Days Later, NPR Says Videos Were "Inappropriately Edited"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 14 2011 12:11 PM

Days Later, NPR Says Videos Were "Inappropriately Edited"

David Folkenflik has been reporting every aspect of his network's Ron Schiller-inspired troubles -- I spoke to him for a segment that may air later -- and he's got a fresh comment from brass on the discrepancies between Project Veritas's original edit and the full video.

NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm told David late yesterday that O'Keefe "inappropriately edited the videos with an intent to discredit" NPR. Still, she added, Schiller made some "egregious statements."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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It's hard to argue at this point that NPR handled the scandal as well as it could have. I was one of a number of reporters who asked the network, early Tuesday morning, if it had a response to the video, if the video was accurate -- other reporters asked specifically whether the man in the tape was Schiller. NPR responded shortly after 10 a.m., a few hours after the video edit went online:

The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept. We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for. Mr. Schiller announced last week that he is leaving NPR for another job.

There was no way that NPR executives had time to watch the full 2 hour video -- which was promoted a couple hours after the edit came out -- before issuing that statement. It took another seven hours for NPR to issue a new statement announcing that Schiller was gone , finished, kaput. There was enough time for the company to look at the full video and mention some problems with editing. It didn't happen. (I'm informed that the organizational structure of NPR, where groups that have a lot more to lose than the company itself can get involved at top level decisions, had a lot to do with this speed.)

Compare this to the way the USDA bobbled the firing of Shirley Sherrod . She was not the victim of a "sting." Instead, someone clipped part of a speech in which she discussed how an old incident with a white farmer taught her to make decisions based on humanity and need, not race, and left only the part where she admitted wanting to deny the farmer help. The USDA asked for Sherrod to resign before anyone reviewed the whole tape .

I'm as bored by meta discussions of Media and What It All Means as anyone, but these are as much media stories as they are about politics. Possibly more so. NPR and the USDA reacted so swiftly because they saw the news cycle at a faster speed than, say, the speed of assigning some intern to watch a two-hour video and take notes. Would NPR have responded differently, in the middle of a battle over congressional funding, if it had reason to question the tape? Probably not -- there was a strategic purpose to triage, even if the triage will be unsuccessful. (NPR had quite a lot more at stake than the USDA, which wasn't about to get its budget zeroed out by a Democratic Congress.)

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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