Okay, okay. Enough of O’Keefe and Breitbart and all the other ACORNizers who prey on media sensationalism and public gullibility. Attention is what they’re really after, and we’re not going to give them any more of it. Well, at least until the next “scandal” they brew up.
But your Professor Of Propaganda wouldn’t be doing his duty if he didn’t extract something of value from all of this. So here is a summary of lessons learned from ACORNization thus far. Pay close attention, and duplicate these steps if you want to create a stir, get your name in the news and – of course – advance an extremist ideology.
1. Choose a target. The best ones are organizations which, for some reason real or imagined, arouse the hatred of right-wingers. NPR. Planned Parenthood. ACORN. NAACP. Those bases have been covered already. But there’s still a wide-open field: National Endowment for the Arts, any union, and PETA, for instance. And hey, does anyone know how to sneak into the United Nations?
2. Practice deviousness. In other words, learn how to video someone without their knowledge. But wait, isn’t that highly illegal and unethical? Of course. Next.
3. Decide on an agenda. In other words, what kind of unsavory label do you want to attach to this organization? Immoral? Racist? Unconscionable? The sky’s the limit; it doesn’t have to be accurate or even logical. Because there is absolutely nothing so kooky that people won’t believe it. (Especially if you can attach the word Obama to it somehow.)
4. Make the calls. On some false pretext or other, visit representatives of your chosen organization, pretending to be a real jerk (which need not be a great stretch), knowing that some of your victims will humor you. Make as many visits as you need to in order to get the damning responses you wish; and remember, it won’t take that many. The great thing about playing to an audience of ideologues (which includes a large segment of the American public) is that they will accept isolated cases as proof of broad generalizations. And if you don’t get the responses you seek, don’t despair. Just move on to the next step.
5. Dice and splice. The real art of ACORNization lies (double meaning intended) in the editing. If you’ve done much interviewing at all, you should have enough words from your victims that you can chop, stitch, mangle and rearrange until you can make them say anything. And remember that sometimes just leaving out part of a conversation can make all the difference in the world.
6. Distribute. There will always be an eager market for your product. The media will always embrace any propaganda that casts a shadow on any organization or individual perceived as librul, without bothering to check out its credibility first. (That must be why they call it the librul media. But that’s another story.) Eventually, your fraud will be exposed, but by then you will have accomplished your mission. And even after that, Fox Noise will continue trumpeting your virtues indefinitely.
7. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Yesterday was the day when kids celebrated a bunny bringing a basket full of eggs, while grown-ups celebrated a man who walked on water, rose from the dead and flew off into the clouds. Today, we are back to workday realities. And that might as well include the reality of what Easter is really all about.
You’ve no doubt heard plenty of religious people tell you about the “true” meaning of Easter already, just as they’ve told you about the “true” meaning of Christmas. But the TRUE true meaning of Easter, like the TRUE true meaning of Christmas, is considerably older than Christianity; it goes back to pagan traditions commemorating the cycle of the seasons. The entire Christian narrative is a beautiful allegory on this theme.
But rather than try to detail the whole thing in such a small space, allow me to defer to an expert on the topic: cultural archaeologist D.M. Murdoch, who writes under the name Acharya S. Her book The Christ Conspiracy; the Greatest Story Ever Sold is a fascinating treatise that draws parallels between Christianity and the older mythological systems from which it evolved. She has written extensively about, among other things, how Easter originated as a festival marking the vernal equinox. And her blogs are worth checking out, although she seems disproportionately obsessed with denouncing Islam.
Of course, it’s theoretically possible (though rather unlikely) that the biblical account of Jesus was inspired in part by an actual person. But even so, assuming that his values were anything like those he supposedly taught, he was quite different from the image most of his supposed followers have of him, and vastly different from the supposed followers themselves. And even if there really was some sort of historical Jesus, his teachings and the alleged events of his life are almost all borrowed from older traditions.
Your Professor Of Propaganda urges you to seek out the TRUE true truth about Easter, not just because it’s truly and truthfully true (which, truth be told, is reason enough) but also because ultimately it’s more interesting, more illuminating and more spiritually fulfilling than the Christian nonsense you’re always fed instead.
Andrew Breitbart, the “conservative” blogger who had helped catapult James O’Keefe into the limelight like a ten-ton sack of manure, posted a video of Sherrod addressing the NAACP and apparently making racist comments in reference to the first white farmer she had been sent to assist. In the wake of this, the “conservative” blogosphere and punditocracy went apeshit. Even the NAACP and President Obama were taken in by it, and she was forced to resign her position.
