This may have escaped your notice, but the U.S. is currently in the midst of a presidential campaign season. If you’ve hard anything about it at all, you’ve probably heard a great deal about voter fraud. And if you’ve heard anything about voter fraud, you’ve heard that it’s Democratic voters who do it, and that they do it in multitudes, and that it frequently produces stolen elections. And if you’ve heard all of this, you’ve heard the sound of a huge barge load of bullshit being dumped on your head.
How big a problem is voter fraud? Mother Jones notes that UFO sightings are more common. And that’s not just an expression; it’s literally true. In fact, there are far, far more UFO sightings than cases of voter fraud: Mother Jones’ numbers for the period from 2000 to 2010 are: 47,000 UFO sightings compared to 13 cases of verified voter fraud. It would make more sense for the media to focus on preventing that kind of alien from voting.
News21 comes up with a slightly different but compatible total for the same period: 10 instances of “substantiated in-person” voter fraud confirmed out of 2068 alleged cases. Whatever the exact figure, everyone who examines the facts closely enough arrives at the same conclusion: voter fraud is extremely rare, hardly a drop in the ocean. Yet the hype about it is a tsunami.
Mother Jones also observes that:
A 2005 report by the American Center for Voting Rights claimed there were more than 100 cases of voter fraud involving 300,000 votes in 2004. A review of the charges turned up only 185 votes that were even potentially fraudulent.
Note that word potentially. And that:
Last December, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus declared that Wisconsin is “absolutely riddled with voter fraud.” In fact, the state’s voter fraud rate in 2004 was 0.0002 percent—just 7 votes.
The Brennan Center for Justice conducted an analysis of purported voter fraud and found that:
Many vivid anecdotes of purported voter fraud have been proven false or do not demonstrate fraud. Although there are a few scattered instances of real voter fraud, many of the vivid anecdotes cited in accounts of voter fraud have been proven false or vastly overstated. In Missouri in 2000, for example, the Secretary of State claimed that 79 voters were registered with addresses at vacant lots, but subsequent investigation revealed that the lots in question actually housed valid and legitimate residences. Similarly, a 1995 investigation into votes allegedly cast in Baltimore by deceased voters and those with disenfranchising felony convictions revealed that the voters in question were both alive and felony-free.
The thing is, those “vivid anecdotes” make the headlines, over and over and over again, while the inevitable debunking of them does not. Consequently, the astronomically overinflated stories of voter fraud stay implanted on the impressionable public brain much more vibrantly and permanently than the facts. It’s the old thing about a lie being halfway around the world before the truth even gets its shoes on.
Pardon me while I dig up ACORN.
Take the intensive smear campaign against ACORN. One poll revealed that 26 percent of all Americans and 52 percent of Republicans believed the community activist organization “stole” the 2008 election for Obama. More astoundingly, a poll taken last year indicated that 25 percent of Republicans believed it also would steal the 2012 election — even though the organization already was defunct for more than one year!
Smashing ACORN had long been a goal of right-wing activists for a very good reason: it had a long history of registering the “wrong” kind of voters (i.e., those who vote Democratic), which apparently is the most egregious offense of all. A young would-be muckraker named James O’Keefe helped the cause tremendously with his fraudulently edited videos about ACORN.
Professor Peter Dreier of Occidental College studied the media coverage of ACORN and reported among other things that:
Although ACORN is involved in many community activities around the country, including efforts to improve housing, wages, access to credit, and public education, the dominant story frame about ACORN was “voter fraud.” The “voter fraud” frame appeared in 55% of the 647 news stories about the community organization in 15 mainstream news organizations during 2007 and 2008. The news media stories about ACORN were overwhelmingly negative, reporting allegations by Republicans and conservatives.
The media also failed to distinguish allegations of voter registration problems from allegations of actual voting irregularities. They also failed to distinguish between allegations of wrongdoing and actual wrongdoing. For example:
82.8% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to mention that actual voter fraud is very rare (only 17.2% did mention it)
80.3% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to mention that ACORN was reporting registration irregularities to authorities, as required to do by law.
85.1% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to note that ACORN was acting to stop incidents of registration problems by its (mostly temporary) employees when it became aware of these problems.
