Pranking folks to elicit embarassing statements isn't something only liberals or progressives do. James O'Keefe is probably the best known prankster on the Right, having tricked some ACORN workers infamously into offering legal advice to a fake pimp a few years ago. Perhaps provoked by the recent pranking of Gov. Walker of Wisconsin, O'Keefe scored another coup recently when he lured a departing National Public Radio executive into meeting with a fake Muslim group he would portray as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. His object, I assume, was to get the executive to accept or solicit support from the fake Muslims, or to get a statement from him that would prove that NPR was soft on Islamism. The target was wise enough to insist throughout that he spoke for himself and not for NPR. He refused to accept a check for $5,000,000 but did tell the pranksters that he felt Muslims were underrepresented in the news media the way women used to be. In the moment O'Keefe should be proudest of, given the Republican desire to defund NPR, the target declared that his employers would be better off in the long run without federal funding. But the biggest scandal to emerge from the meeting, whether O'Keefe intended it or not, was the news that an NPR executive had dared to speak ill of the Tea Party movement -- had in fact called it racist. Despite the target's disclaimers, NPR itself went into damage-control mode, repudiating his comments. The reason was clear. The prank-induced remarks are sure to infuriate Republicans into making renewed efforts to defund an organization they have always considered ideologically biased against them. The implication is more troubling. A news organization may be punished because an employee insulted a political party off the air.
Once again the Republicans are likely to oppose the funding of opinions they don't like. In their view, no one should be compelled to contribute to an institution if it or any of its members take a political stand contrary to one's own beliefs, or allegedly insulting to them. Adopting this principle consistently, of course, we should all have the prerogative to opt out of taxation, since the country is occasionally ruled by a party obnoxious to us. As far as some of us are concerned, the country is always so ruled. But in electoral politics we are taught, one hopes, to defer both to the will of the majority that bothers to vote and to the traditional prerogative of elected officials to govern according to their own consciences. Whether NPR requires or deserves taxpayer support is a proper subject for debate. But if its mandate is determined to include providing airtime for diverse viewpoints on public issues rather than the mute neutrality Republicans might prefer, they should seek more airtime for themselves if they feel shut out -- not to mention more time for viewpoints to the left of the NPR consensus -- instead of the silence that might make them more comfortable.