“Bristol Palin just announced she had corrective surgery on her mouth. It’s being called the right procedure on the wrong Palin.” –Conan O’Brien
“Bristol Palin just announced she had corrective surgery on her mouth. It’s being called the right procedure on the wrong Palin.” –Conan O’Brien
“It turns out that the Republican budget that they submitted for next year slashes funding for the agency that issues tsunami warnings and organizes responses to the tsunami. In their defense, Republicans say that tsunamis are just a theory, they are not a real threat like ACORN, the Black Panthers, NPR, and math teachers in Wisconsin.” –Bill Maher
In previous posts on the James O’Keefes smear campaign against NPR utilizing dishonestly edited video, I noted how NPR was too quick to give into conservative pressure.Other liberals are getting frustrated with those who refuse to fight back. For example, Atrios wrote:
I’ve really lost interest in defending organizations that are uninterested in defending themselves.
Aside from the dishonesty, O’Keefe’s basic schtick is to exploit the fact that when confronted with crazy assholes, most people rationally humor them.
As I noted previously, NPR presents as balanced a view of the news as we are likely to see anywhere. While it is possible they do hire more liberals than other media outlets, they also have quite a few conservatives working there, and the liberals at NPR (as in most of the media other than MSNBC during prime time) tend to bend over backwards to appease conservatives to avoid any sign of bias. This apparently has included coverage of O’Keefe by NPR. Media Matters points out that in previous coverage of O’Keefe, such as in his use of dishonestly edited video against ACORN, NPR only once gave any indication as to the nature of O’Keefe’s tactics:
Dishonesty is James O’Keefe’s defining trait. If there is anything news organizations should tell their audiences about him, it’s that he’s repeatedly been caught lying and producing misleading videos and transcripts. His whole operation is a sham. That’s all you need to know about James O’Keefe. And yet, NPR’s reporting on O’Keefe consistently failed to make that clear — or even to hint at it. A search of NPR transcripts in the Nexis database finds 10 NPR reports that mentioned O’Keefe prior to the controversy over his NPR video. Only once in these 10 reports is there so much as a hint that O’Keefe had ever behaved dishonestly in presenting the results of his “stings” to the public — a September 23, 2009 interview in which an attorney for ACORN says “The tapes have been edited and rearranged.”
No NPR report available on Nexis that mentions James O’Keefe has included the fact that California’s attorney general said the ACORN tapes were “severely edited by O’Keefe” and constituted a “highly selective editing of reality.” None mentioned a New York Daily News report that a law enforcement source said O’Keefe “edited the tape to meet their agenda.” In several reports, NPR journalists adopted the false claim that O’Keefe had dressed as a pimp; none of the reports indicate that this was not, in fact, true. NPR never got around to telling listeners that O’Keefe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with one of his stunts. And O’Keefe’s bizarre scheme to lure CNN reporter Abbie Boudreau onto a boat under false pretenses, then secretly record her reaction to being confronted in an enclosed, unfamiliar environment by a strange man with handcuffs and sex toys? None of the NPR reports available on Nexis mentioned that.
In short, NPR repeatedly covered O’Keefe, and adopted his (false) claims about what his videos showed. But only a single NPR report available on Nexis contained so much as an allegation that he’d ever been less than honest. NPR’s coverage of O’Keefe helped enhance his stature and credibility. And then he peddled a misleading videotape of an NPR executive, and the media ran with it, badly damaging NPR.
Being objective does not mean to accept statements from liberal and conservative sources as equally valid in cases where the liberal source is being honest and the conservative source is being dishonest. Perhaps if NPR had worried less about this form of false objectivity and really reported the facts about O’Keefe in the past they would have been in a better position to withstand his dishonest attack upon them.
With conservatives dominating broadcast and cable news (and with much of it being of poor quality regardless of whether there is any bias), NPR has become the primary source for quality, objective broadcast news. This makes it a prime target of the right wing, which requires that people be exposed to their falsehoods as opposed to the actual facts in order to obtain support. The latest attack on NPR comes from James O’Keefe, the same person responsible for the faked tapes in the right wing smear campaign against ACORN.
