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Pubcasting Battle: Highlights and Low Blows from the Past Week

Since last week's video sting prompted departures of key NPR leaders, coverage of the public media defunding fight has escalated from a trickle to a flood. Even though the content of the edited video has now been called into question, the controversy was perfectly timed to fuel efforts to cut or cripple public broadcasting, including a now-postponed-yet-again federal budget resolution, plus today's House vote on a bill forbidding stations to spend federal dollars on NPR content, which passed 228-192.

For the past month, I've been tracking the various ways in which advocates are making the case to preserve public media. Given the volume of discussion, this week I'll just highlight critical flashpoints, plus a few new arguments and proposals that are rising to the top.


Highlights from the past week:

  • March 17: What the NPR fight is really about—"In politics, there are plenty of lose-lose propositions for the two parties," Washington Post blogger Chris Cilizza writes, "But, the fight over NPR’s funding mechanism is a rare occasion where both sides may wind up on the winning side." 
  • March 17: Live-blogging the NPR funding debate—MPR News offers a blow-by-blow of the floor discussion.
  • March 17: The Real Value of Public Broadcasting—On the New America Foundation site, Loris Taylor of Native Public Media writes that policymakers are ignoring the impact that public broadcasting cuts would have in rural areas and Native communities. "On the ground, in local communities, people understand that public broadcasting isn’t about left or right, it’s about locally driven and responsible communication service to our publics; and about robust and healthy information systems so that we can make informed decisions about our own futures. This is especially true in Indian country – but it is important for every corner of our nation."
  • March 16: What James O’Keefe knows about media (and you should too)—Steve Myers of Poynter.org writes "Whatever we call this surreptitiously recorded audio and video, we’re going to see more of it. We shouldn’t merely focus on the scandalous words uttered by an NPR executive or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. We should think about what this work is, where it fits in the media landscape, and why it gets attention."
  • March 16: A plan to save PBS: Lose the feds—Variety's Brian Lowry observes astutely "Clearly, if PBS and NPR are to be saved, it's going to require a scheme sure to piss off everybody."
  • March 15: Delivering One Million Petitions Defending Public Media—Media reform organization Free Press joins unions representing media workers and progressive advocacy groups Credo Action and MoveOn to deliver a million petitions to Congress—in totebags. (Take that, Jon Stewart)
  • March 15: Glenn Beck baffles with NPR video critique—Politico reports that, in an unexpected twist, the conservative FOX commentator deconstructed O'Keefe's video of Ron Schiller on his web site The Blaze, criticizing how the video's "deceptive nature" undermines O'Keefe's credibility. "By Sunday, NPR’s ombudsman Alicia Shepard was giving Beck a shout-out on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” for the piece, and by Monday, the story of the misleadingly edited video had hit the AP wire, crediting The Blaze in the second paragraph."
  • March 14: A Week Later, NPR Decides to Fight After All—The Atlantic's Wire blog notes: "All judgment over the quality of the video and the validity of the anti-NPR case aside, this is some pretty odd defense strategy. If NPR was going to point out that the video was questionable, what took them so long? Hasn't the damage already been done? Who's running strategy over there, and why play dead for a week only to come back to fight the next?"
  • March 13: In Praise of Muckrakers—New York Post columnist Kyle Smith defends O'Keefe, writing "There is a long tradition of sting operations nabbing public figures using deception and hidden cameras. The usual reaction from the poobahs is to shrug off the means (long deployed by American TV shows like “Dateline NBC” and British news organizations, even upscale ones like The Telegraph) and make the story about the results. ...Soon the upscale media will suddenly become very curious about O’Keefe’s business associations, tax filings, club memberships and the like. He has facts to reveal that don’t fit the approved script? Silence him!"
  • March 13: The Twisty, Bent Truth of the NPR-Sting Video—Time's TV critic James Poniewozik writes "The biggest advantage that a video propagandist has is that reality, as they say in the blog comments, is tl; dr. Too long; didn't read."
  • March 13: NPR loses in 'gotcha,' but what was won?—"We'd better be careful if what passes for journalism becomes nothing more than dogmatic espionage," warns Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press. "It's the cheapest, laziest form of news -- hide a camera and call it a story. There's no context. No thoroughness. Just 'watch this and get shocked.' "
  • March 13:What NPR needs is some tough love—"After decades of mainlining public funds, NPR’s brass is understandably alarmed at the prospect of going without its drug. But addictions are unhealthy, and it is a blessing to get free of them," writes the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby. "Ron Schiller was right: NPR would be better off if it gave up federal funding. A little tough love from Congress can finally make that happen."
  • March 13: Questions Raised About O'Keefe's Editing Of NPR Sting Video—NPR news blog The Two-Way offers a multimedia tour of the long and short versions of the video and related analysis.
  • March 12: NPR Videos Are Not What They Seem—Conservative media monitoring organization Accuracy in Media suggests "Conservatives should hold themselves to a higher standard of journalism and in this case O’Keefe falls short."
  • March 11: NPR Is "Fair": Conservatives And Media Critics Defend NPR's Reporting—Progressive media monitoring organization Media Matters for America rounds up analyses from left, right and center about NPR's evenhandedness.
  • March 11: On The Media—Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, joined On The Media's Brooke Gladstone to express a sentiment I've heard from multiple supporters and analysts about NPR's response to the O'Keefe video. "As somebody who works in public radio, it is killing me that people on the right are going around trying to basically rebrand us, saying that it’s biased news, it’s—it’s, you know, it’s left wing news, when I feel like anybody who listens to the shows knows that it’s not. And we are not fighting back. We're not saying anything back. I find it completely annoying." But, argues Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie, this wouldn't matter if federal funding was no longer an issue. "I think that the analogous model here is religion and religious expression. We all want to live in a world where everybody can worship whatever God they want but nobody is forced to pay for other people’s belief systems, whether we're talking about Presbyterians and Baptists or FOX News enthusiasts and PBS tote bag holders."
  • March 9: Breitbart Talks NPR and Citizen Journalism with CNN’s Piers Morgan—O'Keefe's mentor and conservative media trickster Andrew Breitbart defends the NPR sting video as investigative journalism.
  • March 7: Are we here for 11% of the public or for all of it?—In public broadcasting trade newspaper Current, Association of Independents in Radio Executive Director Sue Shardt comments that public radio's development strategy has "unwittingly cultivated a core audience that is predominately white, liberal, highly educated, elite. ... We have to look at this because the criticisms that are coming at us — whether they're couched in other things — do have some legitimacy. We must, as a starting point, take on board some of this criticism. Before we can set a path, we have to own this." (March 11—yup, say conservative commentators.)

Here's the whole series of posts from previous weeks: