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.