WASHINGTON (AP) - News analysts say that a hidden-camera video by a conservative activist targeting NPR was edited in misleading ways to showcase inflammatory remarks from a public radio executive.
Analysts from the Poynter Institute and The Blaze, a website set up by Fox News host Glenn Beck, told an NPR reporter that they found a short version of the video deceiving when compared with the full two-hour tape of a lunch meeting between NPR fundraisers and two conservative activists posing as a fake Muslim group. The men offered NPR a $5 million donation and engaged in a wide-ranging political discussion.
“I tell my children there are two ways to lie,” said Al Tompkins, a broadcast journalist who teaches ethics at the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in Florida. “One is to tell me something that didn’t happen, and the other is not to tell me something that did happen. I think they employed both techniques in this.”
The short version, which gained wide attention on blogs and other websites, portrays fundraiser Ron Schiller as saying NPR would be better off without federal funding in the long-term. Congressional Republicans have seized on those comments in their effort to cut public broadcast funding. In the longer tape, Schiller said the loss of federal funding would be disastrous in the short term.
Activist James O'Keefe posted the full video last week at the same time he released the edited version, following criticism of edited versions of his videos of the nonprofit group ACORN. In a statement Monday, O'Keefe said the shorter version includes the pieces his group found most relevant.
“All journalists edit, but very few allow the public to see the entire video of an interview,” he said. “We believe the story speaks for itself and NPR has not denied any part of the comments made by Mr. Schiller.”
Forensic consultant Mark Menz, who reviewed the tapes for NPR, said they were edited to lead viewers to a certain conclusion, in part by presenting remarks out of sequence.
When Schiller was portrayed in the shorter video as saying the GOP had been “hijacked” by the tea party, it’s evident in the longer version that he was paraphrasing the views of two influential, unnamed Republicans. It’s not clear shortly thereafter if he’s paraphrasing someone else or expressing his own views when he refers to the tea party as racist and xenophobic.
Schiller also makes positive comments about the GOP. In comments edited out of the short version of the video, he spoke of growing up as a Republican and admiring the principles of fiscal conservatism.
The short video also omits Schiller repeatedly saying that donors cannot influence the news because of a firewall between the fundraising and editorial departments.
Scott Baker, editor in chief of The Blaze, first raised objections last week about how the video was edited. Some of the comments could offend conservatives or tea party activists, he said, but added that other comments that were cut out were complimentary to conservatives. Analyzing the tapes gave him respect for the professionalism of the NPR executives portrayed in the video, Baker said.
Looking at the full video tape, the NPR executives “seem to be fairly balanced people, trying to do a fairly good job,” he said.
Still, an NPR spokeswoman said the network had confirmed its top fundraising executive made “egregious comments” that were not distorted or misrepresented.
“It is obvious that O'Keefe’s video was heavily edited and that it was presented in a manner to discredit NPR,” spokeswoman Anna Christopher told The Associated Press. “The editing doesn’t excuse the attitudes and expressions that we find to be inconsistent with our values and beliefs.”
The videos led to the resignations last week of fundraiser Ron Schiller and of NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller, who is not related and was not portrayed in the video. Another fundraiser who was portrayed in the video, Betsy Liley, was placed on administrative leave.
Ron Schiller already planned to leave NPR, but the video controversy speeded up his departure “as he could no longer represent NPR effectively,” Christopher said. She said NPR’s board also was aware of the misleading video edit when it asked Vivian Schiller to step down.