Wednesday, February 03, 2010

We Report, You've Already Decided

I'm not sure there's been a story in recent memory that's better illustrated the unnavigable divide between the perspectives of the left and right than the whole James O'Keefe controversy -- especially when it comes to each side's opinion of the media. As far as the right is concerned, O'Keefe is a modern day folk hero, the conservative press's answer to Michael Moore and Bob Woodward and a guy whose efforts to rage against the liberal machine by way of supposedly capital-J journalism is deserving of a Pulitzer. To the left, meanwhile, O'Keefe is a joke -- a rich, dumb kid whose irrational hatred of progressives has tainted and compromised every "investigation" he's ever undertaken, culminating, of course, with his arrest following what seems to be a failed attempt to tamper with the phones at a Democratic senator's office.

The battle lines over O'Keefe are just about set in stone. He's essentially the Elian Gonzalez of the perpetually stalemated left-vs-right media war: Anybody who takes an interest in his case isn't likely to be indifferent to how the whole thing turns out.

Maybe that's why a couple of new reports about James O'Keefe, while mildly eyebrow-raising at face value, don't really amount to much in the great scheme of things -- simply because they're just not going to change anyone's already made-up mind. Today both Salon and the Washington Independent are reporting that O'Keefe attended and played a hands-on role in a conference in 2006 that hosted leading white nationalists -- basically putting O'Keefe in the direct company of racists and anti-Semites and implying that he may be one himself (or that he at least had issues with those who weren't white, Christian, Americans during his time as a campus Republican activist).

It's certainly true that more than a few of O'Keefe's stunts have seemed to specifically target minorities, but does that make him a racist or simply your average conservative -- given that issues like affirmative action and illegal immigration have traditionally been right-wing boogeymen -- and is there even a distinction to be drawn? There's just no way around the fact that a guy who refers to himself as "James O'Keefe III" on his Twitter profile and dresses in a faux-ghetto get-up -- what Real Time with Bill Maher's Chris Kelly humorously refers to as "Prescott, the Preppie Pimp" -- to dupe an urban outreach group is going to face some serious questions about his motives and mindset.

The problem, though, is that those who've already eagerly jumped to the defense of O'Keefe aren't going to be swayed from their beliefs; it would take the revelation that their hero wandered the streets of Lower Manhattan, Bateman-like, scooping homeless peoples' eyes out with a pen knife for them to possibly rethink their devotion -- and even then, the story would have to be reported by Andrew Breitbart himself for the right to even believe it was true. And that's the real point, and the real shame: The distrust between the two media factions is so toxic that each side simply discounts any negative press against it by the other as made-up mudslinging. The Fox and Breitbart people aren't going to give a good crap that Salon and the Washington Independent have uncovered what could be a history of racist behavior or sympathy on the part of James O'Keefe -- the same way the left was hardly willing to consider that O'Keefe may have been on to something when he targeted ACORN.

My opinion? Since he first entered the spotlight with a hell of a lot of fanfare, I've always pegged James O'Keefe as an arrogant and obnoxious little tool -- a modern young-conservative cliché in just about every way and damn sure not the brilliant investigative journalist he claims to be (for a whole host of very objective reasons). Much of this is why the notion that he has issues with minorities -- and that they seep liberally (no pun intended) into his advocacy -- doesn't faze me in the least because I can't say that I didn't expect it. But I'm willing to concede that the very fact that I feel this way is likely part of the problem.

I do my best to keep an open mind these days, but if they have their way, the echo chambers and spin merchants on both sides of any politically charged story will be happy to reach a conclusion for me -- do the heavy lifting so I don't have to. And the noise they're pumping out is so loud that you, literally, can't hear yourself think anymore -- which is probably the idea.

So James O'Keefe may have broken bread with racists and anti-Semites. The people who hate him won't be shocked and the people who worship him won't believe it or won't care. And if no one's really listening, it makes you wonder if it's even worth reporting at all.


Michael J. West said...

I used to be disgusted with the people who didn't bother with politics, who couldn't care less which party or person was in power or what their policies were. But I'm beginning to think those people the only sane ones.

