MICHELE NORRIS, host:
On Election Day 2008, several members of the New Black Panther Party swaggered outside a voting station in Philadelphia, one brandishing a nightstick. The U.S. Justice Department filed voter intimidation charges and drew criticism when it dropped most of those charges.
As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, the press is now taking criticism too.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The story starts, as so many do these days, with videotape. In this case, conservative college students captured an Election Day exchange with two New Black Panthers.
Unidentified Man: Okay, but you have a nightstick in your hands.
FOLKENFLIK: Fox News' Rick Leventhal was on the scene too.
Mr. RICK LEVENTHAL (Reporter, Fox News Channel): And our understanding is police did escort the other Black Panther with a stick away from this polling place. Now, I want to make very clear that we don't have any information that any voters were denied entrance to...
FOLKENFLIK: Most everyone agrees on the nature of the New Black Panthers.
Mr. MARK POTOK (Director, Intelligence Project, Southern Poverty Law Center): Distinctly anti-white, anti-gay, anti-Jewish organization. As a matter of fact, some of its leaders have said things like, you know, we ought to kill all white people, then bury them in the ground and then dig them up and kill them again.
FOLKENFLIK: Mark Potok is director of the Intelligence Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.
The New Black Panthers have been listed as a hate group for a decade. It is very small and has no record of actual violence. But Potok calls the incident troubling.
In late 2008, in the waning weeks of the Bush administration, the U.S. Justice Department filed those voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party and several members. But charges against the group itself were dropped in May 2009. Justice officials argued there was no compelling evidence the party itself was involved, only one person was sanctioned. A brief flap ensued.
Late last month, a former civil rights attorney at the Justice Department rekindled the story. J. Christian Adams, a Bush political appointee, said under President Obama, the department is unwilling to prosecute blacks for civil rights violations.
Mr. J. CHRISTIAN ADAMS (Attorney, Justice Department): As I have said under oath, this is the easiest case. I mean, there's plenty of evidence that this was a violation of federal law. And don't forget...
FOLKENFLIK: That was Adams last week on NPR's TELL ME MORE. But no one paid closer attention than the Fox News Channel, especially anchor Megyn Kelly.
Ms. MEGYN KELLY (Anchor, "America Live"): Anger and disbelief at a California town hall meeting when a voter asked her congressman about the dismissal of the New Black Panthers Party case and...
FOLKENFLIK: According to the liberal watchdog group Media Matters, Kelly had 45 segments totaling more than three and a half hours from June 30th through July 14th on the subject. And she went after others for failing to cover the story.
CBS chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer was among them. Sunday, CNN's Howard Kurtz asked Schieffer about his failure to ask the attorney general about Adams' allegations.
Mr. BOB SCHIEFFER (Chief Washington Correspondent, CBS News): I was on vacation that week this happened. Apparently, it got very little publicity. And, you know, I just didn't know about it. I mean, you know, God knows everything, but I'm not quite that good.
FOLKENFLIK: The Washington Post's ombudsman, its in-house critic, said the paper needs to catch up too.
Conservatives argue the media is protecting the Obama administration. Andrew Breitbart runs a network of conservative blogs.
Mr. ANDREW BREITBART (Publisher, Breibart.com and Breitbart.tv): These stories kept building, building, building in this undermedia. You can call it Fox News. You can call it Breitbart sites. You can call it the Drudge Report. You can call it whatever you like, but this undermedia builds up stories.
FOLKENFLIK: But there are some conservatives, including the former staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under President Reagan and the commission's Republican vice chairwoman, who say it's being blown out of proportion.
So does Mark Potok, that civil rights investigator who's been monitoring the New Black Panthers for more than a decade.
Mr. POTOK: Frankly, I think that what has been raised by the conservative and right-wing press, and the tone that it's been raised in, has amounted to a tempest in a teacup. I just see a lot of screaming hypocrisy on the part of outfits like Fox News and some of the other conservative news outlets.
Another Rorschach test for a nation filled with sharp-eyed media critics.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.