But oh, did we mention that someone somehow had accidentally dropped a pair of shears on the video and cut out the portions that put her remarks in context and clarified that far from being racist, she had aided the farmer to the best of her ability and even become perennial friends with him? (In the aftermath of the faux scandal, this farmer and his wife even came to Sherrod’s support.) Eventually the deception was discovered and Sherrod was offered a new post in the administration by the apologetic Obama. But by then the damage had been done. Chalk up another glorious victory for ACORNization.
Meanwhile, O’Keefe himself was not exactly resting on his devious laurels. He employed his “citizen journalism” to play the other side of the race card in targeting another right-wing bugaboo, National Public Radio.
NPR has long been assailed by the punditocracy as a bastion of “liberal” propaganda; Mozart and the Car Talk guys are allegedly communist agents. (Most NPR listeners, on the other hand, describe themselves as either “conservative” or “middle of the road”.) The ideologues surely don’t even believe this kind of crap themselves, but they do know that NPR is at least not a spittle-flecked right-wing rantfest. (If it was, they’d call it fair and balanced.) And since NPR receives public funding, cutting off that funding would be a golden opportunity to silence a voice that doesn’t always sing along with the choir. Not surprisingly, Republicanoids have been trying to do just that for years.
Aside from the “librul bias” smear, there is simply the Randian (Ayn or Paul, take your pick) notion that government shouldn’t fund anything but defense. Yet NPR receives less government funding than do the students of Liberty University in Virginia, which is undeniably partisan and in fact blatantly bigoted, having banned the student Democratic club as being “un-Christian”. Founded by Jerry Falwell (and bailed out of a financial bind by the rabidly right-wing and stridently anti-American Rev. Moon), this is a RELIGIOUS institution supported by tax dollars and promoting extreme right-wing values. So mow many Republicanoids do you hear clamoring to cut that particular purse string?
In any case, here comes another O’Keefe cinematic masterpiece, this one depicting a (recently resigned) fundraiser (yes FUNDRAISER, not journalist, or even anyone who, like O’Keefe, pretends to be one) for NPR saying that the Tea Party crowd is over the top and racist. And the world was shocked, shocked! How could anyone suspect that this group with ties to white supremacists, this group that carries around signs with racial epithets directed at the president, how could anyone possibly think this crowd harbors racists?
But as always with an O’keefe opus, there was more to the story. The unedited footage shows that the fundraiser was actually discussing not his own views on Tea Partiers, but those of some REPUBLICANS. And while the butchered video made it appear that NPR would accept ethically questionable donations, the fundraiser actually stated 6 times during the interview that they would not.
But as always, the media demonstrated its unbridled lust for sensationalism and pettiness, and its severe allergic reaction to even the mention of research.
MORAL OF THE STORY: If you’re a “conservative”, it’s okay to portray someone else as a racist (at least as long as the someone else is black) even if you have to fabricate evidence. If you’re anyone else, it’s a scandal of tsunami proportions to suggest that anyone else is a racist, or even that anyone else thinks anyone else is a racist (especially if they’re white) no matter how much evidence you have. And if you’re James O’Keefe, Andrew Breitbart, or anyone of comparable character, the world is your oyster.
During the recent budgetary showdown in which Congress was threatening to steamroll the federal government (without forfeiting its own hefty paychecks, of course), the media repeatedly and consistently echoed the Republicanoid spin that the sticking point was abortion. Actually, the sticking point was funding for Planned Parenthood; thus, the dispute was not over subsidizing abortion, but subsidizing contraception, HIV testing, mammograms and pap smears.
It has become a major doubleheaded tenet of right-wing mythology that Planned Parenthood is a ruthless abortion mill, and that our taxes are funding the procedure. Both claims are patently false. Planned Parenthood applies a whopping THREE PERCENT of its resources toward abortion referrals for clients who insist on having them. And federal law has long prohibited tax money from paying for this service.
The overwhelming focus of the organization is health matters such as those mentioned, and it is much more involved in preventing than enabling abortion. Indeed, by helping prevent well over one million unwanted pregnancies every year, Planned Parenthood does far, far, FAR more to prevent abortion than all the “pro-life” politicians and activists laid end to end -which might not be such a bad thing to do with them. (This admittedly could be construed as faint praise; the “pro-life” movement has really done damn little to curtail abortion except try to outlaw it; and we have the horrors of history to remind us just how effective that is.)
But who needs facts when you have an ideology and some cute bumper stickers to promote it? Right-wing extremists often seem so eager to hate someone, anyone, that their choice of target seems to have been decided by lot. Note their perennial juvenile loathing of Hillary Clinton-who had a voting record in the Senate that marked her as more Republican than some Republicans. But Rush tells them they’re supposed to despise Hillary, so they obey.
And so it is with Planned Parenthood. Anyone who is serious about curbing abortion (not to mention STD and cancer) welcomes the services that Planned Parenthood provides. But these folks seem much more serious about promoting (and ordaining for all ) a naïve mindset holding that such problems can be eliminated with the wave of a magic fiat.
On the other hand, there are three possible explanations for the animosity toward Planned Parenthood:
1. It empowers women, which angers the good ole boy faction.
2. It deals with reproductive issues (you know, s_x), which angers the fundamentalist faction.
3. It receives government funding that might go toward more deserving businesses like Halliburton or the next Enron, which angers the Ayn Rand/ Adam Smith/ Scrooge McDuck faction. You might hear the claim that this money “frees up” other funds, which then can be used for abortion, so it’s the same as funding abortion. This is utterly untrue.
But one gets the distinct impression that many of them don’t really need an excuse. They have a vicious vendetta against Planned Parenthood because… well, just because, so that’s that. And they’re none too particular about how honest their attacks are. The smears have even included the straight-faced allegations that clinics actively promote abortions because they’re profitable, and that Planned Parenthood was founded as a eugenicist movement with the intent of extinguishing minority populations (probably by a race of alien lizards).
Re-enter James O’Keefe and his gang, who may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, but they do know which hot-button scapegoat causes can be exploited to rile the gullible. And having disposed of ACORN, Planned Parenthood was next on their agenda.
O’Keefe had already made calls to Planned Parenthood centers posing as a racist who wanted his supposed donation to go specifically to aborting black fetuses. (Or in ideological parlance, “killing black children”) He publicized those conversations where the employees appeared to respond inappropriately, but did not publicize the fact that the most manifestly inappropriate actually was attempting to trace his call.
More recently, his cohort Lila Rose made undercover videos that also purported to show inappropriate conduct by Planned Parenthood personnel. I probably don’t have to tell you that such videos are more chopped up than a pregnant teenager in the hands of a veterinary student in the sixties.
As jaw-droppingly unbelievable as it sounds, this propaganda was used by Congress as justification for moving toward a vote to de-fund Planned Parenthood and realize a long-cherished right-wing wet dream of closing down the organization, on the apparent assumption that this would eliminate or reduce abortion. (Is it really humanly possible to be that simpleminded?) And it very nearly succeeded.
For now, Planned Parenthood has survived this latest attack of unprincipled lunacy. But it’s only a matter of time. The wells of propaganda never run dry.
After so much writing about propaganda and myths and lies and deception, it’s nice to be able to pause and focus on something positive for a change. And so I’d like to take a moment to heartily recommend (pardon the split infinitive, ye high school English teachers) CheeseFlap’s Haiku site.
I became aware of CheeseFlap when he or she (I have no idea who CheeseFlap is) left some comments on this blog – and I later realized that each of these comments, like each post on CheeseFlap’s own blog, is a haiku!
As you may know, a haiku is a type of pithy poem invented centuries ago in Japan, a 3 line verse containing 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables respectively.
For example, here’s my own mnemonic haiku about haiku:
First, five syllables
Second, seven syllables
Third, five syllables
(I didn’t promise it would be a good poem.)
Traditional haiku were nature poems; and while they sometimes hinted at philosophical truths or emotional experiences (and hint is about all you can do in such a short space), they always featured references to one of the seasons. But in contemporary usage, the form has been used to cover all kinds of topics, and it’s as often light verse as Poetry with a capital P.
CheeseFlap’s haiku are sometimes philosophical musings, but generally deal with contemporary events, cultural commentary, and even propaganda. Sometimes they are light and humorous, and sometimes they are concentrated and insightful, and sometimes they feature sheer poetic brilliance.
In contemporary society, the media compete for an ever-shrinking attention span, and this provides a golden opportunity for hucksters to sway public opinion by providing brief soundbites that tell people how to think, no facts required. It’s refreshing to be reminded that wisdom can also come in compact doses: in this case, a mere 17 syllables.
If that’s too long for your attention span, you really need medication.
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes” — Mark Twain
Although he’d already been at it for some time, it was James O’Keefe’s notorious ACORN video that started the clock ticking on his 15 minutes. And it was also his grandest triumph, as it helped bring about ACORN’s collapse.
ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) was a coalition that worked on behalf of low-income citizens on such matters as health care, housing, legal issues, and labor. Obviously a bunch of commies, eh?
