I watch the videos of our new celebrity journalists and I don’t see exactly what they want me to see.
Take any one of the game-changing ACORN videos, for example.
I see what O’Keefe and his Girl Friday have pieced together. A young white guy with his scantily clad girl come in off the street with an outrageous story and the local Community Organization employees are only too eager to help:
“All right, then. Lemme get this straight. You’re hoping to fund your future campaign for office in the Democratic Party; this cute little inarticulate thing hooks for you; and you need advice about how to get fourteen El Salvadoran teenage girls over the border tonight to start working for you in this whore house you’re hoping ACORN will help you buy? Got it. Lemme get the forms.”
In ACORN offices across the country, we are led to believe, versions of this sting played out with little variation.
What is it Team Veritas wants you to see?
- Community Organization employees eager and willing to help hide criminal activities.
- Your tax dollars being used to support those who are eager and willing to help support criminal activities.
- The chickens of the Welfare State come home to roost.
And what Team Veritas wanted on September 10th, 2009, they got.
O’Keefe posted to his YouTube channel, “veritasvisuals,” the first of a series of videos documenting his visits with Hannah Giles to ACORN offices across the country. The release coincided with Andrew Breitbart’s launch of BigGovernment.com, a news aggregating website designed to serve as a “one-stop shop for those who have had enough of this ‘progressive’ radicalization of our government . . . .”
Appearing as a guest on FoxNews’ Hannity that same day, Breitbart lavished praise on O’Keefe as “already well on his way to being one of the great journalists.”
Why release the tape of the visit to the ACORN office in Baltimore on September 10th, when O’Keefe and Giles had captured the employees offering advice for getting around the tax code by classifying prostitution as “performance art” six weeks earlier? Why wait so long to expose this criminal negligence? Why not rush the news immediately to local authorities?
Uh, for the symbolism.
Break the story on 9/10, so you, humble viewer, make this connection during the next 24 hour news cycle: Just as the terrorists sought to destroy America by flying into the World Trade Center on 9/11, so too are the employees of ACORN at this very moment seeking to destroy America by supporting, in Giles’ words, “the government . . . whoring out the American people.”
Terrorists without, a cancer within.
September 11, 2009.
Not too surprisingly, Fox’s pavlovian dog, Glenn Beck, was frothing at the mouth as soon as the scandal bell rang. But the real scandal for Beck was not what the videos exposed; no, the real scandal was that Fox stood alone among the media outlets in its willingness to cover the story.
Where was the coverage?
Where was the outrage?
Fox couldn’t stop referencing the story in its typical Tourette’s like way. Why wasn’t any one else in the Main Stream Media following along?
Glenn Beck tallies mentions of the ACORN story as of September 11, 2009
With the Main Stream Media looking the other way, things really begin to pick up steam.
As this timeline shows, O’Keefe and Brietbart kept the videos in the news for two months, but this was really overkill. They’d already dealt ACORN its fatal blow with the first set of their videos.
In an extraordinary move, on September 14th, just three days after the first videos were posted, the Senate voted on an amendment to the HUD and Transportation appropriations bill preventing ACORN from receiving further funding. The Senate Republicans already had ACORN in its sites for promoting voter fraud (I’ll discuss this part of the backstory in a future post); the O’Keefe videos tipped the balance and made it impossible for senators who had supported the group in the past to insist upon due diligence, due process, to argue for the necessity of slowing the rush to judgment. After all, weren’t the videos themselves irrefutable evidence that ACORN actively supported child prostitution, sex slavery, sex trafficking, and, well, tax evasion (in a non-Tea Party approved way)?
As Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska put it in his statement advancing his amendment, with ACORN already under a cloud of suspicion for its voter registration practices,
“damaging news surfaced regarding hidden videotapes at the Baltimore and Washington, DC, ACORN offices. You will not believe this: They feature ACORN employees offering advice on illegal activities, including tax evasion, prostitution, and fraud. Today we find out that a different ACORN office–this time in Brooklyn–also offered advice on the same topics. I would suggest, obviously, this is a pattern of very rotten behavior. Well, the alarm bells are rightly going off. Is this the kind of government we want?”
The amendment passed 83-7.
As the story broke, Jim Geraghty, blogger for the National Review tweeted:
“Who were the seven Child-Whoring Pimp Assistance Program defenders?”
September 15th, Beck is back at his scoreboard, letting you know that he’s still keeping count:
This shot of Beck’s scoreboard is taken not from his own discussion of it on his show on the 15th, but from his appearance on Fox and Friends on the 15th, where the other three folks chatting on couches call it back up to share in Beck’s disbelief. Not one of his auditors objects or even giggles when Beck warns:
“If it wasn’t for Fox or talk radio we’d be done as a republic,” announced Beck. “There are people in the administration— two of the president’s czars — that want to shut down the voices of talk radio and Fox and make it all NPR.”
How the mighty ambitions of the czars have fallen.
“We not talking about Republicans and Democrats. We’re talking about decency.”
Earlier that day, Breitbart and O’Keefe appeared as guests on Beck’s show, where the main topic was…wait for it….that’s right! The failure of other media outlets to put this story on the front page, to lead the evening news with it, to wave the white flag signaling their irrelevance in the 2.0 world where heroic citizen journalists have the courage to do what the fat cats in their comfy chairs in their corner offices in Manhattan can’t be bothered to even contemplate.
All right, I admit, I’m exaggerating. Aren’t I? Or at least I thought I was.
