In spite of my newly minted status as one of Andrew Breitbart's internet punching bags, I haven't bothered to go after him in the wake of the revelation that the James O'Keefe videos he publicly championed are largely horseshit. I guess I kind of figure that everyone else is doing the heavy lifting for me on this one and for whatever reason I just don't feel like joining in the pile-on (which isn't to say that Breitbart's glaring journalistic errors and willful misdirection don't warrant it).
For those who haven't been following the story, O'Keefe, his partner-in-crime Hannah Giles, and Breitbart are facing some very legitimate questions now that it's been revealed that O'Keefe never wore an outrageous pimp costume during his "sting" of ACORN offices late last year and in fact was dressed very conservatively and behaved very politely. What makes the distinction important is that it shoots a pretty large hole in one of the most effective accusations ostensibly conveyed by the video: that ACORN employees were so fucking stupid and gullible that they couldn't even see through O'Keefe's obviously phony get-up. The other problem this creates is a much more daunting one: Given that O'Keefe, Giles and, yes, Breitbart have spent months hyping the pimp costume angle to death, either out-and-out lying about its existence and efficacy or simply failing to correct anyone who reached the wrong conclusion -- which was pretty much everybody -- their credibility is now shot. Why should anybody believe anything they have to say about ACORN or anything else?
The latest twist comes in a video posted by Mike Stark over at Stark Reports which shows Breitbart seeming to throw O'Keefe under the bus by admitting that he had no idea what was on the ACORN videos when he began touting them as the bombshell they now apparently aren't.
Salon: Acorn Tape Fraud: Does Andrew Breitbart Care?/3.2.10
Not long after the scandal first broke, I posted a quickie piece that kind of took aim at the outrage and indignation over the ACORN scandal. My issue was never that it wasn't a story -- only that it wasn't as big a story as the right wanted it to be. Even at its absolute worst -- a worst that seems to be eroding day by day -- it was never more than a couple of people at an underfunded and strangely inconsequential non-profit being caught doing something very dumb and potentially illegal. The idea that ACORN was somehow symbolic of grand scale tyranny and corruption on the left is laughable. ACORN, a group whose taxpayer subsidy was a drop in the proverbial bucket, was basically put in place to help underprivileged communities and was having trouble doing even that. In other words, it was always a small potatoes target to go after.
I can't help but wonder if Breitbart still thinks it was worth all the trouble it's brought him. Of course, as I've said quite a bit lately, the people who live and die by Breitbart's site -- and Fox News and talk radio, for that matter -- probably won't be swayed by contradictory facts anyway.
What's interesting about rereading the following piece is that the same media once accused by the right of not picking up the ACORN sting story when it was first breaking are now accused by the other side of not correcting and retracting the false claim that O'Keefe was dressed as a pimp.
"Nutcrackers" (Originally Posted, 9.17.09)
Let's just address something and get it out of the way. The ACORN story, while worth reporting, isn't anywhere near the "bombshell" Fox News is portraying it to be. Not even close. And there certainly isn't some nefarious far-reaching plot to cover it up by America's reputable news organizations.
First, on the "controversy" itself: It's largely overblown; the latest in a seemingly neverending cavalcade of right-wing conspiracy theories created and perpetuated in the hope of making some legitimate scandal stick to Barack Obama and the supposed liberal agenda in general. Yes, a few people in a very large group were charged with voter fraud during the 2008 campaign and were promptly fired. And absolutely, two conservative activists -- kids now being unsurprisingly hailed as folk heroes on the right -- posed as a pimp and prostitute and proved on tape that they could game the system by getting a few dumb-ass ACORN employees to suggest they hide their illicit income from the federal government. Is this illegal? Sure is. But even if you understand and accept that fact, what is this whole "scandal" really about? Supposedly, at least according to Glenn Beck and his myrmidons, it's about ACORN getting money from the government to push a so-called "liberal agenda" while ripping off the taxpayers. Well, let's see -- the "liberal agenda" part of the argument comes from the fact that ACORN exists solely to help the poor, which of course makes it evil and Un-American; the tax cheat part, meanwhile, hinges on ACORN having received $53 million in federal money since 1994. While this sounds like a small fortune, keep in mind that during the last eight years, $170 billion worth of pork projects were added to various pieces of legislation by some of the very Republican lawmakers now hypocritically feigning righteous indignation over the minimal slice of the pie ACORN's gotten. Does this make what ACORN's employees did right or mean that the organization shouldn't be held accountable for its actions? No, not at all -- but it helps to put the horseshit outrage into perspective.
Speaking of which, second, the big debate over the mainstream media's coverage of the ACORN story: I posted this earlier this morning in a comment, but it's worth getting into here. There's no doubt that one of the unfortunate truths about most news organizations is that they have a kind of group-think filter that will occasionally blind them to stories. I've seen all kinds of items slip through the cracks when a room full of journalists should've caught something (yet no one did). That's certainly at play here. But there's something else that needs to be kept in mind. Fox News has been on such a single-minded crusade to bring down Barack Obama (and anyone who argues with this really needs to have his or her head checked) that in theory it's worked against them, in the sense that other news outlets look at what Fox is doing -- what they're harping on and running into the ground -- and just figure it's more of the same from them. That it's not something any reputable organization would want to lend credibility to. I say "in theory" because the reality is that Glenn Beck's complaints about the "mainstream media" are thoroughly dishonest anyway. He doesn't really want the rest of the media going after Obama because then he loses the very personally profitable ability to point out as much to his legion of angry followers.
The problem, though, is as simple as the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Beck and his ilk have dragged out one insane conspiracy after another to the point where, to anyone with a brain, it's become little more than a constant drone. Nothing stands out. If Beck and Fox hit on a genuine argument, who the hell can hear it?
Cesca makes another decent point on this, one that doesn't absolve the press for neglecting the ACORN story but once again helps to put things in perspective. Fox News, for all its bitching and moaning about how the thieves and degenerates at ACORN are swindling average, ahem, employed Americans out of their voice and their hard earned cash, has been the biggest singular cheerleader for the very rich, very greedy, very white robber barons who've giddily high-fived each other while gang-banging the global economy and every single U.S. citizen -- to the tune of billions and billions of dollars -- in the process. I guess that that brand of greed is more "American" and therefore okay.
Keep something in mind: I've always believed that the press needs to keep an adversarial relationship with the White House. It's their job. But here's the thing: adversarial, yes -- but not unfairly so. George W. Bush was given more leeway and was overtly pandered to by the media more than any president in my lifetime. It was only after reality started becoming too grotesque to ignore that much of the press turned on him. In other words, Bush did something to garner his bad publicity. Fox and right-wing talk radio made a political and business decision immediately after the election of Barack Obama that they were going to represent the at-all-costs opposition. Hence, they've fomented a litany of complaints against Obama for no reason other than the fact that they fundamentally disagree with his politics. (Consider Beck ranting about "Oligarhies" and communist art, Limbaugh race-baiting under the guise of attacking "Obama's America," and crazed Birthers and Deathers marching through Washington, DC chanting about how the U.S. has "more Czars than the USSR" -- when that's true only because The USSR didn't have any fucking Czars.)
Can you understand why any news department with a reputation it values wouldn't want to be associated with that kind of lunacy in any way?
Yes, ACORN's a story. No, it's not a smoking gun -- against Obama or the media.