WHEN THE NPR ‘STING’ STORY STARTS TO CRUMBLE…. I’m glad conservatives are interested in investigative reports and journalism. I just wish they were better at it.
By now, everyone’s heard about the NPR “sting,” which led to a significant shake-up at the radio giant, including the ouster of the CEO. The controversy was generated by a secret recording of a discussion between a phony prospective donor and an NPR development executive.
What we’re learning this week is that the recording was subjected to some creative editing, by some of the same folks who’ve done this before.
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….
The Media Matters report is worth reading for the details, and it confirms what Dave Weigel, Glenn Beck’s Blaze website*, and even NPR itself have found: O’Keefe’s video played fast and loose with context, in order to mislead the public.
What I find especially interesting, though, is the larger pattern.
How many times have we gone through this? The Planned Parenthood expose fell apart in February. The Shirley Sherrod video became a notorious example of new-media deception. The entire ACORN controversy was built around a series of misleading and heavily-edited videos. And yet, every time O’Keefe or someone like him produces nonsense, the political mainstream tends to accept it at face value, only to learn soon after that the whole story was left on the editing-room floor.
The larger point here is recognizing that the right just doesn’t seem to be good at this sort of thing.
Looking back over the last several decades, most of the time, quality investigative journalism has come from mainstream news organizations and left-leaning outlets like The Nation and Mother Jones. The right, historically, has avoided this kind of work, preferring to create outlets like Fox News, National Review, and the Weekly Standard.
Whether you find those conservative outlets valuable or not, it’s fair to say investigative journalism isn’t part of their m.o. The Republican-friendly outlets just don’t do in-depth, shoe-leather journalism to break major news stories.
Over the last couple of years, conservatives have begun taking steps to change this, bolstered by far-right financial backing. What’s wrong with this? In theory, nothing. Investigative journalism can play a valuable role in holding officials accountable and ensuring transparency. If folks on the right want to do some digging and turn up malfeasance, more power to them.
The problem isn’t that conservatives are doing investigative journalism. The problem is that conservatives haven’t figured out how to do investigative journalism especially well.
Laura McGann had a great piece on this in the Monthly last year, noting that “conservative investigative journalism tends to produce reports that are wrong,” a problem compounded by the fact that while their efforts are ostensibly about improving transparency, the far-right activism is nearly always shrouded in secrecy.
This is bound to continue, but there’s no reason for the mainstream to take it seriously.
* Postscript: As for why Beck’s website played a constructive role here, no one has any idea.