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The Download: Gotcha Nation

Posted in: Current Affairs   Boston politics   Health care   Energy
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Once the purview of shock jocks, 10-year-olds with a phone and time on their hands and MSNBC, prank calls, punks, and set-ups are now becoming the de rigueur method to oust – and out – political opponents.

The latest victim is NPR’s CEO Vivian Schiller, who resigned after a subordinate was caught on camera calling Tea Party members “white, middle-America gun-toting. . . seriously racist, racist people.”

The problem is that NPR Foundation’s senior vice president for fundraising Ron Schiller, no relation to the ousted CEO, thought he was talking to members of the Muslim Action Education Center who were looking to give $5 million to offset Republican efforts to defund the public broadcasting system.

But the center is fictitious and the pair of “Muslims” who Ron Schiller, now a former NPR employee, and a colleague were meeting with were actually members of conservative activist James O’Keefe’s “Project Veritas.” That name may sound familiar. O’Keefe was the man behind the sting that led to the disbandment of ACORN two years ago and embarrassing recorded phone calls to Planned Parenthood where workers were willing to help an “under-aged teen” obtain an abortion.

O’Keefe’s latest sting comes on the heels of a liberal Buffalo, New York, blogger posing as billionaire David Koch and getting through to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to discuss how to bust up – literally and figuratively – public employee unions and their supporters there.

The gotchas inflamed the true believers. The left was pointing to the Walker call as proof positive that the Wisconsin governor was a tool of the conservative Koch brothers, despite the fact David Koch didn’t make the call.

On the right, many Republicans, including those in leadership, are saying the Schiller video is proof positive that public broadcasting is undeserving of taxpayer dollars, despite the fact the whole set-up involved one person from NPR and O’Keefe has a history of releasing heavily edited versions of his theatrical productions.

What’s most troubling for many of us in the news business is not that Ron Schiller shot himself in the foot while it was in his mouth but rather how little attention is being paid to how it all came about. “I have no problem with what [O’Keefe] did,” George Bachrach, a former state senator who now teaches journalism at Boston University, told NECN’s Jim Braude. Really?

O’Keefe’s website touts itself as a breeding ground for new age investigative journalism students, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is a site for advocates of a defined ideology. O’Keefe, who once was arrested for trying to bug a Democratic US senator’s office in Louisiana, even admits his motivation for entrapping the NPR execs was payback for the organization’s dismissal of Juan Williams after comments he made on Fox News about Arabs.

As Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy points out in his column for The Guardian, Gawker summed it up best by saying the video “shockingly documents the fact that at least one NPR executive who has absolutely no news-gathering role is a mainline liberal and refuses to accept money from shadowy Muslim organisations.”

The debate over whether public funding should continue to shore up nonprofit radio and television programming is a valid one. The argument over whether this was real journalism is not. But because of its effectiveness, expect more.

                                                                                                                                                                                --JACK SULLIVAN

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

US Rep. Edward Markey is slamming the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over an unnamed “security issue” at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant last fall and is asking the NRC whether the it will take action against the plant’s owner, Entergy, since this is the 11th security problem at the Plymouth facility since 2006.

Mashpee plans to put solar panels on several town buildings and on a disused landfill. So far no one is complaining.

The Cape Cod Times gives props to NStar for agreeing to a year-long moratorium on herbicides in areas that must be kept clear of vegetation. The company plans to mow instead. Environmentalists are not impressed.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Middlesex County DA Gerry Leone won't charge a Framingham SWAT officer who tripped and accidentally shot and killed a 68-year old during a drug raid. A lawyer for the victim's family says the officer's finger should have never been on his trigger.

An overhaul of the Cambridge public school system goes to the city's school committee for a vote.

An Ayer selectman tells police he wasn't riding in a van with a wanted sex offender.

Feuding Fall River city councilors invoked little-used rules to disrupt the first night of new council president’s Michael Lund wielding the gavel.

In New Bedford, the City Council is discussing the idea of extending the current two-year terms for councilors and mayor to three or four years.

BEACON HILL

Defense lawyers in the trial of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi want to bar any testimony from the government's new star witness, Joseph Lally.

Bankers hope Treasurer Steve Grossman's plan to deposit $100 million with local lenders will spur cities and towns to follow suit.

The House's chief budget writer says local aid cuts may go deeper than those already outlined by Gov. Deval Patrick.

David Bernstein sifts through all those rumors surrounding Patrick's future.

BOSTON POLITICS

The Bay State Banner looks at the District 7 City Council special election pitting Tito Jackson against Cornell Mills for the seat vacated by former city councilor Chuck Turner.

POLITICS

In a family feud that isn't looking too senatorial, one of Scott Brown's stepfathers has come forward to deny accounts in the Bay State senator's new memoir that he beat Brown as a youngster. Brown's mother and sister, in turn, are speaking publicly about the book for the first time, saying the stepfather is a liar.

In a New Republic review of a new book on the topic, Boston College's Alan Wolfe describes – and laments – the loss of big thinking in American political life.

WASHINGTON

A giant bond investor worries that US Treasuries are becoming junk bonds.

Karl Rove would like to introduce you to this new thing, the Internet.

ELECTION 2012

Political consultants explore the tough, expensive road ahead for Setti Warren and others who hope to challenge US Sen. Scott Brown.

Really? Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich plans to use Independence Hall in Philadelphia as a backdrop for his May announcement of his run for the White House. No doubt Gingrich is gambling that the boo-birds will stay home in this heavily Democratic city that doesn't mind embarrassing Republican politicians. Meanwhile, his overwhelming love of country caused him to entertain mistresses, Gingrich says.

REDISTRICTING

Two western Massachusetts state lawmakers, Rep. Christopher Speranzo, a Pittsfield Democrat, and Rep. Stephen Kulik, a Worthington Democrat, will join the 20-member panel that will consider how to redraw the state's congressional and legislative districts.

EDUCATION

Yesterday's lotteries for charter school slots at two Boston schools had all the drama and pathos captured in the film “Waiting for Superman.”

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is calling out those districts – 37 in all – that have not submitted adequate plans for anti-bullying procedures, as required by state law.

WISCONSIN

Wisconsin Republicans advance Gov. Scott Walker's union cramdown. Washington Post political analyst Chris Cillizza explains why the Wisconsin Republicans' legislative maneuver allowing them to finally approve stripping the meat of out public employee unions' collective bargaining rights is a risky bit of business.

FISHING

Sen. John Kerry wants outgoing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to declare the state’s fishing industry an economic disaster and reconsider the catch share limits as one of his final acts.

HEALTH

Blue Cross board member Paul Guzzi says the $11 million severance package for Cleve Killingsworth was “painful,” “legally binding,” and “distracting” from the “serious issues” around health care. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it, despite unusually feisty questioning from Emily Rooney. The New England Police Benevolent Association wants AFL-CIO boss Robert Haynes to return the cash he made serving on Blue Cross board.

Fallon Community Health Plan, Tufts Health Plan, and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care will debate ending salaries for board members. The moves come after an uproar over compensation at Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The Springfield Republican applauds Gov. Deval Patrick's move to address the lack of supermarkets in low-income minority neighborhoods.

Harvard-MIT student Alice Chen tells WBUR’s Sacha Pfeiffer about the “humanized mouse” she developed.

STATE OF THE STATES

The Atlantic provides a state-by-state roundup of efforts to dump public-sector defined benefit pension plans.

CRIME

NECN, citing a website called Deadspin, says New England Patriot Brandon Meriweather is accused of shooting two people in Florida.

To assist the overburdened Springfield police department in dealing with a backlog of homicide cases, the Hampden County District Attorney will have the state police take over new murder investigations in April.

TRANSPORTATION

Slate's David Weigel asks, "Why do conservatives hate trains?"

BRODER

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal remember David Broder.

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