The NPR Sting's "Racist Tea Party" Comment Was Taken Out of Context

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 11 2011 6:56 PM

The NPR Sting's "Racist Tea Party" Comment Was Taken Out of Context

Glenn Beck's website The Blaze analyzes and partly debunks the NPR sting. The fourth point is enough to make me regret credulously writing that Schiller was "musing" about his opinion of Tea Partiers when he discussed how extreme they seemed to be.

The tape released on Tuesday morning gave us this conversation, which starts after a visible (i.e., not concealed) edit.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

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SCHILLER: ... think the current Republican party is not really the Republican Party. It's been hijacked by this group that...

"MUSLIM": The radical, racist, Islamophobic, Tea Party people?

SCHILLER: Exactly. And not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic. Basically, they believe in white, middle America, gun-toting -- I mean, it's pretty scary. They're seriously racist, racist people.

The Blaze grabs the entire exchange, before the edit, from the video that was made available by Project Veritas on Tuesday -- hours before Schiller sped up his retirement, and resigned. I've bolded the part that was cut.

 

SCHILLER: I won't break a confidence, but a person who was an ambassador -- so, a very highly placed Republican -- another person, who was one of the top donors to the Republican party, they both told me they voted for Obama, which they never believed they could ever do in their lives. That they could ever vote for a Democrat, ever. And they did, because they think the current Republican party is not really the Republican Party. It's been hijacked by this group that...

"MUSLIM": The radical, racist, Islamophobic, Tea Party people?

SCHILLER: Exactly. And not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic. Basically, they believe in white, middle America, gun-toting -- I mean, it's pretty scary. They're seriously racist, racist people.

Now, it is not unheard of for people, in conversation, to quote other people saying things they believe to provide a little cover. What do we know about these two Republicans? Nothing. But we know that Schiller was paraphrasing other people when he said the Republican Party had been "hijacked," and -- after being encouraged by the stinger -- when he said that it was "xenophobic."

UPDATE: "Simon Templar," one of the stingers, responded to a tweet in which I said this was "devastating."

No, it's really not. Go ahead and try to make the argument Schiller isn't CLEARLY agreeing with them. Go ahead. Moron.

It's actually not up to the editor to decide whether Schiller was agreeing. (Again, we know this because PV put this online, to be scrutinized.)

Hypothetical time. Let's say I'm interviewing a senator, and he said: "I was talking the other day to a businessman, who said he can't support Obama anymore because he's clearly a communist." What if I wrote:

"He's clearly a communist," said the senator, referring to Obama.

That would be a lie -- the senator didn't say that, he quoted someone who said it.

UPDATE: "Templar" has continued debating this point on Twitter. I'll quote him:

[T]he part before "Amir Malik's" interjection is attributable to others, but the part after interjection is pretty clearly attributable to Schiller.

This is extremely hard to argue. It's common for people to quote someone else to make a point they want to make, but you don't know that he/she agrees with the point unless you ask. "Amir Malik" interjects as Schiller starts to describe his two Republican friends' gripes about the modern Republican Party, suggesting that they were referring to "the radical, racist, Islamophobic Tea Party people." Schiller says "exactly," but is he saying that "Malik" really nailed what the two Republicans had said to him, or does he nail what Schiller thinks, too? "Amir Malik" never confirms that Schiller thinks this, and that he's not just describing what the Republicans told him. Let's go back to my hypothetical interview with the senator. He paraphrases a businessman who said Obama was a communist. I don't know if the senator agrees with that. So I ask: "Do you agree with that?" And he can say whether or not he does.

On a side note, "Templar" needled me a little as I kept asking about this.

nobody likes an access journalist/tweeter. we'll get you the info/emails you asked for eventually, I'm sure

What he's referring to is an e-mail exchange I had with a Project Veritas publicist yesterday. The publicist e-mailed me at 7:55 p.m., with the subject line "Slate Article on NPR."

If you’re interested in a follow-up I think we can release our (Project Veritas) side of the emails.  I have Simon compiling them now.

I happened to be online and wrote back at 7:58 p.m.:

I am very interested, yes. Send to this address when you have them, and I'll post and get NPR response.

Probably a silly way to phrase it; what I meant was that since I'd gotten NPR's side of the e-mail/money offer story I was happy to post theirs. The publicist responded at 8:01:

Will do.   Don’t know if it will be tonight but will send after I receive and review.

I wrote back at 8:03:

Appreciate it. Like I said in the post, there is not actual a flat turn-down of $ in the NPR emails, anyway

I was accurately describing what I wrote; I was interested to see whether Project Veritas had older e-mails or unpublished e-mails that made it very clear whether someone at NPR had a more definitive answer about turning the money down.

The publicist wrote back at 8:05:

Yep. Our emails/videos don’t show that either but we’re willing to disclose. 

So this is the conversation "Templar" describes as me asking for e-mails. The truth is, they offered them, said they were "willing to disclose" something, and I said I'd happily write about them if I got them.

UPDATE: There was a lively discussion about all of this on Twitter, with some defenders of the video edit digging in to argue that Schiller's body language clearly implies that he agrees with the two Republicans he's quoting and that other things he says clearly indicate that he agrees with this stuff.

I've been limiting my analysis of this moment in the videotape. Like I said at the start, it's because I originally wrote up the "racist" bit and now feel it was presented out of context. It's true that Schiller says other things dismissive of evangelical Christians and the GOP, but the "racist" moment was pivotal to the early reaction to the video. Here's how the Daily Caller 's original story described the "racist" stuff.

On the tapes, Schiller wastes little time before attacking conservatives. The Republican Party, Schiller says, has been "hijacked by this group." The man posing as Malik finishes the sentence by adding, "the radical, racist, Islamaphobic, Tea Party people." Schiller agrees and intensifies the criticism , saying that the Tea Party people aren’t "just Islamaphobic, 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."

Schiller goes on to describe liberals as more intelligent and informed than conservatives. "In my personal opinion, liberals today might be more educated, fair and balanced than conservatives," he said.

That does not describe what's happening in the full-length tape. Schiller does not say that

he thinks

the Republicans have been hijacked by racists. He says that two Republicans "think the current Republican party is not really the Republican Party" and "it's been hijacked by this group." The second paragraph I've quoted from the

Caller

story is important, because later, Schiller says "in my personal opinion" before making an embarrassing but less incendiary point, arguing that liberals are smarter than conservatives. He's never that clear in the "racist" part of the conversation -- he says "I mean" twice, but it's in the context of him spelling out what these two Republicans said to him.


David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.