BurtCarter said...

To the left leaning people and media please concentrate on real news and getting your party back in order.

To the right leaning people and media please concentrate on real news and getting your party back in order.

To ACORN: Please ask yourself what kind of idiots you hire or let volunteer at your organization that actually thought this moron was a pimp and allowed him to be canonized by the right and boosted his ego to the point where he wanted to bug a Senator's office.

Finally to James O'Keefe Dumb Ass III: If you really did try to bug a Senator's office, sleep with your back to the wall and one eye open in prison because I'm pretty sure attending that conference and pulling your little stunts at college will make you very popular.

If you don't go to prison, just please fade away. I lean to the right and I can say you bring nothing to our table other than increase the spoiled little prick census by 1.

Anonymous said...

People who do not pay attention to politics are part of the problem. A democracy cannot stand without a well informed citizenry. And more and more these days I just decide to trust no one, and do as much independent fact checking as I can.

That should be the new message to the masses.

Michael J. West said...

Well it may be that a democracy cannot stand without a well informed citizenry, Anon, but the better informed you are the more liable you are to be depressed and mentally unhealthy.

Well-informed means knowing that much more acutely how rarely the right thing gets done, and how even the best-intentioned people have to dilute the right thing and compromise it with elements of the wrong.

Hence, I'm starting to sympathize with the people who have no greater priorities than their XBoxes and who's this week's guest judge on American Idol.

Ref said...

Gee, do you suppose these revelations just MIGHT get certain "legitimate" media outlets (NPR, anyone?) to stop talking about this twerp as a journalist and dismiss him as the freak-show he really is?

Clowny said...

There's not much parsing to do here. Sneaking into a federal building and tampering with the duties of federal employees is close to smuggling a box cutter onto a jet and holding it to the pilot's throat for a "gotcha" photo to prove that airline security could be improved.

It gets you a trip to the pokey, gives you a criminal record, and proves that you're a goddamned moron.

If Michael Moore had done something similar, what would conservatives' reactions be? And why should it be any different?

The law's the law's the law's the law... at least, it used to be.

Alanna said...

Great article, C.

I think as a society of instant gratification, a "maximizer" country, if you will - polarity is the only constant that proves attractive when we are muddled, one-arm raised like zombies from the grave, within a heaping pile of choice.

Chad said...

I think its important. Look racism isn't something people can wave away lightly. If its inconsequential that someone who holds sway in our political society openly holds a disdain for people of color and we barely bat an eyelash than what kind of signal does that send to those communities of color for whom that scorn is reserved. What kind of signal does it send to those who want to expand and intensify that scorn?

Chez said...

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not excusing anything this moron did and I'm not saying that it's alright if he has issues with blacks and other minorities to the point where he may in fact be racist. What I'm talking about is strictly the way the coverage of O'Keefe, any kind of coverage, plays out in the media and the effect it has on the audience. The fact is, I think his supporters would make excuses for him no matter what, while his detractors would condemn him. In this case, although I it's reprehensible if he does in fact have racist inclinations, I'm just not sure the revelation matters much.

Douglas Holgate said...

Except two independent investigations of ACORN after the O'Keefe video release found NO illegal conduct.

And in every single case presented on video O'Keefe not only WASN'T dressed as a pimp when he was filming the "stings" (a fact that as far as i know has never been reported) each Acorn employee followed protocol, bar 2 who have been fired (Not because they offered illegal advice but because they failed to alert their supervisor to the incidents and have him or her present at the meetings.)

So i absolutely see your point. The fact that this disingenuous snot weasel is potentially a racist douche-bag or hangs out with the scum is hardly surprising.

The fact that i know this dick's name and it's his and Brietbart's narrative that has been injected into the zeitgeist and stuck there without question. The fact these elitist right wing ratfuckers haven't been run out of town like the keystone hucksters they are is the real issue in my mind.

Your Liberal Media at work.

Bill White said...

