It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp
Why the latest conservative hidden-video trick to embarrass liberals has fizzled.
"Ever since ACORN, we've been very involved in sounding the alarm on this," said Nan Aron, the president of the Alliance for Justice, a progressive umbrella group that signed the letter to Congress. "Attacks on Planned Parenthood don't arise in a vacuum. Darrell Issa and his ilk successfully took ACORN out of the game."
This is a game played at many levels at once. Conservatives want to think that the ACORN meltdown is repeatable—that's why you hear Newt Gingrich muse about the possibilities of "defunding the left." Liberals think they can prevent it from reoccurring. ACORN was too sloppy for too long and didn't develop a PR offensive or internal quality control after years of legal challenges to its voter-registration problems. That was ACORN's fault. It was the rest of the movement's fault that it didn't immediately challenge the credibility of the videos and that congressional Democrats were listless in how they responded to tapes running on repeat on cable news.
"They're unethical," said Ari Rabn-Havt, one of the key responders at Media Matters. "I mean, we have nothing against doing hidden camera stuff, but if you have no compunction for the truth and you can release whatever you want, you can make stories better. And we, progressives, don't have a news network that will take this stuff right to air, frankly. That's part of the success here. Breitbart launched Big Government on Fox News. Glenn Beck previewed the ACORN tapes on his show."
And this is the most common way that progressives view their challenge. It's them against Breitbart and Fox. If they can inspire enough doubt about the conservative scoop to make news organizations pass on it, or hold it, they can stop an ACORN repeat.
According to Breitbart, this was actually the progressive response to ACORN. Maybe progressives are working faster, but throwing up dust about a story that hurts them—well, that's how the left works, and how the media decides what to run.
"Lila Rose and Live Action are contending with the same forces in the media that don't want beyond-reproach left-leaning institutions to be exposed as corrupt and morally bankrupt," Breitbart said in an e-mail. "Team Podesta, including Media Matters and Planned Parenthood itself, are coordinating and applying the same tactics they used in the ACORN scandal to grant the mainstream media excuses not to report on a video expose that would be front page news if it were against a politically incorrect group associated with the right. Can you imagine how media would react if pimp and prostitute undercover video implicated a mega-church, GOP congressmen or the NRA? Need it be argued that it would be everywhere?"
It depends what "everywhere" means. If they're doing it right, the conservative videographers and the progressive counterpunchers don't need the media to pay attention. The ACORN tapes got Congress rolling on a defunding bill before the non-News Corp. media really noticed the scandal. Media Matters helped write the book on Lila Rose before Republican politicians had even weighed in on her tapes. This is the battle now: Who can weaponize the tools of journalism, and who can take out the warheads?
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.