How NPR Helped Empower James O'Keefe

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

So James O'Keefe's much-hyped NPR video turns out to have been misleadingly edited, just like his previous efforts. Shocking, isn't it?

Actually, it might be -- if you get your news from NPR.

Dishonesty is James O'Keefe's defining trait. If there is anything news organizations should tell their audiences about him, it's that he's repeatedly been caught lying and producing misleading videos and transcripts. His whole operation is a sham. That's all you need to know about James O'Keefe. And yet, NPR's reporting on O'Keefe consistently failed to make that clear -- or even to hint at it. A search of NPR transcripts in the Nexis database finds 10 NPR reports that mentioned O'Keefe prior to the controversy over his NPR video. Only once in these 10 reports is there so much as a hint that O'Keefe had ever behaved dishonestly in presenting the results of his "stings" to the public -- a September 23, 2009 interview in which an attorney for ACORN says "The tapes have been edited and rearranged."

No NPR report available on Nexis that mentions James O'Keefe has included the fact that California's attorney general said the ACORN tapes were "severely edited by O'Keefe" and constituted a "highly selective editing of reality." None mentioned a New York Daily News report that a law enforcement source said O'Keefe "edited the tape to meet their agenda." In several reports, NPR journalists adopted the false claim that O'Keefe had dressed as a pimp; none of the reports indicate that this was not, in fact, true. NPR never got around to telling listeners that O'Keefe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with one of his stunts. And O'Keefe's bizarre scheme to lure CNN reporter Abbie Boudreau onto a boat under false pretenses, then secretly record her reaction to being confronted in an enclosed, unfamiliar environment by a strange man with handcuffs and sex toys? None of the NPR reports available on Nexis mentioned that.

In short, NPR repeatedly covered O'Keefe, and adopted his (false) claims about what his videos showed. But only a single NPR report available on Nexis contained so much as an allegation that he'd ever been less than honest. NPR's coverage of O'Keefe helped enhance his stature and credibility. And then he peddled a misleading videotape of an NPR executive, and the media ran with it, badly damaging NPR.

A year ago, I wrote of the media's favorable coverage of Andrew Breitbart:

If there's anything more bizarre than an Andrew Breitbart conspiracy theory, it's the decision of so many mainstream reporters to handle him with kid gloves. Breitbart is waging war on the establishment media, and they respond with friendly profiles that whitewash his dishonesty and sleaziness -- apparently not realizing that by legitimizing Breitbart, they hasten their own downfall.

If Breitbart has one defining characteristic, it is his flagrant dishonesty -- a dishonesty that is apparent not only in his willingness to traffic in bogus attacks, but in his rejection of basic standards of proof and logic and reason and consistency. And yet the typical profile of Breitbart portrays him simply as an eccentric but brilliant entrepreneur waging a valiant and impressively successful struggle against craven and corrupt elites -- while his dishonesty goes unmentioned and his critics go unquoted.


During the Clinton years the mainstream media enabled and empowered the Ruddys and Farahs and Evans-Pritchards of the world by chasing after the nonsense. Trumped-up scandals and controversies oozed forth from these conservative charlatans and ended up in The Washington Post and on ABC News, with the sensational claims receiving more attention than the lack of credibility of the accusers. And they're doing it again. But this time, they have more to lose. Already in a weakened state, the media cannot afford to empower a dishonest crank bent on destroying them.

Maybe someday, they'll realize that.

Andrew Breitbart, James O'Keefe
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.