Did NPR Exec. Really Call Tea Partiers Racist?

Blog ››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

Last week, Media Matters documented problems with James O'Keefe's video of NPR fundraising executives and pointed out that the "sting" does nothing to undermine NPR's actual news reporting, which even conservatives acknowledge is fair.

Now, we have uncovered new evidence raising questions about whether quotes O'Keefe attributed to an NPR employee are accurate.

First, some context. Glenn Beck's Blaze website and Dave Weigel are pointing to a glaring problem with the story -- key portions of the video are ripped out of context.

O'Keefe's video (and much of the subsequent news reporting) portrayed former NPR employee Ron Schiller as blasting the Tea Parties as xenophobic. Here's how O'Keefe presents Schiller's statement:

SCHILLER: The current Republican party is not really the Republican party. It's been hijacked by this group -- that is --

"AMIR MALIK": The radical, racist, Islamophobic, tea party people?

SCHILLER: And not just Islamophobic but really xenophobic

And here's how The Daily Caller reported it when they broke the story: "The Republican Party, Schiller says, has been 'hijacked by this group.' The man posing as Malik finishes the sentence by adding, 'the radical, racist, Islamaphobic, Tea Party people.' Schiller agrees and intensifies the criticism, saying that the Tea Party people aren't 'just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people.' "

In reality, the unedited video shows Schiller was attributing that sentiment to two Republicans who he spoke with (the portion O'Keefe omitted is bolded):

SCHILLER: I won't break a confidence, but a person who was an ambassador -- so a very highly placed Republican -- another person who was one of the top donors to the Republican Party, they both told me they voted for Obama, which they never believed they could ever do in their lives. That they could ever vote for a Democrat, ever. And they did, because they believe that the current Republican Party is not really the Republican Party. It's been hijacked by this group that is

"AMIR MALIK": The radical, racist, Islamophobic, Tea Party people?

SCHILLER: Exactly. And not just Islamophobic but really xenophobic.

That's pretty damning. You can watch The Blaze's juxtaposition of the two versions of the video here:

O'Keefe's colleague has defended this dishonest editing by suggesting that Schiller was "clearly agreeing with" the Republicans he cited. The Blaze similarly argues that "[a]t the end, [Schiller] signals his agreement."

The argument that Schiller agreed that the Tea Parties are racist seems to be based on O'Keefe's transcription of what Schiller said next. Here's the text O'Keefe included in the edited video:

SCHILLER: And not just Islamophobic but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America, gun-toting I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people.

But much of that audio is extremely hard to understand, and it's not at all clear that O'Keefe's transcription is accurate.

Take this portion, for example: "believe in sort of white, middle-America, gun-toting." The way O'Keefe (and much of the media) transcribed it, it sounds like Schiller may be agreeing that Tea Partiers are pro-gun, middle-American, white supremacists.

But listen to the audio again. Can you really hear Schiller use the phrase "in sort of"? I can't. It sounds like Schiller is might actually be saying, "They believe THAT THEY'RE white, middle-America, gun-toting." Alternately, he might be saying, "They believe IT'S sort of white, middle-America, gun-toting." If either of those is correct, it seems highly possible that the "they" Schiller is referring to is the two Republicans Schiller spoke with. In that case, Schiller would simply be saying that these two Republicans view the Tea Partiers as "white, middle-America, gun-toting."

What about Schiller's statement that "They're seriously racist, racist people"? Isn't he calling the Tea Partiers "racist" there?

First of all, it's still not clear that Schiller was saying that in his own voice, rather than attributing it to his Republican sources.

And again, listen to the actual audio without looking at the text O'Keefe added. Schiller's words are barely audible, and it's not at all clear that Schiller even said, "They're seriously racist, racist people." It's possible that he said that -- but it's nowhere near definitive enough for a journalist to assert that as fact.

What did Schiller really say there? I don't know. And unless journalists who took O'Keefe's word for it are 100 percent sure he is correct, it's time for them to start issuing corrections.

Network/Outlet
NPR
Person
James O'Keefe
Show/Publication
The Daily Caller
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