So it’s been a fairly hectic week around here for me, which means that I’m just now getting through some of the backlog of posts on blogs and news sites that I usually read. In doing so, I came across an article at the Washington Post which I hadn’t seen or even heard of previously, and it made me reflect yet again on a theme I’ve returned to often on this blog: the supposed “liberal bias” of the media.
Quick, what are the big stories of the past week, off the top of your head? If you follow politics, the stories would probably be the enormous earthquake in Japan (and attendant potential nuclear disaster), followed by the ongoing Wisconsin union-busting effort by new governor Scott Walker. But somewhere in that list would be the resignation of two of the top officials of NPR (the executive director Vivian Schiller, and one of the lead fundraisers/salespeople, Ron Schiller – no relation to Vivian) in the wake of a “sting” operation by political hack/hitman and Andrew Breitbart protégé James O’Keefe.
And – very likely – nowhere in that list would be the story of the New Hampshire House Speaker’s attempt to eliminate the right of college-age students to vote in the state, because (according to the Speaker, Mr. O’Brien) students vote liberal/Democratic because they are “foolish” and “vote their feelings.” The structural reasons why the O’Keefe story is center-stage, competing for air time and column-inches with astonishingly significant world/national news like the Japan and Wisconsin stories, while the New Hampshire story goes almost completely under the radar is yet another example of now NOT-liberal your national political media are.
I won’t link to the O’Keefe story, primarily because the hit job on NPR by O’Keefe is remarkably similar in its disingenuousness and outright fiction to his earlier smears of USDA worker Shirley Sherrod and the community organizing group ACORN, and I do not want to even passingly encourage or support through click-throughs that sort of defamatory and false “journalism.” There’s another reason I won’t link to the O’Keefe piece, though, which is that by now, everyone who even vaguely follows politics at the national level – and even many ordinary citizens – are already more than passingly familiar with the story.
O’Keefe’s hilariously-named “Veritas Project” (hilarious, given the regularity and severity of the organization’s disregard and even contempt for the truth; “Veritas” is Latin for truth) apparently decided to assist the current, resurrected GOP drive to defund public radio and television by seeing if Veritas could provide timely video evidence of the liberal bias and sympathy for radical Islam (don’t worry: I’ll explain in a moment) at NPR which O’Keefe and his fellow smear artists just knew ran throughout the organization. Because O’Keefe and his associates come from some of the same farthest-out reaches of the ideological fever-swamps of conservatism which spawned blogs and ideologies like that of Pamela Geller, proprietress of a blog called “Atlas Shrugs” which has been so consistently and notoriously anti-Muslim that it was recently declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the best way O’Keefe and Project Veritas could think of to ensnare NPR was by posing as a front group for the Muslim Brotherhood*.
The Muslim Brotherhood is an older Muslim organization, whose presence was discovered and blown up (pun intended) by the likes of Geller and O’Keefe into The Next Big Threat™, something akin to the next Al Qaeda, by virtue (apparently) of the real Al Qaeda not having been obliging enough to demonstrate any real power, organization or ability to threaten America in recent years – at least not in any publicly observable fashion. Never mind that in a recent authoritative piece by the conservative-leaning RAND corporation which was subsequently published in the Washington Post, the Muslim Brotherhood’s estimated support during the recent Egyptian struggle was a mere 15%, and its officials received only one percent of the vote in a hypothetical Presidential straw poll of Egyptians, after the departure of Hosni Mubarak. Conservative “true believers” like O’Keefe “just know” that the Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful, mortal enemy of America.
O’Keefe and his cohorts at “Veritas” devised an elaborate, fake organizational structure and web site for a group called “MEAC” (Muslim Education Action Center”), and attempted to prove NPR was ideologically in line with (or at least not opposed to) a non-profit supposedly “dedicated to promoting a proper understanding of Islam,” and to correcting negative stereotypes about Muslims and Islam in the American media, which was a transparently thin front group for a Sharia-based Muslim caliphate-desiring organization. O’Keefe planned to show NPR’s perfidy by offering them a $5,000,000 donation, while videotaping them during negotiations for the bogus donation which would show NPR’s willingness or eagerness to support a Muslim Brotherhood front group. How would NPR officials know that O’Keefe’s MEAC was a tissue-thin front group for the Muslim Brotherhood? O’Keefe planned to make his surrogates posing as officials of MEAC make it quite clear during the negotiations over the donation what the group’s true intent was.
