Last night Alicia Shepard, the NPR “ombudsman” issued the following message on Twitter:
Uh-oh! There goes that James O’Keefe again, with his heavily edited and deceptive videos! Why, I bet he wasn’t even wearing a pimp costume! Her message was repeated by Jack Shafer of Slate and Radley Balko of Reason — and more than 100 others, as you can see.
Just one problem: the message was flatly untrue. And when I called her on it, her regard for facts was about what you would expect from an NPR ombudsman.
Do you really think that Ron Schiller — the guy who called Tea Partiers “seriously racist” people — is a Republican? Do you really believe he said so on that video?
Yeah, neither did I. I could see him saying he was raised as a Republican. But that he is one? Uh-uh. I asked Shepard:
Corroborating my suspicion was the fact that one of the people who appeared on the video, who goes by the name of Simon Templar, took issue with Shepard and said she was wrong:
So I went and found the full two-hour video, which is posted on the Project Veritas web site, here. I quickly found the relevant passage at timestamp 12:52:48, where Schiller says:
I grew up a Republican and am proud of that even though I’ve voted mostly Democratic lately.
Just as “Simon Templar” had claimed, he said he was raised as a Republican, not that he “is” a Republican. He goes on to severely criticize the current Republican party, as we have all heard. I sent the proof to Shepard on a silver platter, complete with a link to the video and a timestamp, and copied Jack Shafer:
This is the part where she reviewed the video, apologized for her misstatement, and quickly and cheerfully issued a prompt correction. Right?
Yeah, not quite.
I soon got this message from Shepard on Twitter:
Uh, OK. I did, saying:
Unless there is another part of the video that I missed, Ron Schiller did not say he is a Republican. Given what he did say, I find it hard to believe I missed it. But if I did, please let me know.
Thanks for contacting me Patrick. You watched all two hours? He didn’t say anything abt being a Republican??
Sent from my Crackberry
You’re the one who made the assertion he did. Could you tell me where that is?
I followed up:
If you don’t have a portion of the video to point to, then on what basis did you make your assertion?
I’m getting ready to write this up soon, so please let me know.
Can u give me 15 minutes. I’ve got a transcript. Have to access it. Am at home.
Sent from my Crackberry
So I waited, and eventually, Shepard e-mailed me this passage from her transcript. Keep in mind that this was the basis for her declaration that Ron Schiller had said he “is” a Republican:
It feels to me as thought there’s a real anti-intellectual mood on the part of a significant part of the Republican Party. It’s not all Republicans. In fact, I grew a Republican and, you know, proud of that, even though I voted most of the time (unintelligible). I like the Republican Party, in terms of fiscal conservatism, but where – and the fact that the Republican Party of old really believed the government has no role in personal lives, family lives, and that government is really about other things. The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives, and very fundamental Christian.
Yeah, that guy sounds real Republican! In her e-mail quoting that passage, she said:
Patrick — here’s the quote. Maybe you figured out the “unintelligible.”
Well, yeah, Ms. Shepard, I did. You want to know how I figured that out? I watched the video! The transcript is horrible, through and through — and the supposedly “unintelligible” part is anything but. Schiller says he has voted “mostly Democratic” lately. It is crystal clear. There is nothing hard about making it out — again, if you actually watch the video. Feel free to check for yourself: the full video is here, and the relevant passage, as I told Shepard, is at 12:52:48. See if there is anything “unintelligible” there.
So I wrote Shepard back:
Yes, he says he votes Democratic most of the time. I watched it.
You can see he does not say he is a Republican.
Will you please now correct your tweet?
And here she said something that actually stunned me:
My concern is that the professional transcriber thought that word unintelligible. But you are sure of it?
Are you kidding me? I gave you the link to the video, the specific time stamp, and you didn’t watch it?? I replied:
This is incredible. You made the assertion and you obviously didn’t watch the video.
. . . .
You had no basis to make your statement. You were called on it and did not do the legwork even when it was handed to you on a silver platter. Forgive my impatience, but I am just astounded that someone with so little regard for the facts would be placed in the position of “ombudsman” of NPR.
This exchange will appear on my blog.
Been a v. busy day. Post whatever you like. I read the transcript.
Too busy to get the facts right? I was still confused: even if she made a declaration regarding the contents of the tape without watching the tape, what about the fact that the transcript did not provide a basis for her statement? I asked:
Does the transcript say he said he was a Republican?
And she replied, with the kiss-off arrogance we are so used to from Big Media types:
No, it does not. Tweeted the quote. Night.
Oh, OK. She went on Twitter and issued a correction? I went to look. Here is what she had put up:
Note a few things about this statement. First, unlike the original, incendiary claim, which was repeated by more than 100 people, including Jack Shafer (who has now issued a correction) and Radley Balko, this tweet was repeated by only 8 people. And it’s termed a “clarification” — which is just amazing, given that her original claim was flatly wrong. She needs a “correction” and not a “clarification.” She needs to admit she was wrong. Isn’t it the job of an “ombudsman” to be clear about admitting error? Isn’t it the job of an “ombudsman” to care about facts in the first place, and not make statements with no basis in facts? I summed it up in my last e-mail to Shepard:
In other words, you never had a basis for saying what you said, and you are not clearly admitting error.
This is NPR’s regard for facts??