Yesterday, I wrote a lengthy post debunking an almost-shockingly deception-thick article written by Kirsten Powers, and the reason is to show that this is what it, frankly, takes. Which is why lies get disseminated so far and are rarely checked in any way, because, as I estimated, it’s five times harder to actually check lies than to tell lies. (Which is why even egregious hacks like Powers make money in the lying business.) Which means it literally can’t be done, since most people in a position to check lies are busy with other work, and even as they’re busy fact-checking one lie, five more are being generated to take its place.
But honestly, the time-effort gap may not even be the largest problem that those of us dedicated to reality-based politics face. What may be more disturbing is the increasing willingness of the mainstream media to entertain the lies of people who have been thoroughly demonstrated, through the painstaking and time-consuming work of truth-telling, to be pernicious liars who should never be trusted ever again. Like James O’Keefe. For what it’s worth, I thought paying attention to the ACORN videos without a thorough fact check was unforgivable. Maybe I could forgive some writers for it, but anyone who works in television knows for a fact that it’s easy to manipulate video, and could tell at 100 paces that these videos were not only manipulated, but not even that good at disguising their manipulations. (Distorted audio, weird cuts that indicate that something is being concealed, an unwillingness to show O’Keefe in the videos.) But okay, he got one pass based on the assumption of good faith.
But after it was demonstrated that O’Keefe had manipulated the ACORN videos beyond all recognition of what had actually happened? After investigations demonstrated that people in the videos were portrayed saying one thing, but often were saying the opposite? (Such as advice given to a woman to hide money from an abusive boyfriend/pimp was edited to suggest the advice was to hide money from the IRS.) And then it was discovered his compatriot Andrew Breitbart was willing to promote a video the purported to show Shirley Sherrod saying one thing, when she was, you guessed it, saying the exact opposite thing. Plus, O’Keefe’s arrests and his attempt to sexually harass and threaten, through implication, to assault a journalist, with the intention to tape the whole thing on the grounds that this would embarrass her. (Which really goes to show how distorted his worldview is, though I suppose with heavy editing to erase the man who is striking threatening poses in a woman’s direction, you could somehow make it about her, though how I don’t know.) After that, the only reasonable, rational thing to do is to take everything that O’Keefe produces, and put it in the trash without wasting your time. Whatever potentially “shocking” stuff on there is definitely going to be manipulated and dishonest.
We know this. This is not a mystery. There is no excuse any more.
Which is why I was shocked and appalled when the latest video trying to ding NPR came out, and people took it at face value, as if we didn’t know for a fact that it was deceptively edited. I saw people approach it with the assumption that it was mostly lies, but they figured they could somehow tease some relevant truth out of it, and judge it on that. This is especially true if you’re unwilling to watch all two hours of footage that O’Keefe got, which 99.9% of journalists are unwilling to do. (See: Lies, Time It Takes To Debunk Them.) Instead, people decided that Schiller said a couple of things that were inexcusable under any circumstances, and that was good enough for them. Never mind that the Sherrod example should teach us that context can literally mean that someone is saying “up” when, if you extracted just a fraction of their overall quote, it seems they are saying “down”.
O’Keefe has learned that he can come in, lie his fool head off, create damage, and when the accounting is done, it’s too late to fix all the damage he’s done. His is amply, and repeatedly rewarded for lying. Unsurprisingly, a few days after the NPR video came out and people were fired and all that jazz, a thorough accounting of the video demonstrates that it is stuffed with lies. Which anyone at this point could have told you, sight unseen, even people that bought into it. Lindsay did what almost no one else did, and watched all two hours of the taped con job.
If you watch the entire conversation, it becomes crystal clear that O’Keefe’s provocateurs didn’t get what they were looking for. They were ostensibly offering $5 million to NPR. Their goal is clearly to get Schiller and his colleague Betsy Liley to agree to slant coverage for cash. Again and again, they refuse, saying that NPR just wants to report the facts and be a nonpartisan voice of reason. Schiller pointedly informs the fake donors that NPR broke with some very generous Jewish benefactors who had supported NPR for over a decade because they tried to tell NPR that it “couldn’t have so much Palestinian coverage.”
“And we said, ‘sorry,’” Schiller says, “And we lost their funding, and it’s gone.”
During the ACORN days, O’Keefe actually tried to conceal the original videos, knowing that they proved he was a liar. Now he’s realized that being a known liar doesn’t actually make any difference. He doesn’t even perform a charade of being ashamed for being such a terrible liar. At this point, he releases a video, everyone knows up front that he’s a liar, and everyone will just pretend that he’s not for the 12-24 hours it takes for the video to ruin someone’s life. And he’ll basically gloat in public by releasing the full video, as if to say, “Hey, we all know I’m lying, but no one seems to give a flying fuck!”
And on that, he’s right.
How do you fight against that?