As most people know by now, what O’Keefe’s video hit men got instead was Ron Schiller going off-the-record (so he thought, and stated explicitly to O’Keefe’s minions) waxing inadvisably dismissive and derogatory towards the tea party. Again, no links to the O’Keefe video hit piece, because it is frankly a work of fiction and should not be countenanced with links. But a review of the edited-for-release version against the actual raw footage, done by (of all outfits) Glenn Beck’s The Blaze web site demonstrated quite clearly that O’Keefe had – once again – doctored the footage to produce the result he went into the operation hoping to find (or at least the result O’Keefe felt was the most damaging to his target which could be cobbled together from “creatively edited” raw footage). Scott Baker, concluding his piece for The Blaze, sums things up thusly:
Anyone looking at the edited version of the Project Veritas video would be concerned about the conduct and views expressed by the NPR representatives…But even if you are of the opinion, as I am, that undercover reporting is acceptable and ethical in very defined situations, it is another thing to approve of editing tactics that seem designed to intentionally lie or mislead about the material being presented.
O’Keefe clearly has just as much of an agenda regarding NPR as he did in his previous video “stings.” And that’s OK: it’s worth noting that it’s neither illegal nor ethically wrong for private citizens to hold any particular political opinons, or opinions about various groups and organizations. O’Keefe the American citizen has as much right to think what he wishes about the morality, worthiness and value of NPR as you or I do. So I’ll leave it to Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, both veterans of public radio and television, and both far more credible and measured voices than O’Keefe will ever be, writing at truth-out.org, to put O’Keefe’s hit job on NPR’s reputation in its proper context.
But the reason O’Keefe has ruined his reputation is not because he holds specific views (even if those views are decidedly out of the mainstream), but because he continues to promote himself and his shoestring organizations as some sort of alternate, citizen’s journalism venture which O’Keefe claims gets at the “truth” that other media outlets either fail to notice, or – O’Keefe implies regularly – are too corrupt to cover. That makes O’Keefe and his organization(s) subject to assessment as journalists, by their own definition. Where O’Keefe falls down in this regard is, of course, in his apparent lack of understanding that, as Lawrence O’Donnell is fond of saying recently, while everyone is entitled to their opinion, no one should be entitled to their own set of facts. And that goes triple for people who self-describe as journalists. Facts are facts, and they add up, when viewed holistically and in their proper context, to something we collectively tend to think of as the “truth” of an issue.
Was Shirley Sherrod a racist, as the video initially released by Andrew Breitbart made it appear? In fairly short order, a comprehensive and honest public review of the total record – both of the event in question and of Sherrod’s larger personal history – revealed she was and is not. Did ACORN truly attempt to assist a faux-pimp-and-hooker duo (O’Keefe, in his debut performance) to bring underage prostitutes into the United States to work in the sex trade off-the-radar? Again, a comprehensive and honest public review of the total record (as well as no less than three separate formal investigations by various government agencies) reveal that they did not. And, in this latest supposed “liberal scandal,” though it’s unquestionable that Ron Schiller’s lambasting of the tea party (even after explicitly having “taken off his NPR hat”) was not just ill-advised but improper, it has come fairly quickly to light through the release of internal NPR emails that on the matter of accepting the support of O’Keefe’s fake “MEAC,” NPR executives from Vivian Schiller on down conducted themselves procedurally with appropriate professionalism and – ultimately – mistrust of the sketchiness of “MEAC.”
And yet, once again, an O’Keefe story has rocketed around not just the amateur world of blogs and comments sections of websites, but the “legitimate” news world as well, whose professional journalists by now ought to know better. Also, once again, O’Keefe’s eventually-proven-false (or at least wildly exaggerated) claims have had real-world effects. Both Schillers resigned, post-haste, when the most-recent O’Keefe piece came to light, just as Shirley Sherrod was pushed to resign in the wake of the deceptively-edited video which was released depicting her. In contrast, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this story has received little to no attention that I’m aware of over the past week, other than having been written up in the Washington Post:
New Hampshire’s new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They’re “foolish,” Speaker William O’Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group.
“Voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do,” he added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube. Students lack “life experience,” and “they just vote their feelings.”