The attempted smear against NPR has multiple problems. O’Keefe used people pretending to be Muslims connected with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood offering a contribution. The person caught on tape, Ron Schiller, previously worked in fund raising at NPR and had nothing to do with editorial or news content of shows. He is not even currently working at NPR. The statements which the right wing finds sh0king are quite true:
Schiller: The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian — and I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move… it’s been hijacked by this group that…
Fake Muslim: The radical, racist, Islamophobic, Tea Party people?
Schiller: It’s not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic. Basically, they believe in white, middle America, gun-toting — it’s pretty scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.
The tape was heavily edited, but regardless of context these statements about extremist elements taking over the Republican Party and Tea Party are true. He also discussed government funding of NPR:
Republicans play off the belief among the general population that most of our funding comes from the government. Very little of our funding comes from the government, but they act as if all our funding comes from the government… it is very clear that in the long run we would be better off without federal funding. And the challenge right now is that if we lost it altogether, we’d have a lot of stations go dark.
NPR gets about $90 million out out of a budget of $800 million a year from the federal government. In responding, NPR points out that the view that Schiller’s statement that “in the long run we would be better off without federal funding” is “a position in direct conflict with the organization’s official position.” Dana Davis Rehm, NPR’s senior vice president of marketing, communications and external relations, has released this statement:
“The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept.
“We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for.
“Mr. Schiller announced last week that he is leaving NPR for another job.”
There were also some portions which are of questionable meaning, such as laughing at NPR being referred to as “National Palestinian Radio” due to both editing of the tape and due to questions as, if true, they simply represent pandering to potential donors. As David Weigel (who also found at least one case of dishonest editing of the tape) put it, “Schiller is a professional fundraiser, not a journalist. His pandering to the group is actually sort of masterful.”
Here we have a case of someone who spoke the truth about the Republican Party, but which NPR is still not going to accept to preserve their journalistic integrity. (It is a totally different question as to whether these standards of objectivity are a mistake, making it easier for the right wing media to spread misinformation by giving a false equivalency to honest news and right wing propaganda.) The right wing regularly defends Fox for making statements which not only are biased towards their side but which are also untrue.
Here we have a statement from someone who is not at NPR, who was never involved in editorial decisions, and which (while true), NPR objected to. The donation offered was not even accepted. There’s nothing here to support the right wing crusade against NPR.
Many articles analyzing the midterm election try to attribute the problems faced by the Democrats to events of the last year or two. While these are a factor, the battle has been influenced by events going back to well before the Democrats took control of the White House and Congress. Republican use of misinformation has placed Democrats at a disadvantage, even to the degree that many plan to vote for Republicans despite disagreeing with them on the issues. There are some recent items worth noting on how Republicans rewrite the facts and rewrite history.
Michael Hirschorn has an article in The Atlantic which looks at how the right is has been burying the truth:
Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said (or is famously reputed to have said) that we may each be entitled to our own set of opinions, but we are not entitled to our own set of facts. In a time when mainstream news organizations have already ceded a substantial chunk of their opinion-shaping influence to Web-based partisans on the left and right, does each side now feel entitled to its own facts as well? And thanks to the emergence of social media as the increasingly dominant mode of information dissemination, are we nearing a time when truth itself will become just another commodity to be bought and sold on the social-media markets? Or, to cast it in Twitter-speak: @glennbeck fact = or > @nytimes fact? More far-reachingly, how does society function (as it has since the Enlightenment gave primacy to the link between reason and provable fact) when there is no commonly accepted set of facts and assumptions to drive discourse?
The article provides multiple examples of distorting the facts including right wingers on Digg banding together to bury stories they disagree with, the faked video which destroyed ACORN, distortions from Andrew Breitbart, Shirley Sherrod’s firing, Bush’s use of Jeff Gannon, and the “Ground Zero” mosque.
Tea Party rallies are notable for the massive amount of misinformation being spread and a view of American history which was fabricated to promote right wing views. Today Terry Gross interviewed historian Sean Wilentz who discussed material in his article in The New Yorker on how Glenn Beck distorts history, recycling conspiracy theories from the John Birch Society:
Wilentz, who teaches at Princeton University, argues that the rhetoric expressed by both conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck and the Tea Party is nothing new — and is rooted in an extremist ideology that has been around since the Cold War, a view that the Republican Party is now embracing.
