How do you stop effective techniques from your political adversaries?
The Andrew Breitbart / Shirley Sherrod controversy, the Hannah Giles / James O’Keefe ACORN sting, and the current James O’Keefe / Simon Templar / Shaughn Adeleye NPR sting all have a common technique that been used to attempt to discredit them – call it a Misdirection Pile-on.
In all three cases – Sherrod, ACORN, and NPR – there were proven issues that resulted in immediate action; people fired, placed on leave and organizational defunding. Whether you agree or disagree with the outcome, you can’t argue with that effectiveness. Because a group like Media Matters for America has been so demonstrably ineffective in defending these liberal institutions, they need to try to weaken any future attacks. That’s precisely why organizations like MMfA are so desperate to discredit Andrew Breitbart, James O’Keefe and (as I’ve seen firsthand) anyone who works with, defends or even sort of likes them.
So here’s the blueprint for Misdirection Pile-on : when with incontrovertible video evidence, gin up some faux-troversy that will get the liberal base to ignore the real controversy and focus on some side issue that you can beat into the ground through the left wing blogosphere’s echo chamber and (in a slightly subdued form) into the mainstream media that sympathizes with you. Use meaningless catch phrases like ‘heavily edited’ and watch gleefully when they become common parlance.
And that strategy is exactly what Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze and his editor Scott Baker enabled in what seems to be a naked attempt to hurt two competitive right wing blogs, The Daily Caller and Breitbart.com. Baker’s piece called DOES RAW VIDEO OF NPR EXPOSE REVEAL QUESTIONABLE EDITING & TACTICS? was classic Misdirection; focusing on minor issues and Baker-created strawmen while ignoring the undeniable facts of the story. With the Misdirection in place, organizations like Media Matters and endless writers start the Pile-on and repeat over and over how the NPR sting has been debunked, discredited and can now safely be ignored.
There are a couple of ways to analyze Baker’s piece on The Blaze. In this post, I’m going to look at how Baker’s choice of points to question gibes with the initial reporting on the story. You’ll see that Baker ignores two major substantive points about the NPR sting completely in his article, which then gives the Pile-on media totally free reign to ignore them as well. In a future post, I’ll look at the substance of Baker’s claims.
Aside from two speculative points about the audio, here are the six issues that Baker and The Blaze highlight…
- Muslim Brotherhood Connections
- Does Ron Schiller react to “Sharia” mission statement with amusement?
- How does Schiller describe Republicans?
- The “seriously racist” Tea Party
- Are liberals more educated than conservatives?
- Does NPR need federal funding?
Was the media fooled by James O’Keefe on these six points? Were these ‘key points’ of the video, as NPR has suggested?
One objective way to begin to answer that question is to actually look at the initial coverage when the story broke on March 8th. What were major media outlets saying about the NPR sting and did Baker have reason to worry that they’d been hoodwinked by O’Keefe and company?
Here’s the summary of the points four mainstream and blogosphere media sources reported when the story first broke.
- Describes group as ‘Muslim Education Fund’
- Tea party seriously racist
- Defends firing of Juan Williams as non-racist, non-bigoted
- Better for NPR not to receive funding
Yahoo! News / The Upshot’s Michael Calderone Initial Reporting
- Republican Party hijacked by xenophobic, racist people
- Proud of Juan Williams firing
- Doesn’t interject at comments about Jews controlling the media
- Laughs at joke that NPR is National Palestinian Radio
- Republican Party / Tea Party involved in people’s personal lives
- Tea Party has hijacked GOP, calls them racist
- Republicans anti-intellectual and liberals are more fair and balanced
- Report shows skepticism over O’Keefe
Slate / Dave Weigel Intial Reporting
- What would happen if NPR cut off funding
- Tea Party Racists
- Juan Williams
- Points out “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” sign isn’t really in front of NPR
This isn’t a fully comprehensive sample, obviously, but it is pretty representative of the coverage. When we compare the initial reporting to what The Blaze’s “concerns” are, a few things immediately jump out.
- · First, no media outlet I found mentioned two of Baker’s issues – the Muslim Brotherhood connections and the Sharia connection. These aren’t issues that confused or even interested anyone until Baker brought them up him, in an attempt to find points of criticism.
- · The issue of Schiller’s view of the current Republican party and the Tea Party come up in every article and Baker raises questions about the video’s accuracy on these issues in points 3-5.
- Baker’s sixth point about NPR’s need for federal funding also comes up in the intial reporting.
- · The coverage – even the initial coverage – is openly skeptical of O’Keefe
But what’s equally interesting are points Baker DOESN’T challenge O’Keefe’s work on.
- · Juan Williams’s firing comes up in most of the initial reporting but not Baker’s piece. This is an especially interesting omission on Baker’s part since the Juan Williams firing was O’Keefe’s initial impetus for looking into NPR in the first place.
- · Schiller’s acceptance of anti-Semitic comments was mentioned in initial reporting and again, no challenge from Baker. Schiller also made his own comments about Jews controlling the newspapers.No mention of this anywhere in the Blaze article
These points are actually more important and germane than Schiller’s admittedly personal opinions about the Tea Party. In fact, I have no reason to believe that Schiller’s resignation wasn’t more about the anti-Semitic comments than the Tea Party comments. After all, the Anti-Defamation League immediately called Schiller and NPR out for an apology. The Tea Party comments are grabby and polarizing but aside from being possibly indicative of the general worldview at NPR’s executive level, they aren’t nearly as resignation-inducing.
But The Blaze did its job – the misdirection worked. Just do a Google search for “NPR O’Keefe Anti-Defamation” with the time limit set to ‘Last Week’ and you’ll see that that part of story has been cleanly erased, relegated to a Bill Moyers penned piece that asks whether it’s a double standard for the ADL to ask for an apology.
Do I think Baker was in on some conspiracy with the ‘institutional left’ to discredit O’Keefe, Brietbart and The Daily Caller? No, of course not. Scott Baker has his own reasons and they aren’t the same as Media Matters.
But when the Pile-on started and the talking point of the day became ‘the NPR story is debunked!’, did Baker jump into the fray and say that that wasn’t was he meant at all? Did The Blaze try to set the record straight on issues like the Juan Williams firing or Schiller’s nodding acceptance when talk turned to the ‘Jew run media’?
No, course not – they ran a story about all the kudos they were getting.