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

Unscrupulous Rep. Johnson, Lying Through Her Teeth

Which is the more unethical conduct for a U.S. Congresswoman: handing out non-profit money to relatives and friends, or lying about it so flagrantly that it insults the intelligence of everyone within earshot? It’s a tough call. Luckily, we really don’t have to decide in the case of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), because she’s done both. Continue reading

The Unethical Message of the Dems’ “Hypocrisy Defense”

The response of the Democratic Party to their recent flood of ethics embarrassments tells us all we need to know about why the ethics problems exist in this Congress and will doubtless continue. It has, predictably, resorted to the time-tested, playground strategy I like to call the “Hypocrisy Defense,” which aims at avoiding accountability by accusing the accusers. Other names for the Hypocrisy Defense: “Changing the Subject,” “The Incorrigible Scoundrel’s Last Hope,” “The Guilty Condemning the Convicted,” and “Making Yourself Look Less Dirty By Throwing Mud on the Other Guy.” If that’s the best you have, all it shows is that your accusers, hypocritical or not, are telling the truth. Because when you accuse the pot of calling the kettle black, its still means that you are a filthy kettle. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week

“It was a violation of the rules of the House. It was not something that jeopardized our country in any way.”

—–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) on ABC’s “This Week,” discussing the House Ethics Committee’s ruling that Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel violated House Ethics Rules, with far more serious violations still being considered.

Recall that Pelosi memorably promised to “drain the swamp” and make the House of Representatives under her leadership the most ethical in history.

Recall also that all of the other ethics violations attributed to Rangel are not really in dispute. All that is in dispute is whether the corrupt and politicized House Ethics Committee will have the integrity to say so.

Now that we know Speaker Pelosi is applying the “jeopardizing the country” standard of whether a House member has behaved unethically enough to warrant sanctions, rather than the less stringent “so crooked that he has to screw his pants on” standard, we know what to expect. Continue reading

Lobbyist Ventriloquism and the Abysmal State of Congressional Ethics

When Washington, D.C. attorney Robert Trout delivered his closing argument in the trial of former Rep. William Jefferson (now known as “Inmate CB476881”) for, among other things, accepting a large cash bribe that was later found in his office freezer, he told the jury that the prosecution was hypocritical and unfair. After all, he said, “If seeking political help was a crime, you could lock up half of metropolitan Washington, D.C.” Jefferson’s actions may have been unethical, and they were certainly a mistake, but really now: isn’t this just what all Congressmen do? Jefferson, Trout argued, just got a little bit carried away.

Jefferson was convicted, so there is some distance left for our faith in our elected representatives to fall before it hits rock bottom. The argument was still ethically disturbing in two respects. First of all, Trout’s pitch amounted to a jury nullification plea, a defense in which a jury is encouraged to ignore the law, and that is unethical lawyering.

Second, Trout may well have been right. Continue reading

The Ethics of Bigotry, Part I: A Dubious Complaint

The Congressional Black Caucus is complaining that the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE)is unfairly targeting black members. Seven African-American Congress members are the targets of full investigations, 15% of the total black members of the House. And they are the only members currently under a complete investigation. Continue reading

Rep. Cao: Profile in Something or Other

Wow. One lone House Republican voting for the reviled Democrat healthcare bill.  Talk about conscience! Talk about courage!

Well, maybe. The vote by Louisiana Republican  Anh “Joseph” Cao could have been a truly ethical act, or a completely  cynical one. The fact that it is almost impossible to tell which explains a lot about the funhouse mirror version of “ethics” in use of Capitol Hill.  Continue reading

What Congress calls “Ethical”

Of all the ethically brain-dead comments I have heard from politicians over the years, Steny Hoyer (D-MD ) the House Majority Leader, might take the trophy. In the wake of an unintentional leak of House Ethics Committee records showing that nearly 30 Democrats were under investigation, Hoyer made the stunning statement that this shows the Democrats are living up to their promise to run the “most ethical” Congress in history.

If I can stop sputtering long enough to type, let me clarify for the Congressman. The most ethical Congress is not the one with the most ethics investigations. It is the one with the fewest members whose conduct warrant investigation for wrongdoing. If Hoyer’s reasoning wa accurate, then the safest U.S. city would be the one with the most murder investigations. The most honorable West Point class would be the one undergoing the most cheating inquiries. The most environmentally responsible corporation would be the one that was being investigated for the most alleged dumping infractions. In short, what the heck is Hoyer talking about? Is he that stupid, or does he think we are?

This Congress just had a former member, William Jeffferson, convicted of taking bribes after $90,000 was found in his freezer.  This Congress has a Ways and Means Chairman, Rep. Charles Rangel, who admittedly has failed to report large amounts of money to the IRS (note that Ways and Means writes tax legislation), and that is just the latest of his ethics problems. This Congress is looking at a massive lobbying scandal of Abramoff proportions, with clients of the lobbying firm The PMA Group, staffed with former employees of defense appropriators,  winning defense-bill earmarks for its clients to the tune of nearly $300 million, thanks to dubious relationships with seven of the 16 members of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee—including the five most senior Democrats on the panel and the top Republican.

There’s more of that unsavory stuff being looked at by the Ethics Committee, but  lot of serious ethical misconduct isn’t  thought of that way, because it doesn’t involve obvious corruption. This Congress became the only one in history to have a member, Joe Wilson (R-SC) insult (“You lie!”) the President of the United States in the middle of a speech. This Congress had another member, Allan Grayson, call a female advisor to the Fed Chief a “whore.” This Congress has a Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who has called the CIA liars and impugned the integrity of American citizens who have demonstrated against her policies or questioned her health care bill.

Can one of the most uncivil, disrespectful, undignified and partisan Congresses in history also be the “most ethical”? Only to someone who doesn’t know what ethical is…such as, I fear, Steny Hoyer.

Is it ethical  for legislators to vote for revolutionary, expensive legislation that they haven’t read, an outrageous dereliction of responsibility and diligence that is not only rampant in this Congress, but shameless.? Is it ethical for legislators to stuff bills with budget-busting earmarks, and resist the efforts of members who attempt to make the process transparent and rare?

Cynics among you might argue that Hoyer could still be right, that this could be “the most ethical Congress” and still be a cesspool, given the competition. But to qualify as most ethical (as opposed to “least unethical”), there has to be some evidence of ethical conduct, and having ongoing investigations of a welter of unethical conduct by members isn’t it.

What would be evidence of an ethical Congress? Honesty and transparency with earmarks. Competency and responsiblity, meaning the production of bills that aren’t 2000 pages long (like the current House health care legislation), and no member voting for a bill he or she hasn’t read and understood. Accountability, requiring a member like Rep. Rangel to resign his Chairmanship before any ruling by the Ethics Committee, since the facts of his tax misconduct are very clear, and they alone disqualify him from his powerful Ways and Means post.

A truly ethical Congress wouldn’t have anything for the Ethics Committee to investigate.

No, Hoyer isn’t stupid. He is just permanently addled by too much exposure to Washington’s warped definition of ethical, which is defined in the Capitol as what you can get away with without being disgraced or punished. Until Congress develops higher standards than that, boasting about the “most ethical Congress” makes as much sense as arguing about who owns the most articulate cow.