After listening to a week of discussion and watching the Sunday morning shows today, it astounds how some members of the mainstream media can overlook certain facts that challenge their belief systems.
In discussing the ethics of the bombshell video that conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe made of Ron Schiller, the former head of fund raising at NPR, the conventional wisdom heard again Sunday morning is that mainstream TV news organizations used to use hidden cameras, but, by and large, they don't any more.
Not true, and the evidence is starting everyone in the face -- even as they ignore it.
NBC News "Dateline" did a full hour last Sunday (March 6) with hidden cameras, and here's an interview published last Sunday in the Sun that I did with correspondent Kate Snow and two "Dateline" producers making their case for using the cameras and all the deception that comes with them. They made a pretty good case, I thought. The cameras were used to expose bullying.
And while everyone talks as if CBS News ""60 Minutes" used to use hidden cameras, but abandoned the practice long ago, not true again. According to the CBS News website, the network's crown jewel aired a report on Feb. 27 capturing a scam in which desperately ill patients were paying huge sums of money to a con man selling quack cures with stem cells. I called "60 minutes" in the wake of a hidden camera report that aired in December 2010, and was told the use of hidden cameras had never been abandoned.
So let's at least get our facts straight when we have this discussion and be fair to O'Keefe whether commending or denouncing him. What he is doing is not some beyond-the-pale activity -- at least, when it comes to TV journalism.
Look, this is a complicated ethical issue. Here's a piece I posted Tuesday at news of the video that lays out the issues and maps some of the change in my thinking from outright, categorical condemnation of O'Keefe after the ACORN sting, to a call for an honest discussion about the issue today.
In trying to re-formulate my thinking on this, I am starting to believe that such techniques of hidden cameras and microphones might be one of the only ways to get at the lies some people in the media tell us. I am not yet saying they are ethically acceptable, but rather that they are one of the only techniques that have proven effective with media and political liars.
Vivian Schiller, the CEO who was fired Wednesday in the wake of O'Keefe's video, certainly played the two-faced game: Talking in a high-road, media-and-democracy voice when she knew she was speaking to the public, and talking in an ideologically-charged, quite nasty way when she wasn't "on" her public game. Remember the on-the-run remarks about how Juan Williams, whom she summarily fired in October, should be talking to his "psychiatrist" about what he was thinking when he said getting on airplanes with certain Muslims made him uncomfortable.
Ideology and bias are two of the biggest issues in media today, and the very members of the media who should be exposed are usually very good at talking in a phony, high-road public voice. Maybe hiding the cameras or microphones is the only way to get inside that very culture that is destroying (or has destroyed) the public's trust in media institutions.
But like I said in the pieces I linked to, I am still re-formulating my thinking on this one.
The one thing I do know is that we should all be factually honest and intellectually consistent in whatever we decide. And that is not the case today.
And by the way, here's a link to a piece I have online and in the print edition of the Sun today about who the real victims of the stupidity and arrogance of NPR executives could be -- the hundreds of smaller public radio stations around the country, some of whom have little or nothing to do with NPR. Read it here.