Much smoke, few flames for right-wing press critics

October 25, 2011

Is this the best the right-wing press critics can do?

In principle, I’m all for James O’Keefe’s guerrilla campaign to destroy the media establishment. The more rough handling journalists receive, the better for them and the better for readers. But the hidden-camera sortie O’Keefe and his Project Veritas’ “To Catch a Journalist” series just flew against Huffington Post White House correspondent Sam Stein fails miserably. It ends up making Stein look normal and O’Keefe slightly tetched.

The allegedly damaging video footage records Dale Maharidge, a former teacher of Stein’s at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, saying that his former student is “old school” and “goes out drinking at night with people.” Maharidge then comments, in reference to Stein, “You get some booze in people, and suddenly the stories start to flow.”

When O’Keefe confronts Stein in a recorded interview, he recasts Maharidge’s statement.

“Do you booze your sources up to get a story out of them or get your sources drunk to get information out of them? Because that’s what somebody told me,” says O’Keefe.

“So you’re asking if I get my sources drunk,” Stein says.

O’Keefe interrupts, “Specifically to get information out of them.”

“Uh, no I don’t,” Stein responds.

So Stein denies saying something there is no proof of him saying. What a catch!

Even if Stein had told his former teacher that he gets sources soused to pump information out of them, what sort of gotcha would that be? The journalist-source relationship runs both ways, with sources pumping journalists for information and attempting to spin a story in their direction, and a traditional venue for this sort of dance has been the bar. The journalist-source relationship is not unlike the salesman-client relationship or the “Hey, you’re cute, can I buy you a drink?” pairing. Both parties want something and think that it’s to their advantage to add spiritual lubricants into the mix. The only thing O’Keefe has accomplished with his “To Catch a Journalist” expose is to prove that Stein is a conventional journalist.

O’Keefe isn’t the only righty misfiring this week, as a piece on Politico today by Keach Hagey indicates. Hagey catalogs the efforts of two prominent conservative press-watchers to marginalize Occupy Wall Street by criticizing some of the journalists writing about the protests. Andrew Breitbart and Rush Limbaugh are publicizing the pro-OWS emails of Dylan Ratigan of MSNBC and Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi, with Limbaugh holding that Ratigan and Taibbi help prove that OWS is a “construct of the media Democrat industrial complex.”

Excuse me if I’m not struck dumb by the revelation that Ratigan and Taibbi, who fervently support OWS in their journalism, also support it in emails.

Also, a Breitbart video has outed freelancer Natasha Lennard, who reported on OWS for the New York Times, as an OWS activist. Indeed, Lennard appears to have both covered the protest and taken part in it. But Breitbart’s expose would be meatier if he could actually quarrel with the substance of Lennard’s Times pieces. Breitbart, better than most, should be able to appreciate that politically committed reporters are capable of producing worthy journalism. Let’s hope that Breitbart’s outing of Lennard doesn’t deter editors from assigning future pieces to reporters who have may have eaten cake with the tea partiers.

Meanwhile, Erik Wemple reports on Bernard Goldberg’s loopy appearance on The O’Reilly Factor last night. Goldberg gave Meet the Press host David Gregory hell for his expressing “subtle bias” in favor of President Barack Obama by saying the president “can’t do a whole lot about the economy right now.” I align myself with Wemple’s take: If Gregory expressed subtle bias in favor of Obama it was so subtle as to be invisible. Nor can I get too excited over the right wing’s efforts to demonize NPR over the off-mic political activism of Lisa Simeone, the host of public radio’s Soundprint and World of Opera. If an arts host can’t join the revolution, what sort of society have we become? (The story of Simeone’s political activism was broken by Roll Call, not by the right wing press-watchers. But the right has made hay of it, so it belongs in this round-up.)

The episodes uncovered and publicized by the righties over the last week barely qualify as journalistic misdemeanors. It’s no sin for Stein to booze with his sources as long as he doesn’t sprinkle knock-out drops in their drinks. (Has anybody checked to see if Stein can hold his liquor?) It’s no crime for opinion journalists like Ratigan and Taibbi to advise political movements, for Gregory to acknowledge the limited power of the president, or for Simeone to protest. The critiques by O’Keefe, Breitbart, Limbaugh, and Goldberg end up being unintentional endorsements of big-media conduct: These guys are picking nits because they can’t find any whales to harpoon.


Should news journalists keep their opinions to themselves? Should they avoid all activism? Join my Poynter chat at 12:30 pm today, Oct. 26, with @mallarytenore. For more on Stein’s alleged alcohol problem, see Mediaite’s interview with James O’Keefe. Send virtual drinks to and have one on me at my Twitter feed. Sign up for email notifications of new Shafer columns (and other occasional announcements). Subscribe to this RSS feed for new Shafer columns and subscribe to this hand-built RSS feed for corrections to my column.


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O’Keefe and Breitbart are not in a position to “out” anybody. Glass houses, you know.

Posted by Fishrl | Report as abusive

I’m with Carl, let’s hit the bar, then get ourselves thrown out at the Opera . . . but I draw the line at sleeping with the OWS crowd . . . those people need a shower!

Nicely written piece Jack. O’Keefe is such a hypocrite, his expose exposed only himself. I’ve come to believe that “Right Wing Journalism” is an oxymoron.

Posted by PapaDisco | Report as abusive

With the sleezy lying Murdoch scandel at News Corp., no one believes the cr__ coming from Faux news or their delusional speakers of disinformation like Limbaugh and O’Reilly. They have their delusional base who believes every lie they purport, and no one else gives them one iota of respect and shouldn’t.

Posted by JLWR | Report as abusive

Why do you continue to give these idiots credence. If you talk about the right wing fanatics as legitimate news, you increase their credibility.
These are people who don’t want America to be a nation of laws. Don’t want a constitution that guarantee’s liberty for all. They want a nation built upon religious right principles, that only has rights for the rich – sort of like the old banana-republics of South America. They don’t want a two-party system, they want a one-party system… Theirs… They don’t want the rule of law, they want their religious law to be the law of the land. They want the return of prohibition (which first brought us the Mafia), they want one man rule…. They don’t support democracy at all…. When will Americans wake up to this ? ? I hope they do before its too late…..

Posted by edgyinchina | Report as abusive

The question before Jack Shafer and the NPR listener (members of the public, both) isn’t what Lisa Simeone does for NPR; it’s what she does for OWS. On the basis of what information did NPR decide not to send a reporter to report on OWS/to interview the spokesperson for OWS?

It’s possible, as Shafer would, to liken Simeone to the local TV reporter/weekend anchor who, a half-eaten Knockwurst in her hand, reports “live” from the city’s annual Ethnic Festival. But the ethnic festival is for the city’s benefit, and the spokesperson for the festival said exactly this, when she signed for the permit.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

What a surprise that Reuters takes this tack. BTW, calling Retracto the Correction Alpaca!, James just outed the NYT helping the Occupied movement, guess you’ll be updating this article now eh? Watching the 1% elite of journalists getting their comeuppance is very entertaining. So all we have to do to get NPR in serious trouble is make them have to report their advertising revenues as taxable income? You mean, treat them like a tv network and all of their spouses will have to look for work with the Obama campaign? LOL!

Posted by BigJimSlade | Report as abusive

gee, are they going to complain about opinion “journalist” Sean Hannity appearing at rallies on behalf of Republican candidates?

I thought not.

IOKIYAR, right?

Posted by teacherken | Report as abusive