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484 posts categorized "Media "

February 02, 2010

O'Keefe prosecutor recused himself/Lindsay on GRITtv today

Interesting news from the WSJ's law blog:

The plot thickens a bit down in the Big Easy over the arrest of James O’Keefe and three other activist arrested last week while trying to capture secret footage in the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D. La.). On Monday, the U.S. attorney in New Orleans recused himself from O’Keefe’s case, citing, well, not very much.

A DOJ news release said simply that Jim Letten, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, recused himself from the case a day after the Jan. 25 arrests. Letten’s top lieutenant, assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann, has taken over.

No official reason has been offered for the recusal, but WSJ blogger Ashby Jones speculates that it might have to do with the fact that one of James O'Keefe's co-accuseds is Robert Flanagan, the son of an acting U.S. Attorney in Louisiana. 

By the way, I'm going to be on GRITtv this afternoon to talk about the phone tampering scandal, probably shortly after 1:30 EST. I'll post the video as soon as I can.

February 01, 2010

"Mentor" to alleged phone tamperers blogged about dirty tricks with phones

Justin Elliott of TPM Muckraker points to a new story in the New York Times about Ben Wetmore, a 28-year-old conservative activist who let anti-ACORN provocateur James O'Keefe and his merry band crash at his New Orleans home prior to their arrest for allegedly attempting to tamper with Sen. Mary Landrieu's phones. 

According to the New York Times, Wetmore was a mentor to a network of right wing provocateurs who embraced various forms of political theater to dramatize their issues on college campuses. Marcy Wheeler's commenter cinnamonape connected the dots between Ben Wetmore and James O'Keefe last Friday.

The page BenWetmore.com now redirects automatically to Newsbusters. A WHOIS search for that domain delivers no information. However, the cached version looks like the personal blog of the now infamous Ben Wetmore, campus provocateur.

The cached site is Countermedia. The author, who replies to blog commenters under the name "Ben" writes bitterly about his tenure the Leadership Institute, the conservative group where Wetmore and O'Keefe used to work. Amongst other things, Ben assails the Leadership Institute for trying to take undeserved credit for O'Keefe's early video successes. "All the good things at the Institute while I was there happened despite the management, or by going around them. I was nearly fired, as was my boss [former] Cong. Steve Stockman, for buying the initial video equipment that James [O'Keefe] used," Ben wrote last September. He seemed especially bitter that the LI hired and fired idealistic young conservatives capriciously. Where's a union when you need one, eh? 

This post, dated Oct 21, 2009, survives in the Google cache:

Disrupting speeches on the cheap

Leftists disrupt speeches by throwing pies, calling names, and chanting stupid stuff.

So uncreative.

Personally I've given advice to disrupt malcontents like Michael Moore using track phones going off with obscenely loud ringers in various locations, as well as a variety of other crazy schemes that I'd rather not go into.

In a cached post dated Sept. 18, 2009 at BenWetmore.com floats the idea of impersonating Barack Obama in a robocall.

[Original reporting, please credit Lindsay Beyerstein.]

Continue reading ""Mentor" to alleged phone tamperers blogged about dirty tricks with phones" »

January 30, 2010

Ladies, meet your new gender diversity coordinator, Mr. Angry Penis

Stan Dai, one of the four Republican operatives arrested this week for allegedly plotting to tamper with Sen. Mary Landrieu's telephones, is a bit of a self-styled spook, at least in his own mind. His resume features some relatively junior administrative gigs with programs sponsored by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Defense. He also liked to publicly hold forth on terrorism, intelligence, and surveillance in videos and in before the Junior Statesmen of America.

You can rest easy, Laura Rozen was able to confirm that Dai never worked directly for a U.S. intelligence agency. Rather, he worked for programs supported by grants from these organizations. As far as we know, he never claimed otherwise. But he certainly got a lot of mileage out of his job titles including Assistant Director for the Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence at Trinity Washington University and Operations Officer for a DOD fellowship on irregular warfare. Dai's resume also lists him as having been an undergraduate fellow at the right wing Center for the Defense of Democracies. I called the Center to confirm this claim. A spokeswoman explained that the fellowship was a summer enrichment program for college students, which Dai completed in 2004. 

So, what is an Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence? Mark Hosenball of Newsweek reports that the ODNI gives grants to universities to attract more women and minority students to intelligence work. 

Stan Dai, as you will recall is the author of the Penis Monologues, a satire of the Vagina Monologues in which Dai's penis reacts with fury at being invited to a performance of the VM. (Quoth Dai: "MY PENIS IS ANGRY!!!!!!! You want to know what happened to my penis? Joan [the 5-foot-tall hairy vagina] happened to my penis!")

The irony is not lost on Marcy Wheeler: "As Hosenball points out, it’s ironic that a movement conservative like Dai was involved in what was basically a program to encourage diversity. But I’m a little more shocked that ODNI, under Mike McConnell, was funding Mr. Angry Penis to help recruit women into the field of intelligence."

