Category Archives: Op-Eds

James O’Keefe versus the Cardinal Rule of “Gotcha” Journalism

Stock Photo — MaxPixel

James O’Keefe is famous — or at least notorious — for running sting operations in which he uses actors to trick organizations he opposes into behaving badly on (hidden) camera. The Washington Post didn’t fall for his latest ringer, a woman falsely claiming that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore got her pregnant, then procured an abortion for her, when she was a teenager.

Writing at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf takes O’Keefe and his Project Veritas conservative media operation to task for “bad faith” in the dust-up. Instead of admitting that the Post‘s reporters exercised great care in investigating Jaime T. Phillips’s claims, and declined to publish allegations their research couldn’t substantiate, O’Keefe went on the offensive, posturing as the victim of an “ambush” by the Post and raising funds to “finish this investigation.”

“O’Keefe’s team seems less interested in what’s true than in making the media look bad,” writes Friedersdorf. The indictment is harsh but it seems to be true. And that’s a problem.

Investigative journalism, including the “sting” variety of which O’Keefe has made himself one of the 21st century’s acknowledged masters, plays an important role in informing the public. Real stories are broken. Real corruption is revealed. Real institutional flaws are outed.

But “gotcha” journalism of the Project Veritas type must, if its practitioners want to remain trusted and relevant, hold itself to even higher standards of truth and disclosure than might be expected in “straight news” coverage.

If a regular reporter gets someone’s birth date wrong, a one-sentence correction on page B-38 is reasonable.

If an investigative sting results in the discovery that the target didn’t fail in the expected way, page B-38 isn’t going to work. The truth of the matter needs to be put right out front. Not just to give the targets their due, but to protect the reputations of the investigators. The claims of an investigator who won’t admit error and exonerate the innocent in the present can’t be trusted in the future.

The mission of Project Veritas (“Veritas” is Latin for “Truth”) is to “[i]nvestigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions in order to achieve a more ethical and transparent society.”

Ethics and transparency require a clear admission from O’Keefe that his Washington Post sting didn’t reveal the misconduct he expected to find. His reputation, such as it is, requires that as well.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

No, The End of “Net Neutrality” is Not The End of the World (Wide Web)

RGBStock.com WWW

I get lots of email, including email from political advocacy groups trumpeting the Impending Doom of the Month. This month, that doom is the coming end of “Net Neutrality” at the hands of the Federal Communications Commission.

“Donald Trump and his corporate cronies are about to destroy the Internet,” writes Eden James of Democracy for America.

“[FCC chairman Ajit] Pai is paving the way for monopolistic ISPs to block and censor what we see online, and push anyone who can’t pay extra fees into ‘internet slow lanes,'” warns Carli Stevenson of Demand Progress.

Kurt Walters of Fight For The Future says that the impending end of the FCC’s “Net Neutrality” rules is a “plan to end the Internet as we know it …”

For some reason, those alarmist emails leave out the fact that “the Internet as we know it” — the World Wide Web — survived and thrived for nearly a quarter of a century without “Net Neutrality,” which was only imposed by a previous FCC a little more than two years ago.

But now the alarmists insist that axing the two-year-old rule will suddenly, for unspecified reasons, cause Internet Service Providers to divide the Internet into “fast” and “slow” lanes at the expense of their own customers and of small web site owners. Why ISPs would cut off their noses to spite their own faces in this way isn’t explained, probably because the prediction makes no sense at all and simply isn’t based in reality.

The fight over “Net Neutrality” is best understood as a duel between corporate interests — Big Telecom on one hand, Big Data on the other, with Big Data doing a better job of fooling activists into making a moral crusade out of the matter.

Big Data — specifically companies that deliver high-bandwidth services like streaming video (Netflix, Google’s YouTube service, et al.), or that consume lots of bandwidth simply by virtue of being very popular (Facebook and so forth) need ever larger pipes to shove that data at you. They want ISPs to shoulder the costs of building and fattening those pipes.

Big Telecom — the ISPs — want to charge the bandwidth hogs extra for getting such large amounts of data to your screen in a timely manner, so that Big Data bears the costs of building those pipes and keeping them uncongested.

If Big Data wins (“Net Neutrality”), ISP customers will end up paying more for Internet access. Everyone’s Internet access fees will go up (or at least remain higher than they otherwise would) and broadband Internet’s expansion into rural areas will slow down.

If Big Telecom wins, different customers (streaming video subscribers, web hosting users) will see our fees rise.

There’s no such thing as a free Internet. Someone’s going to pay to make it keep working. The only question is who. I’d rather pay an extra $5 a month for my web hosting and Netflix binges than shift that cost to my neighbor next door who checks her email once a day. Good riddance to “Net Neutrality.”

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

Things I’ve Found to be Thankful for in 2017

A Puritan Thanksgiving
A Puritan Thanksgiving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year, and like most of you I’m planning on a big meal and a lazy afternoon as America celebrates yet another Thanksgiving. Naturally, I’m also thinking back over the previous year and looking for things to be thankful for. I’ve found some. Here are a few that aren’t about family, spiral cut ham and so forth:

I’m not thankful that Donald Trump is president of the United States, but I am thankful that he hasn’t blown up the world or any of the other bad things that some were predicting this time last year.

He’s even done some good things, like firing US Attorney Preet Bharara (and all the other US Attorneys), appointing a so far not too terribly shabby Supreme Court Justice (Neil Gorsuch), and throttling back a little on some aspects of the executive branch’s regulatory urges.

He’s also failed to deliver on some of the worst things he promised.

His protectionist disposition on trade hasn’t cratered the American economy — at least not yet.

There’s no wall on the border with Mexico — at least not yet.

He hasn’t pulled the plug on the Iran nuclear deal — at least not yet.

The courts continue to frustrate his attempts to cow sanctuary cities and ban Muslims from visiting and moving to the United States.

While he’s escalated US military adventurism in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere, he’s so far held off on all-out war with North Korea. Let’s keep our fingers crossed on that, just in case.

For all these things I am thankful.

While I never supported Trump, I was thankful when Hillary Clinton didn’t win last year’s presidential election. A year later, I am thankful that she’s not president. If anything, she’s spent the last year demonstrating her own complete unfitness for the office to anyone who doubted it before. It’s not so much that I think she’d have been worse than Trump. It’s that for all practical purposes she IS Trump, minus the entertainment value.

I’m thankful for Congress, too. Not for anything they’ve done, but for the fact that they’ve been able to do so little. Gridlock is good and we’re long overdue for some. Here’s hoping for three more years of it. Laws are like speech: If you can’t pass anything nice, better to pass nothing at all.

Most of all, I’m thankful for all of you: The editors who choose to publish my columns and the readers who hopefully enjoy — and sometimes respond to — those columns. The Garrison Center’s mission (and mine) is to bring libertarian viewpoints to mainstream newspapers and non-libertarian political publications. That happened nearly 1,000 times in 2016 and I expect it to happen more than 1,000 times in 2017.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY