Birth of a conspiracy theory

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

As the walls come crashing down on undercover ACORN video auteur James O'Keefe and his carefully constructed "citizen journalist" image evaporated, Andrew Breitbart clearly found himself at a moment of choosing. By all accounts, things did not look good -- his star pupil and the famous face of his newly-established online media empire had been arrested by the Feds for unlawfully entering the offices of Sen. Mary Landrieu with the intent to commit a felony, and his name, mugshot, and connection to Breitbart were being plastered all over the media. Breitbart was faced with a dilemma -- what to say about the actions of his protégé?

I can't presume to know which thoughts ran through Breitbart's head as he mulled over the situation, but I'd like to think that he boiled it down to two scenarios, one reality-based, the other... well, not.

SCENARIO 1: O'Keefe, the newly-minted hero of the right-wing media, turned out to be not so much a "journalist" as an unethical, lying hack who allegedly refused to allow basic journalistic integrity or the law get in the way of his ideologically-motivated scam-jobs. The story already had legs on its own (unlawfully entering a senator's office -- allegedly -- is news in and of itself), but the coverage was fueled by O'Keefe's own notoriety, which, ironically, had been burnished by Breitbart and the other media conservatives now complaining about how much attention the story was getting.

SCENARIO 2: Attorney General Eric Holder, upon hearing that O'Keefe had been detained on bogus charges in Sen. Landrieu's New Orleans office, immediately threw together a conference call with editors from local and national newspapers. Explaining to them that he wanted to keep secret his secretly secret plans to never ever prosecute ACORN over the O'Keefe videos (even though they totally showed ACORN doing, like, all kinds of illegal stuff), Holder announced his intention to mobilize all the Justice Department's resources, in coordination with these newspapers, in a massive effort to destroy O'Keefe's reputation and maybe send him to prison for a while, even though he'd done nothing wrong. Every single newspaper editor agreed to the mission, then they crossed their hearts, hoped to die, and promised to stick a needle in their eye if they ever told anyone, and got to the business of smearing and defaming O'Keefe.

You can guess which scenario best fits Breitbart's reaction to the story.

And the best part is, Breitbart's take on things, like most conspiracy theories, is immune to evidence and common sense. Of course there's no proof -- not even the slightest indication -- that Eric Holder has anything to do with O'Keefe's arrest, or that the Feds in Louisiana fed information to the media (an accusation they deny). But Breitbart insists that Holder must be involved because, well, that's the easiest way for him to continue to ignore reality. Hence, you get this wild theory about massive government corruption with the aim of destroying the reputation of one 25-year-old non-journalist.

Points for creativity. Demerits for pants-on-head stupidity.

Andrew Breitbart, James O'Keefe
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