Skepticism, lies & videotape

This morning, I had to glance at the calendar to make sure it wasn’t April 1 when I heard an NPR report heavily attributing the reporting and analysis of The Blaze, “a news, information and opinion site,” from conservative Glenn Beck. (You can listen to the NPR story here.)

Apparently, The Blaze was the first news organization to conduct any video forensics of the raw tape of a hidden-camera “sting” approach used by James O’Keefe to create a video that, ultimately, forced the resignation of NPR’s CEO and top fundraiser. (What hath Allen Funt wrought?)

The Blaze* demonstrated that O’Keefe had edited the video in much the same way David Letterman’s writers did to create those funny, yet typically pieced-together and out-of-context, “great moments in presidential speeches” comic bits about George W. Bush.

In other words, as demonstrated on this story, O’Keefe edited NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller in a way to make Schiller say what O’Keefe wanted him to say rather than what Schiller actually said. Yet, in the need to follow Public Relations Crisis Management 101 practices, the NPR Board did what conventional PR wisdom says they’re to do: Take care of the problem before the next news cycle starts. And since, the “news cycle” starts now, that’s when they acted. As soon as the O’Keefe version of the video was released — the one in which fundraiser Schiller appeared to say without any context, Congress shouldn’t fund NPR, he was fired — and his boss was fired.**

Now, I’m not here to suggest Congress should or should-not fund NPR. Personally, I’d like my tax money to continue going there if nothing more than to hear the name Laksmi Singh. I’m merely saying if you’re going to take down NPR and a couple of executives, you don’t do your side a favor by using unethical and misleading tricks rather than facts and philosophical persuasion.

Anyone who has been quoted regularly in any type of story knows the feeling of seeing the words they’ve said used in a context that profoundly alters the words’ meaning or the speaker’s intention. Most often, I see sentences I might say in the context of a long answer to a reporter’s question, be snipped and inserted into the context of the reporter’s story in a way that makes me appear to be disagreeing with someone: “On the other hand, Rex Hammock says…” And I’m thinking, wait, I didn’t know what I was saying was going to appear like I was directly blasting something Ghandi said 75 years ago, or whatever.

Bottom-line: Never conduct business in a restaurant. No, wait, that’s not the bottom-line. The bottom-line is to assume a video has been edited unless you are skilled enough to recognize a definitive long take.

*Predicted next twist in this story: We will learn of something in their past that caused a schism between Beck and O’Keefe.

**The NPR board has been stung recently by waiting and waiting and waiting to handle previous issues that were hurting their local affiliates. This time, they wanted to handle it quickly, so as not to repeat the same crisis communications blunder. I can understand them not wanting to once more knee-cap their local stations.