“I think what’s happening is the Republican Party is willing to chase after whatever it can to get the party back — to get power back,” he tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “This is what’s happening in the Republican Party, so instead of drawing lines, they’re jumping over fences to look like they’re in the good graces of these Tea Party types.”
Wilentz says Beck, who has emerged as a unifying figure and intellectual guide for the Tea Party movement, finds fodder for his Fox News Channel and syndicated radio shows in the ideas espoused by the John Birch Society, an ultraconservative political group founded in 1958 that, Wilentz writes, “became synonymous with right-wing extremism.”
“It’s a version of history that demonizes the progressive era, particularly Woodrow Wilson,” Wilentz says. “It sees it as the beginning of America’s going down the road to totalitarianism, which ends in Beck’s version with Barack Obama.”
Particularly troublesome, Wilentz says, are the gross historical inaccuracies Beck makes on his Fox show, which now reaches more than 2 million people each day.
New media outlets provide people such as Glenn Beck to reach an audience far larger than the John Birch Society could reach. This is leading to extremist views which conservative leaders such as William F. Buckley, Jr. repudiated in the past now becoming the dominant views among Republicans.
The tea party movements have been characterized by angry people who are ignorant of the issues and are being misled by operatives from the far right. Playboy has interviewed one of the right wing operatives who has explained how he manipulates their followers by appealing to the Reptilian portions of the brain as opposed to their logic centers. We’ve seen his type of work before:
Did you get an automated call from the sister of a 9/11 victim asking you to reelect President Bush in 2004? That was me. Did you get a piece of mail with the phrase supports abortion on demand as a means of birth control? That may have been me too.
The people the source deals with “may not read much, but they all know their Ayn Rand.” He described the “black arts” techniques used to manipulate them:
A good piece of mail gets its message across in 10 seconds. Television gives you 30 seconds, maybe. We’re playing to the reptilian brain rather than the logic centers, so we look for key words and images to leverage the intense rage and anxiety of white working-class conservatives. In other words, I talk to the same part of your brain that causes road rage.
In other words, this is a continuation of the usual right wing misinformation campaign. New York Magazine noted the similarity and questions if Democrats will be prepared to counter it:
Think Swift Boating, or the James O’Keefe ACORN project. It sounds dark the way this person describes it (“black arts” never sound particularly appetizing, unless they are practiced by Robert Pattinson), but it’s really nothing new. The question is whether Barack Obama, as head of the Democratic Party, is going to retain his frustrating coolness in the fall as these tactics are being used against liberal candidates across the country in an effort to take away the Democratic majority in Congress. No matter how rational he can be, is reason any good when it’s up against road rage?
Marc Ambinder is wondering about something which most of us noticed quite a while ago in asking, Have Conservatives Gone Mad? He provides some examples:
It is absolutely a condition of the age of the triumph of conservative personality politics, where entertainers shouting slogans are taken seriously as political actors, and where the incentive structures exist to stomp on dissent and nuance, causing experimental voices to retrench and allowing a lot of people to pretend that the world around them is not changing. The obsession with ACORN, Climategate, death panels, the militarization of rhetoric, Saul Alinsky, Chicago-style politics, that TAXPAYERS will fund the bailout of banks – these aren’t meaningful or interesting or even relevant things to focus on. (The banks will fund their own bailouts.)
There are far more examples. For example, climategate is just one example of the rejection of science by many conservatives (accompanied by a conspiracy theory based upon their creative misinterpretation of stolen email). There’s also their rejection of evolution, along with cosmology or any other branch of science which conflicts with a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. Plenty of other conspiracy theories, along with rejection of science, are also popular on the far right, especially if we extend to the Ron Paul crowd. At least the Paul supporters don’t accept the beliefs still held by many on the right that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attack and that Iraq had WMD at the start of the war.
Hatred of Obama has brought about a new set of reliefs which are unteathered from reality, from the claims that he was born outside of the United States to the claims he is a Muslim or a Marxist. Of course this is nothing new. The current bogus claims about Obama are as absurd as the discredited claims of the Swift Boat Liars. Right wingers continue to base conspiracy theories upon claims that both John Kerry’s war records and Barack Obama’s birth certificate are being kept secret. It is hardly a secret when both documents have been posted on the internet.