95.8% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to provide deeper context, especially efforts by Republican Party officials to use allegations of “voter fraud” to dampen voting by low‐income and minority Americans, including the firing of U.S. Attorneys who refused to cooperate with the politicization of voter fraud accusations – firings that ultimately led to the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
So, to summarize the case against ACORN: the real fraud was not voter fraud, but registration fraud. It was not committed by ACORN, but against ACORN by (a few of) its workers. They were not trying to stuff the ballot box, but to stuff their own pockets. ACORN did, as claimed by its critics, turn in many phony names — because it was required to do so by law. ACORN itself flagged these for scrutiny; and ironically, if not for its efforts to prevent voter fraud, it might not have been accused of voter fraud. Thorough investigation cleared the organization of any wrongdoing. Yet few media reports noted these facts. Must be that old “liberal bias” in the media at work again, eh? Indeed, by the time the truth about the “scandal” surfaced, the damage already had been done by O’Keefe, Breitbart, and the other usual suspects.
Give him an inch…
O’Keefe, by the way, is still releasing fraudulently edited videos that purport to show Democratic voter fraud. In his most recent, he solemnly proclaims in the intro that he is about to reveal proof of voter fraud that many deny even exists. Ah, Jimmy boy, a brazen double lie is hardly an auspicious beginning for what is intended to be an earth-shaking expose. Your latest little heavily doctored cinematic jewel only proves that you still know how to be dishonest, manipulative and self-serving. And it appears that plague of “liberal” malfeasance you’ve devoted your life to exposing is in fact so rare that you have to manufacture it with entrapment and deceptive editing. Secretly film a Democrat dumb enough to humor (while also gently discouraging) what appears to be a persistent wacko intent on cheating, then slice and dice the footage to perfection and, presto, you have a new masterpiece, certain to bring you more limelight, that “proves” one Democrat is dishonest and therefore they all must be. And it isn’t that people are claiming fraud never happens. They’re just claiming that it’s a tiny gnat of a problem that does not in any way justify the parade of steamrollers being dispatched to squash it, in the form of intrusive legislation concocted by the champions of “limited government”.
Sure, voter fraud sometimes happens. As a former poll worker myself, I can assure you that it’s extremely difficult to pull off, but it still does occur occasionally. Sometimes the culprits are even high-profile individuals like this gang:
The evidence is overwhelming that each of these characters committed in-person voter fraud. Yet the media and the right-wing hacks don’t seem to be too interested in investigating. Wonder why? (Hint: check their party affiliation.) Clearly yet another case of “liberal bias” in the media. These are just a few of the apparent and confirmed cases of voter fraud committed by Republicans that somehow consistently slide under the radar of the librulmedia. By the way, none of these apparently fraudulent acts would have been prevented by the voter ID laws that Republicans are touting as the panacea.
Paltry affliction, potent medicine
Yet more than 30 states have passed tougher new voter ID laws. Why? Well, to answer that question, perhaps you only have to look at who is behind them: namely, Republicans and other assorted right-wingers. Always. In every case. Al Franken, now a senator from Minnesota, once commented to the effect that Democrats try to win elections by getting people to vote, while Republicans try to win by preventing people from voting. Ah, come off it Al; surely all these voter ID laws aren’t just an effort to win at any cost, are they?
Hmmm…. Go back to 2000. Months before the election, a purge of voters who were allegedly ex-felons falsely eliminated thousands of likely Gore voters who were perfectly qualified to cast ballots. (Some of these alleged felons were listed as having committed their alleged crimes on some date in the future!) Bush’s official margin of “victory” in the state was 537. The purge was orchestrated by the state’s governor, who just happened to be Bush’s brother, and its secretary of state, who just happened to be the local chair of his campaign. All just coincidence, I’m sure. But that fraudulent purge coincidentally paid enormous dividends to the GOP, who professed to have executed it in order to prevent fraud.
Ten states have passed voter ID laws that place a disproportionate burden — in terms of money, time, and access — upon minorities and low income citizens who — whaddaya know — vote overwhelmingly Democratic. In all ten of these states, both the legislatures and the governorships are in the hands of — whaddaya know — Republicans. All just coincidence, no doubt.
Pennsylvania passed a new voter ID law that, before it was halted by a judge, would have disenfranchised more than 750,000 voters. The vast majority of them would have been Democratic voters. Just coincidence, to be sure. In speaking of the law, the state’s House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai, commented that it “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania”. He was just joking, wasn’t he?
