You are hereMother Jones: Why Do We Keep Falling For O'Keefe's Smear Jobs?
Mother Jones: Why Do We Keep Falling For O'Keefe's Smear Jobs?
March 28, 2011- To the list of journalism's greatest disgraces, let us now add James O'Keefe. O'Keefe calls himself an investigative reporter, though as far as we can tell the only group of journalists he has anything in common with are habitual fabricators like Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, and Janet Cooke.
But that's not the scandal we're talking about. The real scandal is that—even though by the time he posted a "sting" of a top NPR fundraiser, O'Keefe was notorious for creating deceptive video smear jobs (ACORN? Hello?)—the media repeated the allegations uncritically. Let's review.
O'Keefe's "scoop" debuted March 8 on the conservative Daily Caller. Edited down from a 2-hour conversation, the 12-minute clip purports to show NPR head fundraiser Ron Schiller wooing fake prospective donors who claimed to be part of a group with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. To curry favor, Schiller slags tea partiers, calling them xenophobic and racist; he also says NPR could get by without federal funding.
Republicans in Congress were already gearing up to defund NPR, but even that timing doesn't seem to have raised red flags with the media. The story was breathlessly repeated by such mainstream reporters as Ben Smith of Politico, Dave Weigel of Slate, James Poniewozik of Time, and many others. Did they mention that O'Keefe had doctored tapes before? Sometimes. Did that cause them to hold off before passing on his sizzle reel? No.
Within 36 hours, NPR had dumped both Ron Schiller and its successful CEO, Vivian Schiller (no relation). Twenty-two NPR journalists, from Robert Siegel to Nina Totenberg, signed a letter expressing outrage at the "appalling" comments. Twenty-two journalists assumed that a tape made by a known tape-doctorer accurately represented the comments of their co-worker. Scott Simon of Weekend Edition piled on, tweeting, "Conduct of NPR execs is disgusting. They dishonor a name built by great journalists."
It wasn't until March 10 that an article on Glenn Beck's (!!) site, the Blaze, reviewed the full tape (which O'Keefe had posted online—guessing, correctly, that reporters wouldn't bother to watch it) and found massive deceptive editing. Schiller, it turned out, prefaced his comments by saying he was proud of having been raised a Republican; in saying tea partiers were racist, he was paraphrasing other GOPers; a laughing "That's what they said?" referring to a restaurant was moved to suggest that he was making light of the fake group's commitment to sharia.