Ambinder speculates as to the causes of this insanity:
Conor Friedersdorf thinks the problem lies with the conservative movement’s major spokespeople – its radio/net news nexus — and the “overwhelming evidence that their very existence as popular entertainers hinges on an ability to persuade listeners that they are “‘worth taking seriously as political and intellectual actors.’” That is why the constant failures of these men to live up to their billing is so offensive, destructive, and ruinous to conservatives. There are plenty of women, too, is all I’ll say.
The right wing noise machine is certainly responsible for much of the problem. In many cases it isn’t even clear if the clowns who spread their insane beliefs even believe what they are saying, or are just doing this because it is an easy way to make a good living. Scott Adams has speculated about this and written, “I find it mind boggling that anyone believes a TV talk host is expressing his own true views.” We’ve had Glenn Beck say “I could give a flying crap about the political process.” Beck has also described himself as “a rodeo clown” and conceded, “If you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.”
Unfortunately there are a lot of idiots who actually believe the things that people like Glenn Beck say, regardless of how much evidence there is that he makes it up. Ambinder has a suggestion for the media as to how to respond:
I think this sensibility is pervasive throughout the smart media — old and new. I think it’s one reason why, say, Jake Tapper and other good reporters are very keen about direct fact-challenging — why the media is reasserting itself as gatekeepers. (CNN might want to think about branding themselves here, even at the risk (well, the reality) of calling out Republicans more.) I think it’s because there’s so much misinformation out there — most of it spread by the conservative echo-chamber. With the advent of Fox News and the power of that echo-chamber, complaints about liberal media bias are quite irrelevant — the reaction to it being like lupus’s reaction to the body, as Jon Stewart correctly noted.
It would certainly be useful to have Jake Tapper of ABC, CNN, and others devote more time to fact checking. The far right will just write off the facts as liberal bias but maybe having the facts out there more will do some good. Fact checking will definitely play into the belief that CNN is a liberal counterpart to Fox which is absurd when you look at how many Republicans they have hired in recent years since the network was sold by Ted Turner. There is no doubt that they will have far more to fact check with Republican than Democratic statements, plus the Republican falsehoods are much further from reality than the errors coming from the Democrats.
ACORN was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by Brooklyn prosecutors and the supposedly incriminating tape was found to have been edited. New York Daily News reports:
Brooklyn prosecutors on Monday cleared ACORN of criminal wrongdoing after a four-month probe that began when undercover conservative activists filmed workers giving what appeared to be illegal advice on how to hide money.
While the video by James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles seemed to show three ACORN workers advising a prostitute how to hide ill-gotten gains, the unedited version was not as clear, according to a law enforcement source.
“They edited the tape to meet their agenda,” said the source.
O’Keefe and Giles – who visited ACORN offices in several cities, including its Brooklyn headquarters – stirred controversy when they posted the videos on their Web site.
They were hailed as heroes by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and their footage led several government agencies to temporarily cut funding for ACORN as the prosecutors opened an investigation.
“On Sept. 15, 2009, my office began an investigation into possible criminality on the part of three ACORN employees,” Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said in a one-paragraph statement issued Monday afternoon.
“That investigation is now concluded and no criminality has been found.”
Update: Many of the attacks on Acorn from the right wing were based upon false information spread by Andrew Breitbart. Media Matters reports that Breitbart has walked back his claims of criminality on the part of ACORN.
Even though the evidence against ACORN has been shown to have been fabricated my bet is that this will not change the attitude of most on the right. They enjoy living in their fantasy world and have far too many defenses built up to protect them from facing reality.
The American right wing has become an authoritarian movement which operates by fabricating false evidence to demonize their opponents. They will hold to their fantasies about ACORN just as many on the right still think that Saddam was involved with the 9/11 attack, there was WMD in Iraq at the time of the war, that the claims of the Swift Boat Liars about John Kerry were anything other than politically motivated lies, and that Barack Obama is a Muslim born outside of the United States.