January 26, 2010

Little (would-be) bugger Flanagan interned for Sen. Lamar Alexander, Rep. Mary Fallin

One of the four men arrested for allegedly trying to bug Mary Landrieu's office interned for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in 2007, according to his LinkedIn profile. The following year, Robert Flanagan worked as a paid intern for Republican Rep. Mary Fallin of OK. His duties included "brief[ing] legislative staff on issues of national security and international relations." In the summer of 2008, Flanagan volunteered for Chris Gorman's campaign in Shreveport, LA.

As you may have read, Robert's father, William, is an acting U.S. Attorney based in Shreveport.

Like his co-accused James O'Keefe, Stan Dai, and Joseph Basel, Flanagan appears to be a well-connected movement conservative.

I'm reposting Robert Flanagan's LinkedIn profile below the fold.

(Original reporting, please credit Lindsay Beyerstein.]

Continue reading "Little (would-be) bugger Flanagan interned for Sen. Lamar Alexander, Rep. Mary Fallin" »

ACORN pimp's co-accused is the son of an acting U.S. Attorney (updated)

This just gets better and better. Main Justice reports that one of the men arrested along with conservative activist/pimp impersonator James O'Keefe in connection with the attempted bugging of Sen. Mary Landrieu's office is the son of an acting U.S. Attorney:

The son of acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana William J. Flanagan was arrested and charged with trying to interfere with phones at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans.

Robert Flanagan, 24, along with conservative activist James O’Keefe, 25, and Joseph Basel, 24, and Stan Dai, 24 were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purposes of committing a felony.

According to the Associated Press and The Hill, Flanagan is the son of William J. Flanagan, who is the acting head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Shreveport. O’Keefe was in the news last year for his part in making secret videos in several offices of the community organizing group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).

Update: Beltway Confidential republished the affidavit of an FBI agent summarizing the evidence against Flanagan, Basel, O'Keefe, and Dai.

Update II: An unnamed federal official told the Associated Press that one of the suspects was picked up in a car full of listening equipment:

A federal law enforcement official said one of the suspects was picked up in a car a couple of blocks away with a listening device that could pick up transmissions. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not part of an FBI affidavit that described the circumstances of the case.

Anti-ACORN "pimp" O'Keefe arrested in attempted bugging of senator's office

James O'Keefe, the conservative filmmaker who dressed as a pimp to sting the activist group ACORN, has been arrested for allegedly assisting in the attempted wiretapping of the office of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu:

The FBI, alleging a plot to wiretap Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in downtown New Orleans, arrested four people Monday, including James O'Keefe, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group's credibility.

FBI Special Agent Steven Rayes alleges that O'Keefe aided and abetted two others, Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan, who dressed up as employees of a telephone company and attempted to interfere with the office's telephone system. [Times-Picayune]

Dworkin on the "appalling" Citizens United decision

Ronald Dworkin has a great essay about the Citizens United decision in the New York Review of Books. 

Here's a taste.

On the most generous understanding the decision displays the five justices’ instinctive favoritism of corporate interests. But some commentators, including The New York Times, have suggested a darker interpretation. The five justices may have assumed that allowing corporations to spend freely against candidates would favor Republicans; perhaps they overruled long-established laws and precedents out of partisan zeal. If so, their decision would stand beside the Court’s 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore as an unprincipled political act with terrible consequences for the nation.

We should notice not just the bad consequences of the decision, however, but the poor quality of the arguments Justice Kennedy offered to defend it. The conservative justices savaged canons of judicial restraint they themselves have long praised. Chief Justice Roberts takes every opportunity to repeat what he said, under oath, in his Senate nomination hearings: that the Supreme Court should avoid declaring any statute unconstitutional unless it cannot decide the case before it in any other way. Now consider how shamelessly he and the other Justices who voted with the majority ignored that constraint in their haste to declare the Act unconstitutional in time for the coming mid-term elections.

Read the rest here.

December 28, 2009

Harvard prof flouts NYT freelance rules with 3M junket

New York Times freelancers are forbidden to accept freebies of any kind from potential news sources. Travel writer Mike Albo recently lost his freelance shopping column over a junket he wrote about for another site. Now, Harvard business school prof and freelance Times columnist Mary Tripsas is accused of writing a puff piece about the 3M "innovation center" in Minnesota after visiting the facility on 3M's dime.

In an interview with the nytpicker blog, Tripsas said she thought it was okay because 3M invited her to speak as a Harvard professor and was unaware of her NYT affiliation. Tripsas doesn't explain why she's so sure 3M didn't know. It's an odd assumption to make, given that she writes a regular column under her real name. She admits that she didn't tell her NYT editor that she had a financial connection 3M. That's a clear violation of the Times' policy.

It's perfectly reasonable for a professor to give a talk at 3M, and it's standard in academia for the institution that invites the prof to pay her way. I wouldn't even have a problem with Tripsas writing about that trip as long as she made it clear that she found out about the center through her day job, at 3M's expense.