In Nevada, a registration worker was told that he wouldn’t be paid for signing up Democrats. This appears to be part of a growing national strategy by Republicans, often involving fake “surveys” to screen out Democrats. In Virginia, a man who was caught tossing bags of completed voter registration forms into a dumpster turned out to be (surprise) working for the GOP. All just coincidence, absolutely.
In Arizona, voter registration cards in Spanish were mailed out with the wrong election date listed. In Ohio, mailers in one county listed both the wrong date and the wrong place. Republicans were behind both mailings. Just coincidence, naturally. In Arizona, it happened in Maricopa county, which has produced legislation aimed at discriminating against Hispanics under the pretext of fighting illegal immigration. Hispanics are much more likely to vote for Obama. Just one coincidence after another.
Additionally, there are widespread problems with electronic voting machines, which — except for the occasional very minor glitches that temporarily benefit Democrats before they are caught and corrected — have a consistent habit of counting more Republican votes than Democratic, sometimes very suspiciously so. The companies that supply these machines are all owned by individuals who are very active in supporting GOP candidates. Gotta be mere coincidence. Before the 2004 election, in which Diebold’s voting machines were quite instrumental, its Ohio-based chief executive, Wally O’Dell, declared, ”I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” Coincidentally, he did deliver, and Ohio was the pivotal state. Coincidentally, it very well could be again this year. (A rumor that Mitt Romney’s son owns voting machines in Ohio is false, though there are coincidentally some interesting connections.)
In short, if the media wanted to cover highly suspicious election irregularities that could make the difference — and indeed already have made a difference in at least on presidential election — they would have plenty of stories to cover. Trouble is, these stories all suggest vote suppression, tampering and other underhanded shenanigans on the part of Republicans, which doesn’t quite fit the narrative of Democrats stealing elections by getting too many people to vote. So instead we have a media obsession with scattered instances of possible fraud that have never had an impact on an election’s outcome. As usual, the right-wing propagandists have done their job extremely well.
Whoever said that nothing is certain except death and taxes made a glaring oversight. It’s also certain that whenever anyone proposes genuine change, they’re going to be branded communist, socialist, and/or Marxist (not to mention liberal, of course). If Karl Marx never accomplished anything else with his life, he at least bequeathed American reactionaries a handy epithet or two to hurl.
These epithets were hurled at labor organizers in the Thirties, some of whom were threatened, attacked and even killed for daring to demand better working conditions. They were hurled in the Sixties at hippies who rejected mindless materialism and peaceniks who protested the Viet Nam involvement. They were hurled in the Fifties at anyone who did anything. And now, naturally, they’re being hurled at the protesters of Occupy Wall Street.
You won’t have to worry, though, about such labels being applied to the Tea Party – in fact, they’re quite often the ones doing the applying. The Tea Party’s main objective isn’t genuine change; it’s undoing the changes wrought, or that they believe to have been wrought, by the Obama administration. Their much-ballyhooed “anger” is largely an irrational reaction to a mythical tax increase and a mythical version of a healthcare bill they haven’t read and don’t understand. (My favorite recent example of how the punditocracy brainwashes the masses is that 25% of Republicans expressed fear the 2012 election will be stolen for Obama by ACORN – which disbanded more than a year ago!)
Occupy Wall Street, however, at least has a beef rooted in reality: the old trickle-down economic model is not working, has never worked, and is not working even more now. The last quarter of 2010 was the most profitable for large businesses since the government began keeping records on them more than 60 years ago. Recession? What recession? The richest one percent of Americans have QUINTUPLED their wealth in the past few years. You really believe it’s because they’re smarter or work harder than the rest of us? Good! I have a rainbow I’ve been wanting to sell.
Yet a tenth of American workers remain unemployed and the number of people applying for food stamps sets a new record every month. Corporations are basking in cash and often paying no taxes on it, their CEOs are getting obscenely huge bonuses – and at the same time they’re making massive cuts to their workforce and outsourcing jobs to places where labor is much cheaper. Oil companies post record profits, but fuel prices are stuck at well over three bucks a gallon. Washington, we have a problem. But meanwhile, rather than vote on a jobs bill backed by the current president, Congress votes on recognizing “In God We Trust” as the national motto. (There is a suspicion, not without cause, that all of this is part of a scheme to thwart Obama’s re-election, using American workers and consumers as political pawns.)
It’s probably clear to most people that there is no simple solution to these problems. It’s clear enough to the demonstrators, and so they aren’t proposing simple solutions. (It is not true, however, that they’ve proposed no remedial measures at all.) This makes them all the more subject to vilification by a media elite accustomed to thinking in black and white. (For an amusing and yet nauseating tabulation of the media’s spin on OWS, including the common mantra that the participants “don’t know what they want”, see here.) There’s an interesting principle at work here, and so your Professor of Propaganda is going to give it a name.
P.O.P.’S LAW OF INVERSE BENEFIT: The greater the number of people who stand to benefit from a particular movement, the more intense the smear campaign against it will be.
The Tea Party is a movement perpetrated mostly by a relatively small number of right-wing extremists. From the beginning the media trumpeted it as a grassroots revolution, greatly exaggerating its numbers and not only giving extensive coverage to its rallies, but advance notice of its planned events, encouraging the public to attend. The attendees said that Obama is illegitimate, that he is a Muslim and a terrorist, that he has hiked their taxes, that he wants to institute death panels and destroy the nation and outlaw fishing. And oh yeah, that global warming is a hoax. And with a perfectly straight face, the media gave them an unlimited spotlight and microphone.
Occupy Wall Street has said that greed and corruption are strangling the American dream. And after ignoring them as long as possible, the media met them with ridicule and contempt. Which included, of course, the commie/socialist/Marxist syndrome – and just to hedge bets, the contradictory label of NAZI was thrown in as well. (Meanwhile, the Tea Party crowd has complained about the media’s “double standard”. You think I’m joshing?)
Are there any communists/socialists/Marxists involved in OWS? Beyond a doubt. And I’d wager that none are the anti-American monsters the right-wingers have them pegged for. Unlike the Tea Party, Occupy Wall street has an extremely broad base of support; it would be miraculous if there weren’t any communists/socialists/Marxists involved. But to claim that they represent the heart of the movement is a meme that only Fox and its diehard fans would buy into. If you look long and hard at a Tea Party rally, you’ll spot an occasional dark face in the crowd; but would anyone alive characterize the Tea Party as an African-American activist group?
Because of its broad appeal, Occupy Wall Street attracts all kinds of people-except, apparently, right-wing extremists, who seem pretty unified in demonizing it. The ones who attend the demonstrations seem to do so incognito, with the intent of inciting violence, provoking arrests and in general trying to bring down the PR quotient of the actual movement. Even James O’Keefe, the notorious creator of deceptively doctored videos, was spotted at a rally. So his next little masterpiece should be premiering any day now.
Such a diverse group as the Occupy movement, alas, is inevitably going to have its share of unsavory characters along for the ride. When a protestor in New York was sexually assaulted (bear in mind that these people are camping out in public parks), OWS organizers responded swiftly, putting in place measures to prevent such attacks in the future. The punditocracy also responded swiftly, seemingly touting the incident as proof that OWS is just one big rape camp. Meanwhile, a handful of Jew-bashers in the crowd prompted a major media narrative that OWS is anti-Semitic. The hilarious thing is that many who make such a claim also vehemently protest the (also unfair, perhaps) characterization of the Tea Party as racist, even though the instances of Tea Party racism are FAR more extensive, and apparently the sentiment even extends to its leadership.
Whether or not you ultimately decide to support Occupy Wall Street (or the Tea Party), I’d like to humbly suggest that perhaps ANY movement deserves more careful consideration than Commie Tourette’s. It betrays the sorry lack of imagination that is such a major plague in the public forum. No, I take that back. It isn’t that imagination is utterly lacking. Take a look at some of the justifications people cite for using these labels and you’ll see that imagination is running amok. (Hey, if Michael Moore promotes it, it’s gotta be bright red, right? And by the way, since he makes a lot of money, that means he’s a hypocrite, because we all know that the message of OWS is that the rich are all evil bastards, right?) The problem is that it’s being used to attack rather than offer constructive input.
So if you are among those who habitually respond with the communist/socialist/Marxist chant, I’d like to issue a challenge. Try to be more creative in your insults. The old ones are causing people’s eyes to glaze over. In concocting more original epithets, you might inspire more people to pay attention to your message, if any, and that might spark a productive dialogue, which might lead to some creative solutions to the problems we all face regardless of ideological differences. Or if nothing else, you might become really skilled at venomous insults and launch a career like Rush Limbaugh’s, trashing “lubberals” and military veterans for a hefty paycheck that will land you in the top one percent.
So please, get imaginative with those smears. You just might start a revolution.
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.
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.
“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”.