But it also did at least one other important thing: it conducted voter registration drives. And since its base was the urban poor, a demographic that votes solidly Democratic, this was a serious offense in the eyes of right-wingers, who had been conducting a smear campaign against ACORN for quite some time. (Al Franken once commented that Democrats try to win elections by getting people to vote, while Republicans try to win by preventing people from voting. Even discounting the assault on ACORN, there’s plenty of evidence he might have a point.) Another offense was pushing for stricter gun laws; the gun lobby is a major string puller of the Republican Party.
After the 2008 election, there were claims of voter fraud against ACORN, and it was even a common meme that the organization “stole” the election for Obama. To bolster this claim, the accusers pointed to a few instances in which registration workers had submitted phony names. Which ignores three facts:
1. Voters are registered by independent workers who are paid a pittance for each name they collect. There will always be a few such individuals who pad their paychecks with a statistically insignificant number of phony names.
2. There are procedures for weeding out such false registrants. Ironically, if it hadn’t been for ACORN’s own efforts to purge its rolls, the phony names might never have come to light and garnered such media exposure.
3. There is a vast difference between submitting Mickey Mouse as a potential voter and having Mickey Mouse show up at the polls and cast a ballot. (Having been a poll worker myself, I think I can safely assure you that he wouldn’t be allowed to do so.)
So the “stolen election” gambit more or less blew over. But then along came O’Keefe and his video.
With an accomplice, he visited several ACORN offices with his camera, seeking comments from office workers that he could edit into the kind of damning piece of video propaganda he envisioned. And he got them. Sort of.
The savagely edited video he released apparently showed low-level ACORN personnel offering the pair advice on how to set up houses of prostitution and human trafficking. What actually happened is that the two were shown the door, or the employees thought they were joking, or played along with them until they left and then called law enforcement. The video depicted O’Keefe in a gaudy pimp’s wardrobe which he claimed to be wearing on his visits; in fact, this footage was edited in later.
The video sparked a firestorm of media exposure and outrage, along with, of course, additional media outrage because the “liberal media” supposedly wasn’t covering it enough. As a result, federal funding to ACORN was cut off, and it was forced to close its doors. Depriving millions of citizens of the services the organization provided is a small price to pay for Republican supremacy.
In retrospect, there are three things we should bear in mind about this whole sordid affair:
1. Some of the workers recorded in the video were fired, even though their actual impropriety was questionable.
2. ACORN was in operation for over 40 years, and had some 1200 chapters nationwide. It’s inevitable that such an organization would occasionally be subject to employee misconduct. In fact, considering how long and hard right-wingers have tried to dig up some dirt clinging to ACORN, it’s astounding how little they were able to find. If only Republicans themselves (or Democrats) could be that clean. (Not to mention Fox “News”.)
3. At least 5 investigations, including one by the Government Accountability Office, cleared ACORN of any wrongdoing. But by then, of course, it was too late.
Hopefully, you are well enough informed that most of this is old news to you. But it bears repeating, because the myth of ACORN’s supposed corruption is still very much with us. And there is absolutely no doubt that O’keefe’s tactic will be used again and again and again.
If you had the misfortune to have been conscious during the 2004 presidential campaign, then you’re certainly familiar with the term swiftboating. In fact, if you’ve had the misfortune to have been tuned into the American media for any length of time since then, you’ve almost certainly heard it; it’s become a permanent fixture in the lexicon.
The expression comes from a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who as you may know, were concerned with anything but truth. Funded by a wealthy Republican donor, their sole objective was to smear Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, a navy veteran and war hero who was posing a threat to unseat George W. Bush. Though their dishonesty was eventually unmasked, they definitely had an impact on Kerry’s standing with the public, and might well have cost him the election. Thus “swiftboating” came to be used as a new name for the very old practice of bearing false witness.
But now there’s a fresh twist to swiftboating, the doctored video twist. And it’s a twist greatly boosted by one James O’Keefe, who fancies himself a guerrilla “citizen journalist” (translation: he videos people under false pretexts, then reconstructs the videos to make them say whatever he wants). Although the undercover films he has released have been shown to be thoroughly dishonest, they have had a tremendous impact on public discourse and even on official policy. Which just goes to show that there is no limit to the gullibility of the media or the public. Or, for that matter, of politicians.
We’ll call the tactic ACORNization, since ACORN has been its most successful target. Whatever you call it, it’s here to stay. Not only have O’Keefe and his associates been repeating the procedure, but he’s even “training” others to do likewise – as if this kind of unscrupulous amateurishness really required any skill. Get ready, folks: it’s the new face of “journalism”.