In general, freelancers should get more leeway than staff writers as far as accepting travel subsidies, review copies, and other freebies to offset their reporting costs. If you have the resources of the newspaper of record at your disposal, you have no excuse for taking free stuff from the people you cover. If you're paying your expenses upfront out of a freelance fee that might materialize in two months' time, it's easier to justify taking a subsidy. The New York Times could afford to send Tripsas to Minnesota. That's what should have happened if she wanted to write about the innovation center for the Times.

Note that this level of independence is a luxury that is contingent on institutional support. As more of the journalistic workforce goes freelance, news institutions are losing control over how their reporters cover the news. That's a hidden cost of downsizing and outsourcing. If you want independence, you have to pay for it.

This is equally true for less obvious free resources like press releases and official spokespeople. Staff reporters who get paid to cover their beats intensively can develop their own leads. Those with less support, be they staffers or freelancers, are apt to be more dependent on canned material distributed by interested parties. A junket and a press release are basically the same media strategy. They're both designed to make it easy to cover some event that the sponsor wants to draw attention to. If a reporter had to assemble the material contained in the average press release from scratch, it would take hours. Time is money.

Institutional prestige doesn't automatically equal credibility. However, there are certain aspects of crediblity that big institutional news outlets can use to distinguish themselves from their smaller, scrappier competitors. Independence is a big one. Steve Coll had a great article in the New Yorker a couple months ago about working for a big international newsroom during the last days of the golden age of print. He notes that his paper could afford not only to fly him to distant outposts, but also to back him in court if his coverage sparked a lawsuit. Sadly, those days are long gone at most papers.

It's reasonable for newspapers to expect their full-time staff writers to abide by conflict of interest policies on their side projects as well as their work for the paper. It's ridiculous to expect freelancers like Mike Albo to follow NYT rules when they're off the NYT clock. Albo got canned for accepting a free trip and writing about it for the Thrillist. Freelance journalists usually cobble together a living from various sources, including day jobs that may or may not bring their own conflicts of interest. If the paper isn't supporting them, you can't expect to micromanage the rest of their lives.

The NYT conflict of interest policies represent an ideal. That ideal doesn't come cheap. If the NYT wants the added measure of credibility that comes with independence, it has to be willing to pay for it.

December 27, 2009

Media payola

Most North American journalists will tell you that it's unethical to pay for an interview. So, officially established news outlets never do it. In reality, they do pay. Gawker explains how this works: News outlets claim to be paying for the rights to a photo of the subject, with the tacit understanding that buying a picture will lead to an interview.

According to Gawker, Flight 253 hero Jasper Schuringa made about $18,000, ostensibly by selling some lousy photos of himself to CNN, ABC, and the New York Post. In fact, the photos were just a fig leaf. Schuringa was reportedly quite upfront about the fact that he would only talk if he got paid. I don't begrudge Schuringa the money. If anyone deserves a holiday windfall, it's that guy. It's not his job to uphold media standards.

That said, media outlets shouldn't pay for interviews. The practice creates glaring conflicts of interest, real or apparent. Journalism is supposed to be about finding the truth, not bribing people to say what you want to hear.

That said, if a news outlet insists on paying for interviews, it should be absolutely transparent about doing so. We should at least know that a source was paid for their appearance. These days, if a blogger gets a free review copy of a book, they have to include a disclaimer to that effect in their review. Yet, CNN doesn't feel obliged to tell us that it landed a Schuringa interview because of deep pockets rather than journalistic acumen. CNN, ABC, and the New York Post should join their media counterparts in the UK and admit that they pay to play.

December 12, 2009

Naturopath tells Fox viewers that coffee will make them fat

In other woo news: Fox News invited Ann de Wees Allen to tell its viewers that black coffee will make you "fatter than a pig." This segment is a textbook example of how not to do science journalism. The voice over identifies de Wees Allen as "Doctor"--without mentioning that she claims neither a medical degree, nor a doctorate. Her website says she's a doctor of naturopathy. Fox also neglects to mention that Allen appears to have a sideline selling something called "Skinny Coffee"--an alternative to that fattening old joe.

The segment gives roughly equal time to a real dietitian who explains that coffee can't cause weight gain on its own, on account of it having no calories. Besides, she says, if plain coffee were causing massive weight gain, dietitians would have noticed by now.

Obviously, if you drink cream and sugar with your coffee, or use it to wash down cookies, those calories add up the same as any others. And there's evidence that even non-caloric sweeteners can stimulate the release of insulin, which in theory could make some people hungrier and/or more likely to store extra calories as fat--but that hypothesis hasn't been proven. But if coffee is "worse than five hot fudge sundaes" as "Doctor" Allen claims, there are a suspiciously large number of skinny coffee drinkers out there.

There are equally plausible mechanisms by which coffee might contribute to weight loss. Caffeine is, after all, a stimulant. As such, it tends to increase activity and boost metabolism.

I couldn't find much evidence that coffee consumption affects body weight either way.

By putting Allen up against a real dietitian, Fox News is inviting the inference that her views should be considered on par with those of a licensed health care professional. Like quacks throughout history, naturopaths have schools that hand out credentials, but naturopathy is pseudoscience. It is irresponsible of Fox News to give this quack a platform.