NPR gets stung

One of the GetReligion posts I've had in my guilt file for weeks is a look at the ethics of undercover journalism. Following the stings of various Planned Parenthood offices, where undercover journalists exposed employees willing to break rules and laws in order to help an underage sex ring, a lively debate broke out among pro-lifers. Some defended the morality of the undercover journalism while others said that lying can't be defended, even if it does expose wrongdoing. If you're interested in this debate, Public Discourse ran a series of arguments and responses. (Here's Christopher Tollefsen first, then Christopher Kaczor's response; Tollefsen again, and then Hadley Arkes's response; Tollefsen for a final time, Carson Holloway, and Bill Doino. The best pro-sting defense was by Peter Kreeft.)

I thought I would cover the debate once it received more mainstream coverage but it didn't receive any, to my knowledge. (For what it's worth, I don't think I could defend lying to a source for a story. I'm aware most media outlets have run undercover investigations that involve at least some deception.) Following the Planned Parenthood sting, we had the prank call to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker from someone pretending to be a Koch brother. The latest sting targeted NPR. You can watch the edited video above or the unedited, 2-hour video here.

The Associated Press story is so bad I wouldn't bother reading it but the Washington Post's Paul Farhi had a helpful write-up:

The former head of NPR's fundraising arm says in a surreptitiously recorded video by a conservative activist that members of the tea party movement are xenophobic and racist and that NPR would prefer to do without subsidies provided by the federal government.

In the video, released Tuesday morning by conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe, NPR executive Ron Schiller disparages conservatives in general and tea party members in particular, saying some of its followers are part of an "anti-intellectual" movement.

Schiller and another NPR fundraiser, Betsy Liley, believed that that two of O'Keefe's operatives were representatives of a Muslim philanthropy. The video was shot at Cafe Milano in Georgetown during a lunch meeting set up to discuss a $5 million contribution to NPR by the equally fictitious Muslim Education Action Center, which one of the men tells the NPR executives is connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, a political organization with suspected ties to terrorists.

On the video, Schiller, who formerly headed the NPR Foundation but left the organization last week, says: "The tea party is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian - I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird evangelical kind of movement."

He adds that "tea party people" aren't "just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."

He goes on to say that NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding."

That was probably not the way NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller (no relation) thought the week would go after her big speech in defense of NPR on Monday. She has since been ousted by the NPR board in an effort at damage control.

So most interest in this story is just political. But the religious comments are fascinating. In addition to the Christian comments above (which indicate that for all his disparaging of Americans who lack elite education, Schiller could use a remedial course in basic religious terms and definitions) he also took part in an interesting exchange about Jews.

First, let's look at The Daily Caller's lengthy explanation of the comments on Jews:

When the man pretending to be Kasaam suggests to Schiller that "Jews do kind of control the media or, I mean, certainly the Zionists and the people who have the interests in swaying media coverage toward a favorable direction of Israel," Schiller does not rebut him or stop eating. He just nods his head slightly.

The man posing as Kasaam then joked that his friends call NPR, "National Palestinian Radio," because, according to him, NPR is the only media outlet that covers Palestinians' perspective. Schiller laughed.

When the ersatz Islamists declare they're "not too upset about maybe a little bit less Jew influence of money into NPR," Schiller responds by saying he doesn't find "Zionist or pro-Israel" ideas at NPR, "even among funders. I mean it's there in those who own newspapers, obviously, but no one owns NPR."

Now let's go back to the Post characterization:

On the latest tape, the two men told Schiller and Liley that they were Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik and wanted to donate "about" $5 million to NPR because, "the Zionist coverage is quite substantial elsewhere."

Schiller disputes that, however, and defends NPR's impartiality, saying, "No one owns NPR."

Well, that's one way of putting it. If you skip over the part where he says Jews control the newspapers and laughs at the National Palestinian Radio joke.

To their credit, the folks at NPR have reported this story well, including mentioning at least part of the controversial Jewish remarks made by Schiller. On the other hand, the "All Things Considered" piece completely ignored the Jewish issue. The AP didn't have room for a mention. Neither did the New York Times.

So a couple of questions. What do you think about the ethics of such undercover journalism stings? What do you think this video tells us, if anything, about the culture at NPR? Keep in mind that the sting caught someone on the fundraising side of the organization. And why does it seem the media aren't interested in the controversial comments about Jews controlling the media?

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