Sunday, October 3, 2010

How James O'Keefe finally went too far

James O'Keefe thinks he is a victim.

I've been approached by CNN for an interview where I know what their angle is: They want to portray me and my friends as crazies, as non-journalists, as unprofessional and likely as homophobes, racists or bigots of some sort....

Instead, I've decided to have a little fun. Instead of giving her a serious interview, I'm going to punk CNN. Abbie has been trying to seduce me to use me, in order to spin a lie about me. So, I'm going to seduce her, on camera, to use her for a video. This bubble-headed bleach-blonde who comes on at five will get a taste of her own medicine, she'll get seduced on camera and you'll get to see the awkwardness and the aftermath.

Let's take a look at the context for a second. A 26 year old whose only accomplishment is a string of fraudulent videos was being courted, so to speak, by a professional journalist who flew to Maryland at his request not to interview him, but merely to persuade him to consent to be interviewed. With this kind of red carpet treatment, to insist on personal victimhood requires one to be either a con artist, a sociopath, or possessed of a high degree of cognitive dissonance. Or perhaps all three simultaneously. It would take the proverbial army of psychologists to suss out which is which in the current conservative movement and their collective fantasy of victimization.

The reason that this particular stunt of O'Keefe's is getting significiant pushback - despite abundant objective evidence of his perfidy - is because this time that fantasy of victimhood has collided with mainstream journalism's fantasy: its self-image of doing serious, important work.

Sure, conservatives have mounted a decades-long assault on journalism and instead of pushing back, time and time again mainstream journalism has accepted the non-existent charge of "liberal bias" and dutifully moved rightward. But in a perverse way, conservative attacks actually validate the mainstream media's sense of self-importance. They reassure journalists that they have an effect on the public, that their work really does matter. And they don't have to do any real reassessment of journalistic institutions, they just have to tweak the content a bit, quote more conservative talking points, add more right-wing correspondents and columnists. The liberal critique of journalism is more substantial, raising basic questions about the methods of journalism and its role in society and attacking the core assumptions of the mainstream media. In other words, liberals aren't just saying you are leaning too far in one direction from the center, they are saying that you are doing your jobs incorrectly in a very fundamental way. This is, I think, why while the reaction of journalists to liberal criticism ranges from being dismissive to going completely apeshit, conservative criticism is meekly accepted.

In the past, the media has completely embraced criticism from this particular conservative, perhaps most famously exemplified by the ombudsman of the Washington Post asserting that the media should pay more attention to the already overhyped ACORN story. But this time the reaction is an immediate pushback. You can see it in this tellingly defensive remark buried in CNN's story on O'Keefe's latest prank:

Boudreau, who has won multiple awards for her investigative reporting, called the comments "ridiculous."

You can just hear it, can't you? "How dare you question that we're doing serious journalism here? We've won awards."

It is even more blatant in Boudreau's first person account of the incident, which is astonishingly defensive about her nine years as a professional journalist. Since I rarely watch CNN these days, I can't judge how good of a journalist Boudreau is, but if you're going to assert your seriousness as a journalist, perhaps you should mention some of the actual journalistic work you've done instead of merely proclaiming your work ethic. "But I got blood on my shoes! I'm a serious journalist!" This is the kind of bland, content-less "journalism" that substitutes showing up at the crime sense and walking in blood for actually investigating a crime, the kind of "journalism" that congratulates itself and gives itself "multiple awards for investigative reporting" without tackling or questioning issues in any substantive manner. For this kind of journalism, O'Keefe's crime wasn't to be a partisan activist trafficking in fraudulent videos, it was to question this self-congratulatory fantasy, and journalism isn't going to let him get away with it.

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