Assigning a Rush Limbaugh fan and biographer to profile right-wing activist James O'Keefe wasn't exactly a daring choice by editors at The New York Times Magazine. The fact that the resulting puff piece is a predictably soft retread of O'Keefe's often-told tale should surprise no one.
What is odd is that the Times would publish such comically inaccurate characterizations of O'Keefe's adventures in undercover video stings; stings that have proven time and again he's incapable of telling the truth.
Those are the facts. They are not in dispute. But in the loving hands of Times writer Zev Chafets, O'Keefe is portrayed as an enterprising, muckraking journalist. And in the loving hands of Zev Chafets, O'Keefe is portrayed exactly the way O'Keefe wants to be portrayed.
I realize that's Chafets' niche at the Times, to bring his partisan, conservative perspective when writing profiles of partisan conservative media figures, and to do his best to paper over anything unflattering about the subject at hand. That's what he did with his New York Times Magazine cover story on Limbaugh in 2008. (The super-soft profile helped Chafets land a Ditto-ography book deal.)
And I understand why Chafets likes the very easy gig. It makes little sense, though, why the Times would be interested in publishing this kind of predictable feature about O'Keefe. Regardless of the motivation, what about the facts? What about O'Keefe's ACORN and NPR stings for instance, and the controversy that soon engulfed him over allegations he had edited his clips in order to concocts sinister stories? How does the Times deal with those issues?
A quick NPR refresher: Last March, O'Keefe unveiled a video sting designed to expose NPR's liberal bias. It featured NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller having lunch with two potential (albeit fake) deep-pocket Muslim donors and Schiller making disparaging comments about Republicans and Tea Party members. We soon discovered, via Glenn Beck's website The Blaze, that the tapes had been highly edited and done so in an unethical way to make the Schiller comments seem much more damning than originally believed.
Now here, in its entirety, is how Chafets deals with the firestorm that erupted around O'Keefe's NPR tapes when it was they revealed they were fraudulent.
When it was suggested that the tapes had been dishonestly edited, O'Keefe invited people to watch them in their entirety. “He said it, that's just a fact,” Dana Davis Rehm, a spokesman for NPR, said of Ron Schiller. In the aftermath, NPR conducted sessions on ethics for its support and operational staff and is planning to publish updated ethics guidelines in September.
Gee, that doesn't sound like that big of a deal: People raised questions and O'Keefe graciously invited them to view the full tapes.
Gimme a break.
From Time [emphasis added]:
Schiller did say some bad things, the Blaze found. But the short video took them out of context, like a bad reality show, and made them sound worse. It transposed remarks from a different part of the meetingto make it seem as if Schiller were amused by the group's “goal” of spreading Shari'a law. It left examples of his complimenting Republicans on the cutting-room floor. And that Tea Party quote? Schiller was, for at least part of it, describing the views of some Republican friends. Somehow — oops! — O'Keefe left that bit out.
You can add to those key points the fact that Schiller clearly stated on several occasions that funding donations, no matter how generous, have no effect on NPR's news operation.
In other words, the entire premise of O'Keefe's NPR gotcha was proven to be a fraud. There weren't simply implications the tapes had been deceitfully cropped. That was proven to be the case. Period.
It makes you wonder how anyone at the Times can square that factual assessment with the idea that it was merely “suggested” that O'Keefe's ACORN tapes had been “dishonestly edited.” It also makes you wonder why the Times assigned Rush Limbaugh's biggest fan to write puff piece about James O'Keefe.
Meanwhile, ACORN. Here's Chafets:
His takedown of Acorn was even more devastating, although Bertha Lewis, Acorn's former chief executive, contends that the videos were dishonest. “He is demon, a liar and a cheat,” she says. “What he did was despicable. He created a fiction.” Bertha Lewis still insists that Acorn did not offer advice on how to break the law. Clark Hoyt, a former public editor for The New York Times, reviewed O'Keefe's raw footage and edited tapes and concluded that “the most damning words match the transcripts and the audio, and do not seem out of context.” There is no doubt that O'Keefe disseminated only the material that supported his thesis about Acorn, but this kind of selectivity is the norm in advocacy journalism.
Really? It's normal in advocacy journalism to withhold exculpatory information in order to tell the story you want to tell? It'snormal to dishonestly edit videos in order to give viewers a false impression of what actually occurred? And it's normal to flat out manufacture lies, the way O'Keefe did by suggesting he entered ACORN offices decked out in a Halloween-ish pimp costume?
This is just embarrassing.
Meanwhile, for those interested in detailed reviews of O'Keefe's ACORN production, at least three of them have been conducted. All three confirmed that while some ACORN employees behaved inappropriately in the O'Keefe videos, they did not break the law. And all three confirmed that O'Keefe did severely edit the tapes. Also, a 2009 report by the Congressional Research Service stated that O'Keefe's undercover videotaping may have broken laws in California and Maryland.
But for some reason Chafets does not mention the findings that completely undercut O'Keefe's ACORN hoax. (Or the fact O'Keefe is currently being sued by an ACORN worker in response to one of the undercover videos.) Chafets also ignored the pimp lie that O'Keefe spread with the help of his mentor, Andrew Breitbart.
Then again, in telling the O'Keefe tale Chafets also opts to make no mention of the fact that last summer O'Keefe planned to set a bizarre, floating trap to sexually humiliate a CNN reporter.
So yes, the Times does a great job dressing up O'Keefe and pretending he's an important person.