Monday, May 9, 2011

Project Veritable Bias

Joe Fox

A video posted by James O'Keefe III of Project Veritas caused a huge "bias" controversy at NPR in March. But it's clear that O'Keefe himself is really the biased one. The Project Veritas homepage teases several of O'Keefe's projects, including the hidden-camera footage of NPR fundraisers with the text "They're seriously racist, racist people."
The problem with this is not that O'Keefe did some heavy editing on the video before releasing it, taking many quotes by the NPR officials out of context and not including others. No, an argument can be made (and was made by O'Keefe) that it's up to the reporter to decide what parts of the video are newsworthy and what parts aren't. Even though the editing left in quotes supposedly showing the personal bias of the NPR officials without context and didn't leave in other statements like "There is such a big firewall between funding and reporting: Reporters will not be swayed in any way, shape or form. (Which, by the way, came from a fundraiser and not a newsroom supervisor).

Nope, the biggest problem isn't even that O'Keefe presents it as the "true feelings" of NPR officials even though many of the out-of-context statements were really only said when the fundraisers were talking about the feelings of others. It's also clear that O'Keefe's organization is pretty biased against NPR from the outset.

But the problem with this video, and with the other videos on Project Veritas (including a controversial project investigating Planned Parenthood and ACORN) are promoted under the banner "Promoting Modern-Day Muckrakers" and advertised as shining examples of investigative journalism. Investigative journalism is so important to our field today that having these clearly biased projects get such a large spotlight instead of worthy projects like those of ProPublica out there.

Investigative journalism is great. But it has to be done right, or it hurts all of us as journalists.

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