Here’s Breitbart capturing, accurately I’d say, how dramatically the dynamics of investigative reporting have changed since the days of Watergate:
“Seeing the collective videos, it’s the most damning thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life, case closed against this organization. It’s [t]oast, okay? But the idea that James and Hannah would think, this is how it happened. She was out on a jog. She came out, up with the idea. She went on Facebook. She said to James, the filmmaker who’s done this before, what do you think of this idea [?] He says, ‘Great.’ They do it with $1300. I’m sorry. That’s history. That’s film making. That’s journalism. And the fact that the mainstream media can’t figure out this is the coolest story in terms of just Hollywood narrative and that it is hitting corruption . . . “
September 17th, the House gets in on the action, appending the “Defund ACORN Act” to pending legislation on reforming the government’s role in the student loan business. John Boehner introduced the act as a stand alone bill on the 15th, but allowed Darrell Issa (R-CA) to be the first person listed as putting the amendment up for a vote because of Issa’s persistent calls to have ACORN investigated for voter registration fraud. The amendment to the student loan bill passes 345-75-2.
Over at the “Ace of Space HQ” blog, which runs as its header Menken’s quote, “Every normal man must be tempted to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats,” readers are invited to follow a link to see “the list of the 75 Child Sex Slave Enthusiasts.”
September 18th, Brietbart is back on the air at Fox, being interviewed about the stunning effect the videos have had during their first week of release. Breitbart invokes the rage of the American people, the pressure this has put on Congress, and the anticipated response of the Main Stream Media:
“But, predictably, and why we rolled the videos out one by one by one by one, we set traps for ACORN to lie; each and every time they lied. They went to the mainstream media, continued to tell those lies. The next day, the previous day’s lies were exposed. And CNN in particular has kept going back to ACORN and taking their line.”
In Fearing and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, the apex of Hunter Thompson’s work as a gonzo journalist, Thompson shares a story about “one of the oldest and most effective tricks in politics”–namely, “the politics of the rabbit-punch and the groin shot.” After describing how Hubert Humphery had got George McGovern on the ropes with a series of baseless accusations, Thompson shifts to a story about one of Lyndon Johnson’s early campaigns in Texas:
The race was close and Johnson was getting worried. Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows.
“Christ, we can’t get away with calling him a pig-fucker,” the campaign manager protested. “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.”
“I know,” Johnson replied, “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.”
Did Lyndon Johnson ever really say this? Thompson’s not particularly concerned with this question: he offers Johnson’s remark as a story that has been raised to the level of “political mythology.” Thompson, unlike the current crop of new media celebrity journalists, didn’t present himself as dealing with the “Truth” or “Veritas.” He didn’t hit the campaign trail with any illusions that Truth was out there waiting to be revealed by the intrepid journalist. He turned the rock over and showed everybody what was wiggling around down there, but he didn’t imagine that there was some alternative political sphere where the trustworthy, honest, and true politicians or newscasters or commentators were to be found.
Here, for example, is Thompson writing about the major networks in ’72, nearly forty years ago:
The bedrock truths of the McGovern convention were not aired on TV–except once, very briefly, on Monday night; but it hardly mattered because all three networks missed it completely. When the deal went down, Walter Cronkite saw green and called it red; John Chancellor opted for yellow; and ABC was already off the air.
Thompson then goes to intricately detail how McGovern gamed the delegate system and the arcane convention procedures to grab the nomination, working the system in a way that Cronkite and his fellow anchors wouldn’t begin to grasp until the next day.
Fear and Loathing is a useful reminder of what a dirty, vicious business politics is when viewed at eye-level and of the determination of the nightly news to stay above the fray to provide a calmer, more reasoned aura to the political process. The book is an even more useful benchmark, however, of just how much has changed in the shift to the 2.0 world of round-the-clock, scandal-driven news cycle. Thompson’s notoriety arose because of his perspective, his outlaw reputation, and his way with words. Those were his credentials.
Our new celebrity journalists can’t decide what they should be called–investigative journalists, citizen journalists, gonzo journalists, activists–for good reason. James O’Keefe, Hannah Giles, and Lila Rose are independent contractors for the Fox Network. They create the stories that Fox then covers, thereby sparing the network liability for any inaccuracies or misrepresentations that are subsequently brought to light in the video evidence that the independent contractors have provided. Indeed, by the time those inaccuracies are established, the news media are long gone, chasing the next spectacular exposure of governmental waste and corruption. And, in the meantime, they’ve got everybody involved in the circus of denial.
I’ll be detailing the mechanics of this operation over the next posts, but you see the general outline here: independently collected material, distributed over the web and via a 24-hour news service, drives legislation.
Is this the government we want?
I watch the videos and this is what I see: It’s just another day at the office, contending with whatever form of madness and desperation comes through the front door.
I watch the videos and I see the complete failure of our educational system at every level. Our celebrity journalists have no trouble capturing all manner of stupidity in offices meant to help the poor across the country . With the conviction that they are working on behalf of the Truth, they are not constrained, during the editing process, by any ethical commitment to objectivity. What kind of educational system breeds the actions of the actors on both sides of these hidden cameras?
I watch these videos and wonder where will we be once they’ve completed their mission?
This is the fourth installment in an evolving series on Citizen Journalism. It may be read on its own or as part of the series, which begins with “My Brush with Celebrity: The Other Side of Cyber-Spying.” A summary of each section of the series may be found here: Citizen Journalism and the Case of James O’Keefe (Table of Contents).
Breitbart quote about BigGovernment.com may be found here.
Senator Johanns’ prepared remarks arguing for the revocation of ACORN’s access to HUD funding may be found here.
Breitbart quote from Beck show may be found here.
Giles quote may be found here.
Glenn Beck on ACORN coverage may be found here.
Ace of Spades quote may be found here.
Breitbart’s 9/17 interview may be found here.