NPR Media Reporter Folkenflik Devoted Three One-Sided Stories to Supporting Ron Schiller

NPR media reporter David Folkenflik has not only done one story trying to dig out former top NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller's nasty comments against deeply racist, gun-toting, phony-Christian conservatives (as Matt Hadro first noted), he's performed three slanted versions of NPR self-defense. Just as CBS in the first days of the Dan Rather fiasco embarrassed themselves by stonewalling Rather critics and using only supporters of the CBS war on Bush, Folkenflik could only stand up for Ron Schiller and try to turn around the horrible publicity, no matter how futile that appears.

On Monday's Morning Edition, he even ushered in Al Tompkins of the liberal Poynter Institute to insist that people shouldn't trust their eyes and ears, that the idea that Schiller smeared conservatives was a lie:

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

Lies? Folkenflik insisted that James O'Keefe edited out Schiller insisting several time that no one could buy coverage, that there was a firewall between donors and the newsroom. But Schiller also reassured the fake Muslims that they weren't controlled by Zionists, like some of the newspapers. He was suggesting that they'd be pleased with the news product, even if Schiller didn't make a call to the newsroom. Betsy Liley laughed and approved of NPR being called "National Palestinian Radio." That's a mixed message at best.

But Folkenflik really sidestepped reality by trying to insist Schiller was more conservative than the cartoonish liberal he appeared to be in the video:

Ron Schiller spoke of growing up as a Republican and admiring the party's fiscal conservatism, but said it was being taken over by people fanatical about other people's private lives. In the shorter tape, Schiller also appeared to say the GOP has been hijacked by xenophobes. In the longer tape it's evident Schiller is not offering his own views but quoting two influential Republicans, if uncritically. 

"Not offering his own views"? That's simply not credible. Folkenflik never mentioned that Schiller is openly gay, which would explain the "fanatical about private lives" rant, and the wouldn't-call-them-Christians slam. While it's true that Schiller prefaced his remarks about the Tea Party takeover of the GOP by implying the view of other "Republicans for Obama," it's quite clear to everyone from the tape that Schiller wasn't making air quotes as he denounced conservatives. Those are his views, and can't be attributed to unnamed other "Republicans."

Folkenflik's Monday morning conclusion was even more jaw-dropping in its defense of Ron Schiller:

FOLKENFLIK: The videos gave fresh momentum to congressional Republicans seeking to cut all federal funding for public broadcasting. Schiller appears to be telling the two donors NPR would do just fine without federal dollars, though some stations would go dark. On the longer tape, it's clear Schiller says that would be disastrous for public radio in the short term. Al Tompkins says O'Keefe's editing was blatantly unfair.

TOMPKINS: Except for a couple of unfortunate forays into political opinion, I think that Ron Schiller actually did a fairly remarkably good job of explaining how NPR works, and what you can and cannot expect if you contribute money to the NPR Foundation.

FOLKENFLIK: The Blaze's Scott Baker-

BAKER: I think if you look at the two hours in total, you largely get an impression that these are pretty- they seem to be fairly balanced people, trying to do a fairly good job. 

It should be quite clear from this story that Scott Baker, the Glenn Beck employee, doesn't know "fairly balanced people" at all. It should clearly be questioned whether Baker is blatantly assisting NPR here because of a personal agenda, since his comments are exactly what Folkenflik and NPR want in this "precarious" political atmosphere. Will NPR be thanking Glenn Beck on air for saving their subsidies? 

On Monday night's All Things Considered, Folkenflik again assembled only NPR insiders and helpful friends from the media. The tone was confessional: everyone should be sorry they were so quick to judge Ron Schiller harshly. First, there was Dave "JournoList" Weigel, insisting that spreading the Ron Schiller video was a mistake: 

FOLKENFLIK: Weigel says the impact around the blogosphere was tremendous and, he adds, dangerous.

WEIGEL: There's not really any backstop in the media to say, well, before we run this video around the clock and before we have people on to discuss what's in the video, we're going to demand more information about it. 

But the full video was posted online before there was an "around the clock." Folkenflik is missing context here: Weigel praised Schiller as he posted the video: "Schiller is a professional fundraiser, not a journalist. His pandering to the group is actually sort of masterful." Weigel also repeatedly praised Folkenflik on his blog.

From there, Folkenflik turned to NPR executive Dana Davis Rehm, who implied the most scandalous, job-terminating statement Schiller made was suggesting NPR didn't need to take money from taxpayers:

DANA DAVIS REHM: The comments that NPR and many stations would survive given the elimination of federal funding simply wasn't a responsible statement for an NPR executive to make in a public setting.

FOLKENFLIK: That's NPR senior vice president for external communications Dana Davis Rehm. She said despite O'Keefe's clearly hostile intentions, executives felt Schiller had made unquestionably inappropriate remarks at a precarious political moment.

REHM: This is a serious threat to the future of public broadcasting and the things for which it stands. 

Doesn't that sound like her Pledge of Allegiance moment? Please stop conservatives from threatening the things for which NPR stands? Folkenflik moved on to Dave Edwards, the chairman of the NPR Board, suggesting that he moved too quickly to can Ron Schiller:   

DAVE EDWARDS: It seems like it happened quickly, but a lot happened during the course of that day. With all that was going on in Congress, with all that was going on around the country, we had to make that assessment again, and so we did.

FOLKENFLIK: In those first hours, executives were relying on transcripts, and the full board had not watched the full video. In the days since, the Blaze, a news aggregation site set up by Fox News's Glenn Beck, and then NPR News, found many instances in O'Keefe's shorter news-setting tape where key elements of Ron Schiller's remarks were significantly misrepresented. Ben Smith, a leading blogger for Politico, says he now regrets passing along the material from O'Keefe's video.

BEN SMITH: It was foolish not to be distrusting, to be even more skeptical in the first place. In watching the clips, I was thinking about it and didn't see how they could have been deceptively edited, and it was really, just for a lot of us, it was just slipshod.

What's "slipshod" in these stories is Folkenflik's utter failure to consider an opposing point of view. New-media "conservative provocateurs" like James O'Keefe are slammed for leaving out context -- even as Folkenflik utterly avoids any context that doesn't please the NPR lobbyists before Congress.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis