NPR didn't exactly come off well in the latest James O'Keefe hidden camera sting, but the organization and its supporters can take comfort in the knowledge senior management wasn't also duped into accepting O'Keefe's fake $5 million check.
NPR has insisted from the beginning that it refused to accept the donation from O'Keefe's ficticious Muslim Education Action Center Trust. Now they've released a string of emails between network executives that seem to verify that claim.
On March 3, ex-NPR Vivian Schiller described her phone conversation with MEAC liason "Ibrahim Halem Kasaam" to fundraiser Betsy Liley, NPR general counsel Joyce Slocum, and seior vice president of operations and finance Debra Delman. Some of the more pertinent excerpts. (The complete chain is available at Talking Points Memo.)
"I spoke to Ibrahim. He said they ARE a 501c3...I told him we would need to know for sure AND look at the 990 as we do for any first-time donor...He repeated again that they wanted to deliver the check. said that's very generous but we really need to sort out these issues first"
On March 4, Slocum sent Kasaam an email asking him to provide additional documentation regarding MEAC's tax exempt status. Excerpted below, some of the concerns outlined by Slocum:
"The Muslim Education Action Center does not appear in IRS Publication 78, which lists all organizations which have received a 501(3)(c) determination letter from the IRS, and whose status as a tax exempt organization has not been suspended or revoked...Also, most tax exempt organizations are required to file an annual form 990 in order to maintain their tax exempt status...We have been unable to locate the 990s for the Muslim Education Action Center through any of [publicly available] sources, so we need to ask that you also provide these for our review."
Reaction to what the emails prove--and don't prove--is mixed. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent believes the exchanges "validate what NPR has been saying" about not accepting the donation. Jonah Goldberg, one of NPR's few fans at the National Review, doesn't disagree, but questions what the network is gaining by going to such lengths to prove it didn't take a non-existent $5 million. "NPR," he writes, "wants us to believe that they’re somehow off the hook because after their leisurely lunch at Cafe Milano, they figured out the check might not clear....So if O’Keefe had set up a better sting, with a better website, they would have accepted a giant cardboard check for $5 million from these guys? This is a defense...how?"
At the conservative Big America blog, John Nolte notes that while NPR spokespersons have twice made "the declarative statement that they rejected the phony $5 million dollar donation," the word rejection implies an "action not an intention." Nowhere in the emails does anybody turn MEAC down flat. This strikes Nolte as a minor but vital distinction that NPR needs to clarify. "How, when, and where did this rejection take place? Was it over the phone? If so, who made the call and to whom? Was it via email or letter? If so, why not release a copy?"