We're Missing the Point About the O'Keefe-NPR Non-Scandal

If you haven't heard, rightwing slime mongerer James O'Keefe struck again and managed to give National Public Radio (NPR) a black eye, although to a considerable extent, this was a self-inflicted wound. Over at Whiskey Fire, Thers makes a very astute observation (italics mine):

The most bizarre aspect of this wingnut "sting" is its intended "gotcha." What the wingnuts thought they would be able to "prove" is that NPR is a biased socialist left-wing organization that would be thrilled to spread Islamist propaganda for a hefty paycheck.

What got the NPR executives fired was their alleged meanie comments about the Teabaggers being racists.

But the O'Keefe ratfuckers did not set this up in order to "bust" NPR executives as media moguls who do not like conservatives.

No, they hypothesized that NPR executives would be delighted to take money from shadowy Muslims and use it to undermine American security.

In this they were proved decisively wrong, in that the NPR executives did not take the money.

And in connecting the dots to the conservative--and O'Keefe-related attempt to smear Planned Parenthod--Thers is dead on target:

That "sting" depended upon the right-wing fantasy that there exist extensive well-organized juvenile "sex-trafficking" rings, something that upon even cursory examination turns out to be utter crap.

What I'm getting at is that I don't think it is at all recognized the degree to which right-wing "ideas" are merely the emanations of a carefully constructed, internally coherent, yet deeply nonsensical folklore. It's a hothouse cargo cult that scavenges in plain sight, battening off frequent, generous Fox News airdrop cultivation.

What the O'Keefe "stings" should reveal, objectively, is that Matt Taibbi was far too kind to them, but basically correct: they have no capacity or desire to cope with empirical reality.

What's also notable is how quickly the Tea Partiers are able to adopt and discard lines of 'argument': if NPR isn't Muslimnist, then NPR is 'liberal.'

We see the same thing all the time with creationists. And that's not a coincidence--there's a lot of overlap between the Tea Party and the creationists.

Just remember: nothing in movement conservatism makes sense except in the light of creationism.

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I'm no fan of O'Keefe, I think he's vile. But I don't really see much of a difference between his intentions and the prank caller to Governor Walker, or the Michigan Democrats indicted on a fake Tea Party scandal. By lying to people about who you represent in order to coax information that can be used against you seems like a tactic that both sides use, but confirmation bias uses the information their side obtains and rebukes the other sides.

Granted, O'Keefe has a known pattern for these schemes. So you could quantify him as being worse, I just hate it when anyone lies and misrepresents themselves in order to make political points.

What's also notable is how quickly the Tea Partiers are able to adopt and discard lines of 'argument': if NPR isn't Muslimnist, then NPR is 'liberal.'

And forget about whole lines of argument, too. Quite a few of the people who nowadays 'know for a fact' about the Islamist cell in every mosque and their 'grand plan to undermine America', are the same people who 20 years ago knew 'for a fact' about the Satanist covens in every American city and their 'grand plan to undermine America'. They're completely unperturbed by the fact that their earlier moral panic has long since been proven to have been completely (but really completely) baseless, they happily endorse the newest fictitious scare-about-town and again believe it with ever fiber of their heart. For most of them, fact-checking involves only one question: "Does this alleged fact support my worldview?"

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 20 Mar 2011 #permalink

Chris, who posted an edited recording, and who posted the full recording? If you can't see the difference in these approaches you are not very perceptive.

By anthrosciguy (not verified) on 20 Mar 2011 #permalink

OK, fair enough. An edited recording is more dubious than an unedited recording. If we know conclusively that the recording hasn't been edited, then I'll grant that,...but how does it change the fact that when someone is purposely misrepresenting himself/herself in order to obtain information from someone, it's any less insidious?

If someone is a suspect for a crime, and cops pretend to be the suspect's defense attorney in order to get information out of him or her, is that OK if the suspect is indeed guilty?


I only use this an example to make the point that when someone lies in order to catch someone in the act of some malfeasance, it should be viewed contemptible by all.

What's even more entertaining is that the most "scandalous" comments made by the NPR guy were when he was quoting establishment republicans. Of course it was edited to make it sound like they were his opinions (though in fairness, he did volunteer some of the stuff as well).

Of course if NPR had come out fighting, perhaps things might have been different. But instead they cowered, and then surrendered. Perhaps they are taking a leaf from the play-book of the current White House, because that's been working so well...

Chris Lindsay | March 20, 2011 11:23 AM:

I'm no fan of O'Keefe, I think he's vile. But I don't really see much of a difference between his intentions and the prank caller to Governor Walker

O'Keefe is responsible for distributing multiple deceptively edited videos. That is fraud. The recording of the prank call to Governor Walker was posted in their entirety. It was not edited to create false impressions. The difference is that the O'Keefe videos are fraud, and recording of the prank call to Walker is truth.

The media spin has confused our sense of ethics. The fundamental difference is that one is a lie and the other is truth. I would much rather have seen NPR defend itself than give in to the media spin.

By Ecopolitidae (not verified) on 20 Mar 2011 #permalink

Chris, in order to preserve justice, we limit what cops can do if they want the resulting evidence to be admissible in a court of law. It should not be surprising that actions that are completely acceptable for a journalist are reprehensible for a cop (and vice-versa). Further, there's a major distinction between posing as a prospective client/customer and posing as someone who would normally have confidentiality obligations.

The problem with O'Keefe/Rose/Breitbart isn't pretexting, it's the manipulative editing and outright lying about the results.

By ZachPruckowski (not verified) on 21 Mar 2011 #permalink