James O’Keefe and a Media Movement Gone Mad
Written by Eric Boehlert
What is wrong with these people?
That’s a refrain that goes through my brain many times each week, and I’m sure goes through the minds of my Media Matters colleagues as we monitor the right-wing media and continue to be dumbstruck by what passes for content. Granted, players there have never gotten bogged down in details, and have rarely let the facts get in the way of a good, liberal-hating yarn. This is, after all, a team that’s led onto the field everyday by a chronic liar, Rush Limbaugh.
So the bar has never been set very high. But since Obama’s inauguration, there has been a frightening, wholesale change within the oxymoronic world known as “conservative journalism.”
Bottom line: there’s no adult supervision, which allows the likes of James O’Keefe to rush to the front of the right-wing media line. And to be honest, he doesn’t look that out of place standing along side such committed fabricators as Glenn Beck or Pam Geller or Jim Hoft or Andrew Breitbart, or Fill In the Blank for whomever is making right-wing headlines these days describing Obama in the most fanatical and hateful way possible.
This is what the right-wing media now looks like. It looks like O’Keefe and his reportedly skeevy plan to lure a reporter into some pseudo sex den for a gotcha punk. It looks like Glenn Beck warning about progressive “killers” who loom on the horizon. And it sounds like Rush Limbaugh spitting out “Ayatollah Obama,” when referring to the President of the United States on the AM dial.
And folks, that’s just from just this week.
I see that handful of conservative activists and media voices have offered up tsk-tsking condemnations of O’Keefe’s latest tale. (But not mentor Breitbart. His Big Journalism bloggers remained uniformly mum about the O’Keefe fiasco on Wednesday.) And I assume those handful of conservative O’Keefe critics are embarrassed by his actions, embarrassed that he’s viewed as an influential young gun in right-wing media circles, and embarrassed that Breitbart once lobbied for a Pulitzer Prize on O’Keefe’s behalf.
But allegedly planning to lure a reporter onto a floating sex palace in order to surreptitiously film an uncomfortable seduction, is precisely what you get when a movement announces there no rules, when there are no adults around to oversee things, and there’s not even a minimal expectation for coherency. It’s what you get when inmates run the media asylum. So nobody should be surprised.
The sad truth? O’Keefe is a product –a creation– of the right-wing media culture that now eagerly pushes partisan propaganda as a placeholder for “journalism,” and doesn’t care how that “journalism” is produced.
So of course, conservatives have only themselves to blame for what’s the latest bout of O’Keefe-related humiliation. (You remember the telephone repairmen, right?) Because where were those right-wing voices of concern last winter, for instance, when it became obvious O’Keefe had used deceptive editing in order to create the mirage that he had entered ACORN offices dressed as a pimp. When it was plain that the self-styled prankster had pushed a phony tale to reporters about his pimp costume, and even deceived Breitbart to make it happen? That he had dishonestly edited out exculpatory material without telling anyone. Why didn’t anyone on his side call foul? Why wasn’t O’Keefe kicked out of the club? Why didn’t anyone in a leadership position within conservative media point out the obvious: that even right-wing attack journalists shouldn’t be in the business of secretly videotaping people, editing the clips to make them more scandalous than they really were, and then calling it ‘news’?
I certainly didn’t hear many inter-squad protests last winter. Why? Because O’Keefe’s a loyal member of the Obama-haters, and that media movement in the last 20 months has eliminated all standards of decency and fair play. Because members no longer care if allegations are easily debunked and provably false. They’ve left the murky waters of quasi-truthiness far behind and are now comfortably swimming in the waters of pure deception.
I think a turning point came in July 2009, when Fox News’ Glenn Beck announced on national television that Obama, whose mother is white and who was raised by his white grandparents, had a “deep-seated hatred of white people,” of “white culture,” and was a “racist.” At that point, the far-right press had a decision to make: defend Beck’s jaw-dropping, race-baiting claim, or denounce them (however gently) as misguided and out of bounds for a wannabe mainstream American political movement.
At the cornerstone conservative publication National Review, Jonah Goldberg sent a clear message regarding Beck when the high-profile pundit, who often appears on Beck’s television show (it’s exposure that helps Goldberg sell copies of his books), rushed to Beck’s defense over the “racist” rhetoric and argued that if Beck thought Obama was racist, then he ought to say so.
Message to the movement: anything goes! Which for this crew is like yelling “Open Bar!” during a campus Happy Hour.
The conservative movement, and specifically its media wing, now makes absolutely no attempt to police itself; to maintain the slightest semblance of standards and common sense. I mean, c’mon it’s an environment where a habitual liar like Jim Hoft has risen to the ranks of a trusted General.
And here’s the thing: the other side knows it. They know O’Keefe is a two-bit prankster who can’t tell the truth, and that Hoft probably isn’t even right twice a day. When Media Matters’ Ben Dimiero recently posted a complete and unequivocal take-down of Hoft’s fact-free madness, detailing the long laundry list of open fabrications that Hoft posts under the guise of ‘news,’ the silent response from the right-wing blogosphere was deafening. Nobody that I saw even tried to defend Hoft’s work. I took that as a not-very-subtle acknowledgment that Hoft’s posts are basically made up -concocted—but that the right-wing blogosphere doesn’t care and has no problem linking to his Obama-hating fantasies on a daily basis.
But this is what the conservative media now condone and embrace, so like it or not, James O’Keefe fits right in.
A senior fellow at Media Matters for America, and a former senior writer for Salon, Boehlert’s first book, “Lapdogs: How The Press Rolled Over for Bush,” was published in May.