American Journalism’s Integrity Death Spiral, PART II: The James O’Keefe Conundrum

The past and present of investigative journalism.

The past and present of investigative journalism.

James O’Keefe calls himself an investigative journalist, but that’s not what he is. A real investigative journalist would look for the truth, whichever political party a particular set of uncovered and inconvenient facts happened to make look bad.O’Keefe is only interested in getting dirt on Democrats and their allies.

A real investigative journalist would also follow, or know he was supposed to follow, or at least make some effort to follow, the tenets of journalism ethics, which frown on using trickery, lies and surreptitious recording to obtain stories. This is all O’Keefe does. His oxymoronically named Project Veritas uses people posing as someone they are not, spouting misrepresentations,  to obtain video evidence of corruption in the bowels of political activism…Democratic political activism, that is. Recently, O’Keefe got various supporters of and volunteers for Allison Grimes—you know, that former Democratic National Convention delegate for Barack Obama running for U.S. Senator under the banner of Democratic Party in Kentucky who refuses to say that she voted for the current Democratic President?—to opine that that the candidate’s vocal support for the coal industry was a sham. As always with O’Keefe’s stings, the dedicated Daily Koses huffed and puffed and explained why the videos were misleading (the usual excuse is that the victims “caught in the act of being themselves,” as Candid Camera creator Allen Funt used to say, were “going along” with O’Keefe’s sham. This was also the excuse of many of the Congressmen filmed taking bribes in the Abscam sting. It is not persuasive.) Continue reading

James O’Keefe Gets What He Deserves…Just Like ACORN

That will be $100,000, please,

That will be $100,000, please,

James O’Keefe is a darling of the right who has executed, with varying levels of success, deceptive, unethical and sometimes illegal vigilante ‘stings’ (using hidden cameras) to prove various conservative targets like NPR and Planned Parenthood are secretly as bad as the right thinks they are. Everything about this is wrong, of course, beginning with his methods, which would be unethical journalism if he were a journalist (rather than a partisan hit man), and ending with his targets, which, if O’Keefe had integrity, would include both right and left. That wouldn’t be good for business, though.

O’Keefe’s biggest hit was on ACORN, the progressive, many-armed community-organizing non-profit that was operating on considerable taxpayer largesse. In 2009, O’Keefe and a female colleague dressed as a young prostitute secretly videotaped themselves seeking help from several ACORN offices, including those in Brooklyn, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., San Diego ( actually National City), and San Bernardino. O’Keefe spun various versions of a tale about a cruel pimp importing underage girls to stock his inventory, and and O’Keefe’s  plan to house them in secret and safety, but the sham’s goal always was to gull ACORN employees into giving advice regarding how to hide  illegal activities and how to get financial assistance for the prostitutes.  In San Bernardino, an ACORN employee told O’Keefe and the woman that the girls could classify their underage brothel as a “group home” to avoid detection, or maybe they should open a massage parlor. The Brooklyn office gave advice to the “prostitute” about how to hide her money, including opening multiple bank accounts.  D.C.’s  ACORN staffer provided advice on how to file tax returns without revealing her true trade. The Baltimore ACORN employee opined, “Well then, you know what, you can always claim them as dependents” and suggested, “You are gonna use three of them; they are gonna be under 16, so you is eligible to get child tax credit and additional child tax credit.” When O’Keefe asked, as the helpful friend of the girls,”What if they are going to be making money because they are performing tricks too?”,  the ACORN employee replied, “But if they making money and they are underage, then you shouldn’t be letting anybody know anyway.”

In National City, near San Diego, however, O’Keefe’s luck ran out.  Continue reading

Why NPR’s Wrongs Don’t Make James O’Keefe Right

James O'Keefe, Ethics Corrupter

And the NPR Ethics Train Wreck continues

Between union hysteria in Wisconsin, carnage in Libya, and tsunamis, the fact that James O’Keefe’s fake Muslim billionaire act exposed more NPR integrity issues was drowned out by shouting, gun shots and water. In fact, the second victim of O’Keefe’s sting may have taught us more about NPR than the first.

In the surreptitious audiotape of  NPR’s continued encounters with the fake potential big bucks donor, NPR’s director of institutional giving, Betsy Liley, is heard advising the supposedly wealthy Muslim donor how the network could help “shield” his group from a government audit if it accepted the $5 million he was offering. It seems pretty clear from the tape that this was not what the sting was set up to prove: what the “Muslim donor” really wants is to get a promise from NPR that it will slant the news content the his way if the gift is big enough. Liley stood her ground on this core journalistic principle admirably—so much for the claim that George Soros bought NPR’s advocacy with his recent gift—but fell into another trap of her own making.

NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm said in a statement that Liley’s comments on the tape “regarding the possibility of making an anonymous gift that would remain invisible to tax authorities is factually inaccurate and not reflective of NPR’s gift practices. All donations—anonymous and named—are fully reported to the IRS. NPR complies with all financial, tax, and disclosure regulations.” That’s undoubtedly correct; Liley was not merely ethically wrong but also literally wrong, for what she was suggesting almost certainly couldn’t happen. However, the fact that she would say such a thing believing it could happen, or think it was acceptable if it did happen, or try to acquire a large donation by persuading a donor to believe it could happen, all point to the one conclusion: NPR’s culture is ethically compromised, and the organization’s leadership has failed to meet its obligations to create an ethical culture  there. The sting is more disturbing than the earlier one that caught an outgoing NPR executive taking extreme partisan positions that belied NPR’s position that it is objective and unbiased. The comments of Ron Schiller just confirmed what many, including me, thought was already apparent in the tone of NPR’s work. I had also always assumed, however, that the place was professionally and ethically run (excepting the tendency to fire employees for expressing politically incorrect opinions on Fox News).

So this settles it, right? O’Keefe is a hero?

No, he’s not. James O’Keefe, in fact, is an ethics corrupter, an individual who weakens the public’s ethics by encouraging it to accept his dubious values. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Marvin Kalb

The so-called mainstream media have an obvious leftward political bias, and have had for decades. Either disingenuously or naively, publishers, editors, network heads and reporters deny this, although the evidence is overwhelming. Sometimes, as when supposedly objective reporters are openly adversarial to conservatives while covering news events and there is no discipline by their bosses, the evidence is also embarrassing.

Fox News, which was launched to counter balance this tendency, has at least been relatively open about its conservative slant: “fair and balanced” was always intended to convey Fox’s efforts to balance the scales, not to suggest that Fox News by itself was balanced.

Nonetheless, it is rare to see any of the liberal-oriented news organizations, even the most undeniably biased of them, like NPR, admit its objectivity problem—never mind surveys that show that journalists are far more liberal than the U.S. population, and regardless of the media’s repeated tardiness in covering legitimate “conservative news stories” like the New Black Panthers controversy and the ACORN “sting”( CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC are in the process of ignoring the similar Planned Parenthood videotapes). The journalistic establishment has closed ranks on this issue, consistently arguing that the “myth” of liberal bias arises from a right-biased perspective.

Thus it was striking and refreshing to see Marvin Kalb, a member-in-good-standing of the liberal journalists’ club confronting the most prestigious and perhaps the most egregious of left-biased media, The New York Times, with the truth it routinely denies. Continue reading

Planned Parenthood Gets The ACORN Treatment

Taking its inspiration from James O’Keefe’s infamous ACORN stunt, and anti-abortion group called Live Action videotaped actors as they asked Planned Parenthood staff at a New Jersey clinic for advice while disguised as a pimp and one of his prostitutes. Sure enough, just like in the incident that helped destroy ACORN, the eager-to-please Planned Parenthood staff member cooperated, advising the couple how to get abortions and other services for the “pimp’s” prostitutes, some of them described as illegal immigrants and girls as young as 14.

The episode raises several ethical issues: Continue reading

On Idiots, Book-Burnings, and Journalistic Ethics

Let’s keep this post as abstract as possible, as the less publicity the renegade Gainesville book-burners get for their idiotic stunt, the better.

Why is a dim-witted “protest”by a fifty member church that we were all blissfully unaware of until recently a national, international, or even local news story? I am pretty sure I could gather a group of fifty friends in the parking lot across from my house on Arbor Day and burn an effigy of ultra-prolific junk novelist James Patterson to protest the many trees that have died to bring his books to Barnes and Noble. Would that be newsworthy—a few wackos doing something just to get attention? Does the public have a right to know about a trivial and pointless event that is only occurring so that the media will make it news?

Let us now assume that there is a powerful James Patterson cult, funded by an eccentric billionaire fan, and that it has acquired nuclear weapons. Continue reading

Ethics Outrage and Cover-Up: Racial Bias At the Justice Department

The story told by former Department of Justice attorney J. Christian Adams is shocking in many ways. It shows an abject refusal of Attorney General Holder’s D.O.J. to enforce the law equally with black and white. It shows sympathy within the Obama Administration for, of all, groups, the Black Panthers, a racist organization. It details perjury by high-ranking officials, and a hard breach of President Obama’s pledges to uphold the rule of law, embrace transparency, and to embody a post-racial philosophy. Finally, it shows the same kind of manipulation of law enforcement by ideological zealots that stained the Bush Department of Justice. Continue reading

“Lawmiss” and the Plain Dealer’s Dilemma

The Cleveland Plain Dealer made one of those fateful first steps that ends in a journey to ethics no-man’s land when it decided to check the e-mail address of a repeat anonymous commenter on the paper’s website. “lawmiss” had been especially abusive in comments about one of the newspaper’s reporters, so instead of just deleting the comment for violating the site’s rules against personal attacks, an enterprising editor tracked down its source. Continue reading

Provocative Ethics Reading for a Sunday

If your endangered Sunday newspaper is as shrunken from cost-cutting as mine, you may need some extra reading material as you wait breathless for the results of the House vote on health care reform. Here are some provocative ethics pieces from around the web: