The Short Tail of Conservative Video Stings

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 22 2011 1:52 PM

The Short Tail of Conservative Video Stings

Back in February, after Live Action's Planned Parenthood sting videos hit, I suggested that they were making less of an impact than the 2009 James O'Keefe/Hannah Giles sting of ACORN. Two weeks later, the House of Representatives passed an amendment from Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., banning taxpayer funds for the family planning group.

How could the video be making a weak impact if the House voted to defund? Because the the vote was only 240-185, with all Republicans voting to defund but only 10 Democrats joining them. In the 2009 vote to defund ACORN, a majority of the then-255 Democrats in Congress -- 172 members -- voted with all Republicans to defund.

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Now, as the Senate starts to debate budget cuts, Scott Brown and Lisa Murkowski say they don't want to defund Planned Parenthood. Pro-choice activists think they can wrangle Maine's pro-choice Republicans to oppose the cuts, too. In other words, the universe of support for pro-choice legislation hasn't been altered at all.

So take that information and look at the vote last week on defunding NPR. Remember -- that vote came in the wake of Project Veritas's videos revealing NPR fundraisers pandering to two men who claimed to be Muslim activists with some radical ties and ugly opinions about Jews. It was a pretty big story. What was the vote? 228-192. Every Democrat voted against it, and seven Republicans voted against it.

In the scheme of things, that vote represented a loss of support for NPR... sort of. In 2005, George W. Bush's budget zeroed out funds for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but 87 Republicans joined the Democrats to restore it. That was a different vote than this NPR vote, though. This bill, introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn, explicitly denied funds for NPR, and banned local stations from using taxpayer money to buy NPR programs. It was supposed to be a cleaner bill than a full CPB-defunding bill, as it left intact public broadcasting, PRI, and other outlets not touched by the video sting. And it still lost seven Republicans .

ACORN is not Planned Parenthood is not NPR. But the utter collapse in support for ACORN has proven to be unrepeatable. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that there are diminishing returns from these video stings.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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