The unexpected instigator of the backlash against James O’Keefe’s NPR sting is Glenn Beck’s site The Blaze, which has even rounded up the mainstream media praise of their efforts to show that much in the video was taken out of context.
The Blaze still says that there were “plenty of seemingly indefensible things said in the video,” but it’s interesting and even embarrassing that they beat every outlet to the punch. Instead, so much of the media, along with NPR, members of Congress and public TV advocates took the original video at face value without examining the longer unedited version, which O’Keefe even made available the day the story broke.
While The Blaze’s analysis probably would not have saved Ron Schiller’s job, particularly with NPR’s funding in jeopardy, the story is a bit more complicated.
Poynter’s Steve Myers summarizes the misconceptions of the edited footage vs. the raw footage:
“Connections to the Muslim Brotherhood are decidedly less prominent in the unedited version.
““In the raw video, Schiller also speaks positively about the GOP. He expresses pride in his own Republican heritage and his belief in fiscal conservatism.”
“The description of members of the tea party as “xenophobic” and “seriously racist” isn’t Ron Schiller’s; he is recounting the opinions of two top Republicans, although Schiller did agree with it.
“While the edited video indicates that Ron Schiller believes liberals are more educated than conservatives, in the raw video he “is hesitant to criticize the education of conservatives and the other executive, Betsy Liley, is outspoken in her defense of the intellects of Fox News viewers.”
“In the raw video, Ron Schiller ‘explains the risk to local stations in more detail and why NPR is doing ‘everything we can to advocate for federal funding.'”
There’s still fodder enough for Schiller’s firing, so this incident doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of Shirley Sherrod, who was quickly fired from her post at the Department of Agriculture when Andrew Breitbart’s site BigGovernment posted video which appeared to show her delivering racist remarks at an NAACP convention. In fact, what she was saying was quite the opposite, as the complete remarks revealed, and administration officials backtracked.
As Myers points out, “The videos seem to be truth unto themselves. Rather than tainting the videos, the shakiness seems to authenticate what we see.” It’s as if in the Internet age our brains default to accepting the first thing we see and hear as the complete truth.
He writes, “There’s a difference — though O’Keefe ignores it — between ‘a truth’ and ‘the truth.'” So Schiller’s statement that NPR would be better off without federal funding doesn’t pack the same punch when put in the context that he also said that many member stations that depend on it. Nevertheless, NPR had to act quickly to show that it was reforming its management ranks rather than try to defend itself and at the same time wage a lobbying campaign for funding.
Context is key, until the next video comes along that is just too hard to resist.