization that proposes to make a significant gift to NPR. In the case of an organization that holds itself out as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, contributions to which are tax deductible, we need in particular to satisfy ourselves that the organization is in compliance with the applicable requirements of the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), so as to ensure against any risk of being caught up in later compliance activity. In most instances, we're able to verify this information without troubling the donor organization, by using publicly accessible information. Unfortunately, we have not been able to locate the necessary information about the Muslim Education Action Center, and so we need to ask that you provide it.
The Muslim Education Action Center does not appear in IRS Publication 78, which lists all organizations which have received a 501(c)(3) determination letter from the IRS, and whose status as a tax exempt organization has not been suspended or revoked. (Only churches are exempt from the requirement of obtaining an IRS determination letter, though even many churches voluntarily do so.) Since the Muslim Education Action Center does not appear in Publication 78, we need to ask for a copy of the IRS determination letter as to its 501(c)(3) status.
Also, most tax exempt organizations are required to file an annual form 990 in order to maintain their tax exempt status. Failure to file for three consecutive years results in an automatic revocation of tax exempt status. Again, because such organizations are required to make their three most recently filed annual 990 returns and all related supporting documents available for public inspection, we are usually able to obtain copies of these from the organization's own website, or if not there, from GuideStar or the Foundation Center. We have been unable to locate the 990's for the Muslim Education Action Center through any of these sources, so need to ask that you also provide those for our review.
I would very much appreciate receiving the requested items at your earliest convenience, so that I might review them and provide appropriate guidance to my client.Please do not hesitate to call if you have any questions or I may otherwise be of assistance.
Joyce D. Slocum