James O’Keefe is a bit like Ashton Kutcher on Punk’d, if the goal of the show was to use scarelore and deceptively edited video to do damage to people who disagree with you politically rather than embarrass celebrities.
O’Keefe became a right-wing hero when he managed to fell ACORN, a group guilty of helping lower-income Americans in socioeconomically depressed areas to exercise their voting rights. (His reasoning? They tend to vote Democrat.) He hit a bit of a snag in his road to serious ambush journalism when he was charged with entering federal premises with the intention of committing a felony while attempting to wiretap Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu, and again when he was revealed to be a total honking pervert during a convoluted scheme to lure CNN reporter Abby Boudreau onto a boat stocked with dildos.
O’Keefe most recently set his sights on the big baddies at NPR, who try to brainwash the country via reasonable reporting on low-profile terrestrial radio stations with jazz-infused soothing monologues. Conservatives strongly want to silence NPR’s voice- not due to what’s viewed as a liberal slant, of course, but because it wastes valuable government cash that could be going to fund further wars.
NPR is a constant target of conservatives, who wish to see “news” reduced to Glenn Beck’s foaming at the mouth, and O’Keefe has managed to again cast and organization doing good things in a distorted and unflattering light, provoking a disproportionate and unfair response. He recently used a hidden camera with NPR fundraising exec Ron Schiller, purporting to be with the “Muslim Brotherhood of America,” a fake organization, and repeatedly offering a non-existent $5 million to NPR.
Although Schiller declined the large chunk of cash each time, the right wing has seized on the call, claiming Schiller’s statements about the Tea Party being mostly “racist” and the lack of media representation for Muslims were elitist and offensive. Schiller also confided, not too inaccurately, that many Americans see the Republican Party as anti-intellectual.
Experts in Journalism and Journalism ethics point out that the rise of such tactics are a grave threat to objective reporting in the US right now:
“My inclination is that cutting off federal funding to NPR might be a good thing, since this kind of political interference is not healthy for the media in general,” says Tom Edsall, a professor at Columbia Journalism School.
Stephen Ward, the director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, had this to say to the Christian Science Monitor:
“I don’t think any of this helps the survival, let alone the quality existence, of public broadcasting in the United States,” says Mr. Ward. “You can argue that these comments … don’t reflect the grander importance of public broadcasting, but in a world of agenda-setting journalism, these are perfect examples for people who dislike or oppose public broadcasting to use for political purposes.”
A rep for NPR said the organization is “appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for.”