Virtual Voices

When is a lie just a lie?

Media

I shed no tears for National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which don't need my tax money to broadcast ironic put-downs by the late Daniel Schorr. Can't Big Bird pay the bills by now? And I was a little tired of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller demanding proof of liberal bias.

So there's a certain satisfaction to hearing NPR Foundation President Ron Schiller clearly state on hidden camera what "everybody" knows: that folks at the top level in the organization are contemptuous, if not downright hostile, toward conservatives. The producer of this undercover video, the bold and innovative James O'Keefe, carved similar chunks out of ACORN last spring and the New Jersey Education Association after Christmas. O'Keefe claims to be an independent truth-quester whose medium is film and whose method is the sting. Long ago, the popular TV show Candid Camera scored high ratings by catching people "in the act of being themselves." O'Keefe does the same thing, except that his victims usually get a pink slip instead of a warm chuckle.

I'll admit, I like having my suspicions confirmed in a way that can't be reinterpreted. And O'Keefe has an independent, swashbuckling style that legends are made of. But still . . . I can't help thinking that Ron Schiller was caught in a private conversation, stating private opinions (or at least opinions that he assumed his listeners wanted to hear). Have any of us taken part in conversations we wouldn't want recorded? Yes, the "other side" does this too, with impunity. Does that invalidate the Golden Rule?

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And another thing: The NPR video was entrapment, pure and simple. For the ACORN sting, O'Keefe himself and a friend, Hannah Giles, posed as a pimp and a prostitute to catch agency employees abetting illegal activities in their normal line of work. The NPR setup went a little farther: Mr. Schiller had to be lured to lunch, made to understand that the imaginary Muslim organization his hosts represented was prepared to fork over lots of money, and egged on by leading questions. Though it could be said he hung himself with his own rope, Project Veritas led him to the tree, set him on the horse, and knotted the noose. They flat-out lied, with malice aforethought-an incongruous method, for a group whose name means "truth."

James O'Keefe claims to have followed the letter of the law in obtaining these tapes, and there's no reason to doubt him-especially after getting himself in a spot of trouble last year. And citizen-journalists like him may not be subject to the same standards as professionals. Ira Stoll, former editor of The New York Sun, notes the differences but raises some legitimate concerns. As for the rest of us: Christians should always be concerned about ends justifying means, for "Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being" (Psalm 51:6). Even if I like the result, the method should make me squirm.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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