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