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PBS fires attorney after comments revealed in hidden video

The Public Broadcasting Service has fired a mid-level staff attorney after he was surreptitiously recorded during a media sting operation by the watchdog group Project Veritas.

In the video published on Tuesday, former PBS assistant counsel Michael Beller was caught telling an undercover Project Veritas employee that the children of President Donald Trump’s supporters should be put in “re-education camps” where they would be forced to “watch PBS all day.”

The video appeared to be recorded before the 2020 presidential election. In it, he opined that if Donald Trump were to secure a second term in office, supporters of then-candidate Joe Biden would “go to the White House and throw Molotov cocktails.”

“What’s great is that COVID is spiking in all the red states right now — so that’s great,” Baller said, referring to a spike in coronavirus-related infections. When asked why he felt that way, Baller replied: “Because either those people won’t come out to vote for Trump — you know the red states — or a lot of them are sick and dying.”

The sting video is part of a recurring theme for Project Veritas, which casts itself as an independent, not-for-profit newsroom that works to investigate and expose “corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions to achieve a more ethical and transparent society.”

The organization’s primary target as of late has been mainstream news outlets: Reporters, producers and other staff members at CNN, ABC News and NPR have been secretly recorded during sting operations that are designed to solicit unguarded commentary by those involved in the day-to-day coverage decisions at mainstream news outlets.

Project Veritas and its chief editor, James O’Keefe, have drawn criticism in the past for the way some of these videos have been released. In 2011, a video that claimed to show NPR’s then-president of fundraising Ronald Schiller accepting a donation offer from a charity group claiming to have an affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood was later revealed to be edited in a way that took Schiller’s comments out of context.

Late last year, Keefe was also criticized after publishing the contents of internal conference calls by CNN’s top newsroom executives, including the company’s president Jeffrey Zucker. A CNN spokesperson said the news outlet had referred the incident to local police for investigation.

While mainstream news outlets have generally dismissed O’Keefe and his videos, the PBS video was harder to ignore: It captured whole comments made by Beller in an unguarded moment with an undercover Project Veritas staffer, and the remarks were offered in a way that did not seem to indicate they were taken out of context.

On Tuesday, PBS said it had fired Beller because the comments made on the video did not reflect the program distributor’s values.

“There is no place for hateful rhetoric at PBS, and this individual’s views in no way reflect our values or opinions,” a PBS spokesperson said. “We strongly condemn violence and will continue to do what we have done for 50 years – use our national platform and local presence to strengthen communities and bring people together.”

PBS said Beller was not involved in any editorial decisions during his time with the broadcaster.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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