Comment of the Day: “Why NPR’s Wrongs Don’t Make James O’Keefe Right”

Rick comments on my ethics verdict regarding the most recent James O’Keefe “sting,” this one exposing a biased NPR exec and an ethically-weak NPR fundraiser:

“I really like your argument for a balance between absolutism and utilitarianism; I’ve been making similar arguments for some time, but your terminology helps crystallize the issue.

“That said, it strikes me that you’re under-playing O’Keefe’s most unethical conduct. All his “stings” involve deceptive editing: there’s a good analysis on The Blaze right now of this particular version. Such distortion of the truth, obviously intentional, completely undercuts any utilitarian argument that might have existed.

“That is, even if we grant some measure of “ends justifies the means” thinking–arguing that exposing a “greater crime” legitimizes short-term deception–this behavior is appropriate only if the resulting exposé is itself honest in its reportage. O’Keefe’s is not. The resulting damage is two-fold: 1). some people will believe him because the image he presents confirms their opinions, and 2). other people (like me) will be tempted to disbelieve him or others like him even if/when the representation is accurate. He’s simply cried wolf too many times.

“Moreover, my natural inclination is to believe that if the best argument one can make against an organization is to misrepresent truth, innocent victims (as there surely were in the ACORN case, for example) be damned, then there isn’t much of a case to be made. I understand, logically and philosophically, that this is not inherently true; that doesn’t mean it isn’t persuasive.

“Ultimately, I’m less concerned by O’Keefe’s partisanship or even his charades per se, then, than in his manipulation of reality in the editing process. The fact that folks like moveon.org occasionally do the same thing from the opposite political perspective doesn’t provide balance, only more deception.”

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