Monday, March 14, 2011

We Need NPR

We need NPR.

I am a longtime listener of National Public Radio’s news programs. From the moment I wake up in the morning until the moment I walk into my office, I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition program. In the afternoon, during the drive home, my radio is tuned to NPR’s All Things Considered. I have always considered NPR to be a trusted source of news. They have always fought to find the truth behind the story. It was NPR that first broke the story that the volume of oil spilling from the broken well in the Gulf of Mexico was much greater than we had been led to believe by BP and others. It was from NPR that I learned that a private corrections company provided the impetus behind Arizona’s anti-immigrant law—they stood to profit from building new prisons that would have to be built to house the people arrested under the law. And that’s just a couple of examples.

So imagine my surprise that conservative activist James O’Keefe, of the ACORN video sting and Mary Landrieu office break-in fame, once again using a hidden camera and heavily edited footage, tried to make NPR look bad. He had two of his “citizen journalists” pose as representatives of a wealthy Muslim Trust and meet with Ron Schiller, NPR’s top fundraising executive, and attempt to coax statements from him disparaging conservatives, the TEA party, and Republicans. And imagine my surprise once again that every “legitimate” news organization in the country broke legs in their haste to jump to conclusions about “National Pravda Radio”.

NPR, of course, did what no other “legitimate” news organization in the country could be bothered to do: They took the time to view and analyze the entire footage of the over two-hour long “raw” video that O’Keefe posted on his website (for just that purpose, by the way). They did this with the help of various professional video and audio analysts, including one who works for The Blaze, a news aggregate site founded by none other than Glenn Beck. And they discovered—surprise, surprise—that the 11 minutes O’Keefe originally posted were HEAVILY edited and slanted to make Schiller—and, by extension, NPR—look bad. The short tape contains footage taken out of sequence and quotes that then had responses cut off. I would imagine that, had there been a clock in the background of the video, you would have seen it jumping back and forth.

Listen to the full story here. Pay particular attention to the part where one analyst describes how he heard at least six times where Schiller asserted that no donor to NPR, private or public, may influence NPR’s coverage of the news.

In the light of the full footage being released, many news commenters and organizations are regretting the fact that they rushed to judgment of NPR based on one heavily edited, 11-minute video, especially given O'Keefe's past record.

Too little, too late. To paraphrase the great Louis Renault, police prefect of Casablanca:

"I'm shocked, shocked to find that video editing is going on here!"
"Your edited video, sir."
"Oh, thank you very much. Everyone out!"

Don't get me wrong. I am not defending some of the comments Schiller made, particularly the part where he claimed NPR might be better off--in the long-term--without Federal funding. What was NOT shown in the edited version is him talking about the short-term damage such a cutoff would cause.

NPR is impressive in its fund-raising efforts. It raises six dollars on its own for every one that it gets from the government. It raises money from listeners (my local affiliate gets 40% of its annual operating budget directly from its listeners), corporate sponsors, private philanthropic organizations, and many other sources.

But it needs those Federal dollars, especially in today's economy. Plus, even if donors have no control over NPR's news coverage, they do control their own money. And there is no guarantee that money will always be available. And we need a source of news that is not 100% controlled by the very corporations it reports on. And complain all you want about the "liberal bias". A better way of saying it might be this: The truth hurts.

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