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Were the NPR sting tapes misleadingly edited?

Published: Monday, March 14 2011 6:22 p.m. MDT

Footage posted online last week by conservative activist James O'Keefe III depicting NPR's chief fund raising official disparaging Christian evangelicals and the Tea Party may have been misleading, according to a recent in-depth analysis by The Blaze.

In the video, Ron Schiller is shown describing — among other things — Tea Party members as "xenophobic ... seriously racist people" and notes that, "in the long run," NPR would be better off without federal funding.

Schiller apologized for "saying some of those stupid things" and stepped down a few days later, The Huffington Post reported). NPR CEO Vivian Schiller also left the company.

When The Blaze, a conservative news aggregation site set up by Fox News host Glenn Beck, compared the edited video to the raw footage, however, they found "questionable editing and tactics." O'Keefe's video was 11 1/2 minutes long. The footage was more than two hours.

"There was certainly a lot there for conservatives and people of faith and Tea Party activists to be bothered about — but we felt like that wasn't the whole story," Scott Baker, editor in chief of The Blaze, later told NPR. "There were a lot of other things said that may have been complimentary to conservatives and to people of faith and Tea Party activists in the same conversations."

Broadcast journalist Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, was initially offended by the "overtly political opinions" spouted off during the video, NPR reported. After watching the raw footage, though, he said he changed his mind.

"I tell my children there are two ways to lie," Tompkins said. "One is to tell me something that didn't happen, and the other is not to tell me something that did happen. I think they employed both techniques in this."

O'Keefe, a 26-year-old former Rutger's University student, has made a career of using hidden cameras, actors and fake web sites to investigate various individuals and institutions. He defended his video on Twitter, saying it was no different from what traditional journalists do.

"Journalists have been doing this for a long time," O'Keefe said. "It's a form of investigative reporting that you use to seek and find the truth."

O'Keefe told CNN's Howie Kurtz that he released the raw footage so people couldn't argue that the editing was misleading.

"Well, they say it's edited," he said. "But we released the full video right away this time so that people couldn't use that argument. Even though it's not a legitimate argument, people use it."

In 2010, after attempting to take down the community organizing group ACORN, O'Keefe was charged with a misdemeanor for trying to manipulate phones lines, CBS News reported. The California state attorney general's office concluded that the videos O'Keefe used "significantly distorted what occurred," according to New York Magazine.

New York Magazine called the backlash against O'Keefe's "heavily edited NPR 'sting'" inevitable.

Megan Carpentier of The Guardian criticized the media for taking the video at face value to begin with.

"The real story is never what it seems with O'Keefe," she wrote. "The mainstream media has had plenty of warning about his love of 'truthiness' and disregard for actual facts. And, as with most of O'Keefe's videos to date, releasing selectively edited, embed-friendly clips got him exactly the coverage (and notches on his Flipcam) that he wanted – even as the full footage showed that almost everything he claimed to have discovered was untrue."

e-mail: estuart@desnews.com

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