The Kenneth Gladney Charade Collapses

It took a St. Louis County jury less than 50 minutes to return a not guilty verdict in the assault trial featuring Kenneth Gladney and two union members who were charged with attacking him outside a town hall event during the tumultuous summer of 2009.

The altercation itself was regrettable and was over almost before it began: the type of heated scuffle that happens countless times everyday in this crowded country, and everyday people move on with their lives.

But because this particular clash was captured on tape, and because Tea Party members went bonkers hyping it, and because right-wing media carnival barkers like Dana Loesch and Andrew Breitbart operate with no moral compass, the Gladney story blew up overnight and became a (demented) cause celebre among hardcore conservatives who hatched a weird fantasy about run-away union violence in America, not withstanding what was captured on the Gladney tape.

It's difficult to capture just how madly the right-wing media overreacted to this story, doing its best to blow it up into a seismic, Rodney King-type of event. Fox News aired at least 20 segments mentioning Gladney, according to Nexis. Glenn Beck obsessed over the story. Breitbart penned a “I Am Kenneth Gladney” column in solidarity for the Washington Times. And CNN's Lou Dobbs played dumb on a massive scale while hosting Gladney.

In the end, all the right-wing press had to show for their efforts were not-guilty verdicts stemming from misdemeanor charges.

Indeed, the glaring problem with the Gladney tale was that rather than being savagely beaten and kicked, which is how right-wing bloggers breathlessly relayed the "brutal" tale, if you watched the videotape, Gladney appeared unharmed from the one or two seconds he was on the ground. He quickly sprang to his feet and was seen calmly discussing the aftermath of the scuffle with a police officer. (It was actually one of the “union thugs” who suffered a fractured shoulder during the dust-up.)

It was only later that night when Gladney and his lawyer drove to a hospital and started talking to a local reporter that Gladney's injuries appear to have suddenly worsened. Soon after, Gladney was rolled out in a wheelchair for a local Tea Party rally, and from there the story became almost farcical, fueled by Gladney's shifting stories.

As the story dragged on Loesch and Breitbart began inventing all sorts of additional nonsense, like how the attack certainly constituted a “hate crime.” (Hint: Andrew Breitbart has no idea how the law works.) They also warned darkly about how local St. Louis law enforcement was in on some massive, Watergate-like cover-up of the beat-down. On and on the idiocy went, and all of it (all of it) was manufactured gibberish that had nothing to do with what happened two summers ago outside a St. Louis-area town hall event.

Over the last 24 months, conservative bloggers have posted tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of words about Gladney. Most of them have been hysterical and hateful and fact-free. And more than a few of those words were directed at me for having the audacity to immediately question the right-wing tale about the supposed “union thugs” who rained down bloody kicks and punches on Kenneth Gladney.

As I said, the incident was regrettable and I'm sure everyone involved, if they had a chance to go back, would make sure the night did not unfold the same way again. But the idea that the mini-altercation was some sort of on-command union attack directed from the Oval Office and that it represented a looming wave of left-wing violence in this country? That was always a sick joke. It was a sick joke played at the expense of Gladney, and at the expense of two union members who were crucified by the right-wing press and called every conceivable name. All without a shred of evidence to support the union-bashing denunciations.

But yesterday a jury of their peers found those men not guilty of any crimes. Loesch and Breitbart ought to start apologizing. But they're allergic to common sense.

An additional media note about the sad Gladney chapter: The two-year tale ended up pitting St. Louis blogger Loesch against an upstart local, a liberal blogger named Adam Shriver who runs a site called St. Louis Activist Hub. By the time the not-guilty verdict was read yesterday, it had become clear to everyone who followed the story that Shriver had absolutely demolished Loesch and her weak Gladney conspiracies.

Right from the outset, Shriver was among the very first bloggers to dissect the Gladney video and raise all kinds of factual doubts about the tall tale the Tea Party was telling about the “union thugs.” And it was Shriver who stayed on the case since 2009 and who, I think, was largely responsible for helping to reveal, yet again, the kind of serial fabricator that Dana Loesch is. Andrew Breitbart, too.

So in that sense, the Gladney story helped highlight the stark, well-established contrast between the liberal and conservative blogospheres, and how Loesch and Breitbart effortlessly trafficked in lies, while Shriver stuck to the facts and undertook meticulous reporting.

And in the end, his story prevailed.