This patriot uncovered one of the biggest, if not THE biggest conspiracy in modern times. The Honorable Mr. O'Keefe III $aved this once-free nation from far left Chicago-style Democrat corruption. Just like my crusade, this truthseeker's work has just started. The MSM will not be able to stop this modern day Paul Revere as he finds even more corruption under Hussein Nobama, Pelosi, Reid and all of their followers who wish to tax hard-working patriots to death.

The only place where I can find the truth about this amazing fella is on "Hannity" each night. Sean did an interview with Mr. O'Keefe that I burned on a gold HD DVD. I hope my grandkids will watch this in 40 years and will see how one man (besides Mr. Bauer) $aved America from high taxe$, Socialistic health care, sexual debauchery, environmentalism and Secular Progressivism.

@Alanna Ah, you bring up zombies. It sounds like Godless Hollyweird has too much influence on you. You need to find a church right quick. I know that's probably tough if you live in the Godless Northeast. If you ever have the pleasure to visit Mississippi, please come over for Prayer and Pie at our house.

Alanna said...

@BillWhite - if only I was 14 and we met in an AOL chat room...Le sigh...but thanks for the invite ;)

Tania said...

It all seems hopeless, really. But in answer to your last statement, yes, it's worth reporting. If only so we can all feel suitably despairing!

It's 'doesn't faze me', by the way, not 'doesn't phase me'. It's a very common mistake, though. Sorry to be that person... ;-)

Chez said...

You are 100% correct on the faze thing. And I learned something new.


Brian H. said...

Douglas has this exactly right. The left doesn't need to do that much soul searching about ACORN. The whole narrative was blown out of proportion by the laziest of the stenographers in the media, just as Bretibart & Co. would have wanted it. You may think this proves your point about ideological mistrust of the media, but there's plenty of documentation to support Doug's point.

Also, I'm surprised that you'd want to make something of a false equivalency here in the interest of "balance," but that seems to be the way to prove your independence these days.

littlebitoffiesty said...

...a modern young-conservative cliché in just about every way and damn sure not the brilliant investigative journalist he claims to be…

Sounds like a character out of Animal House. :o)

Chez said...

Oh for fuck's sake, Brian. Don't you get it? It really doesn't matter what I think -- whether I'm "proving my independence" or being a blatant partisan. The people who are gonna like what I have to say probably already liked it long before they got here and the ones who think I'm some ranting liberal asshole probably have the same prejudices, just from the other side of the coin.

That was the point.

I'm not saying that there's an equivalence in the way the O'Keefe story has panned out on the left and the right -- just that it barely matters because I'm not sure anybody's hearing this tree falling in the forest anyway.

Brian H. said...

I didn't come here to insult you, and I really am a fan of your blog. My only point was that when addressing something like the O'Keefe issue, not letting the objectively provable facts slip down the memory hole goes a long way toward shaping the narrative, regardless of what you, I, or anyone else thinks. And I don't presume to be teaching you anything new; I was just seconding what Douglas said, because I thought it added some perspective.

I'm also trying not to adopt an existentially despairing worldview about the media and the blurring of opinion and journalism. I come to your blog because you're someone who has real experience and insight into how the media works, and I was just hoping to add to the conversation.


Chez said...

Sorry if it seemed like I snapped at you. It's impossible to see from where you guys are, I guess, but rarely do I get truly riled up when writing or responding, even if it occasionally reads like it.

I do understand your point. I'm also willing to acknowledge that I'm momentarily fed-up with the partisan nature of political coverage (while acknowledging that I'm sure I've been to blame on more than one occasion). It's just getting exhausting, and as I said, the O'Keefe story more than any I've seen recently really seems to draw the line between the conservative and liberal media camps.

Brian H. said...

No worries, I think I've become overly sensitive to perceived "Broderism" even when none is intended. "Exhausting" is the right word, too. The insanity of the media's political coverage really kicked into overdrive during the election, and I was right there riding that tiger, at HuffPo, 538, Balloon Juice, MSNBC, you name it. I foolishly thought it would subside somewhat after the election, but this was before Palin started making such inspired us of her Facebook page, for one depressing example.