Before I try to unpack this, stop for a moment. Can you imagine what the firestorm would have been like from the well-organized (and well-funded) right-wing attack machine, whether O’Keefe or Breitbart, or simply FAUX “News” and Rush Limbaugh and so many other well-established and at least nominally “respectable” conservative channels, if the above comments had come from a Democratic elected official and featured the word “conservative” in place of “liberal?” Especially if those comments had come in the context of an organized drive to pass legislation which would eliminate the voting rights of that very same group of people being railed against on tape? Just think about that for a moment. Imagine what sort of response would have already been not just launched but well underway on multiple fronts had a Democratic elected official in New Hampshire or any other state attempted to push legislation that would remove the voting privileges of a group that votes heavily conservative/Republican, while calling the members of that group “foolish” people who “lack life experience” and whose votes are frivolously cast based upon whims and feelings or ideology alone? We’d have heard nothing else for the entire week, including the Japanese earthquake and the Wisconsin unions story.
Frankly, that’s as it should be, in my opinion. If any elected Democrat had said such things, they should be the target of such a massive campaign, because those remarks would be unbelievably – almost cartoonishly – oafish and wrongheaded (not to mention incorrect). And the comments are no less so because they’re aimed by a Republican at young students. If the media were anywhere near as liberal as we’re constantly being told, this William O’Brien would have been interviewed relentlessly by commentators who would have made the obvious follow-ups to his remarks, such as noting that many people like Ted Kennedy or Bernie Sanders or (fill in your favorite elder liberal statesman, jurist or pundit) probably vote indistinguishably from these “foolish kids” who vote only on “feelings,” and would Mr. O’Brien like to explain why he thinks that might be? It would – should – be our privilege to watch Mr. O’Brien twist uncomfortably on his seat (if not in the wind), as he had to choose between saying what he assuredly would like to – but recognizes he could not – say in response to such a question (that Kennedy/Sanders/whomever is equally foolish and emotional despite decades of thoughtful service to this country), and having to admit that perhaps there are valid intellectual reasons for voting based upon liberal principles which those students were also likely to be operating from, instead of “foolish emotionalism.”
I realize that this story concerns remarks made not by a national elected leader but by a New Hampshire state official. However, Mr. O’Brien is the state’s speaker of the house, which, while it may not confer upon him the stature or national profile of even his own state’s national representatives or Senators, certainly serves to make him quite a powerful official indeed in one of our fifty states. By contrast, NPR – though it receives federal funding – is not even a part of government per se, and none of its officers or directors hold any official role in the government. Yet a heavily-edited (and, it turns out, inaccurate and mendacious) videotape from a source known to engage in shady practices along these lines makes the front page everywhere in what is a universally-acknowledged heavy news week, while this story of a very powerful state official’s attempt to restrict the voting rights of yet another group of people who – surprise – just happen to vote reliably and overwhelmingly Democratic/liberal goes by with hardly any fanfare.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Liberal Media? Please.
* In a funny footnote to this entire story, Pamela Geller, on her blog Atlas Shrugs, apparently “discovered” MEAC between the time O’Keefe set up the bogus web site and the time they sprung the trap on NPR. I don’t know how long the MEAC web site was up – it may have been months, or it may have been only a few weeks or even days. But Geller apparently trawls the Internet regularly enough for evidence of scary, scary Muslim-ness that she found MEAC’s site all on her own. My guess is that prior to O’Keefe putting his sting in motion by giving the web site address to NPR executives, Geller was probably one of the only visitors to the pre-fab, fake site. Nevertheless, she devoted a fair amount of time and energy to it, denouncing MEAC as practicing “stealth jihad” and accusing them of wanting “to shove the sharia down your kafir throat,” while declaring that she, Pamela Geller, would “rather blow up the world than live as a slave.”
I suppose if MEAC had been a real organization, we ought to be extending a note of thanks to Geller for being so vigilantly watching our country’s Internet highways and byways for any signs of encroaching apocalyptic Islamic radicalism/terrorism. But the problem with Geller’s (and O’Keefe’s) approach to and understanding of the genuine threat to America posed by militant, radicalized Islam that’s illustrated so vividly, in a way that few other events could illustrate it, by the fact that Geller was caught “outing” and lambasting a fake Islamic radical group, is that it’s Geller, O’Keefe and their ilk’s estimation of the strength and numbers of such groups and individuals that’s lacking, not their willingness to be vigilant. Geller’s long accused Imam Rauf of the proposed Islamic community center called “Cordoba House” of being a “stealth jihadist” as well. What the O’Keefe/MEAC incident proves is that Geller is only able to recognize the intentionally-fake rantings of a disguised fellow conservative. When confronted with the real and complex personalities and motivations of actual Muslims like Rauf, she gets it wrong every time.