This would be stunning if it were coming from a real journalist. But the very fact that she says it with a straight face suggests that a journalist Giles is not, as Media Matters wrote earlier this week. As does the following exchange among Giles, Sean Hannity, and conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart:
HANNITY: You know, what you guys did was incredibly courageous. Incredibly brave. I think you exposed the media to be shallow, inept, ineffective, biased, all the things we discussed. And I think people have really learned a lot about a group.
And you probably have saved the country billions of dollars. Billions, which they were scheduled to get at ACORN.
ANDREW BREITBART: I think — look, I think that they’re going to be a zillion other James and Hannahs out there who have been inspired by this.
HANNITY: I agree.
GILES: I completely agree.
HANNITY: You inspired me. I got to tell you, congratulations and thank you. And thank James for us. And Andrew, you’re a great American. We always thank you.
GILES: I think journalists have a big future. And young kids need to step up so.
HANNITY: I think, you know, FOX News is in your future. Come on over.
Well, okay. And certainly, there are elements of the ACORN reporting—shadows of journalism’s muckraking past—that are commendable in Giles’s and O’Keefe’s reporting effort.
Still, though, what they obtained was raw information; what journalists produce are stories. A lot hinges on that distinction.
Take, for example, a traditionally journalistic treatment of the ACORN story: the examination of the ACORN videos published in today’s Washington Post. The story includes several pieces of key information—also known as context—that the politically motivated O’Keefe/Giles piece did not. It also corrects the assertion that ACORN is slated for $8.5 billion in stimulus money, and quotes Andrew Breitbart—whose Web site, BigGovernment.com, hosts the O’Keefe/Giles videos—acknowledging that he did no fact-checking.
“Giles and O’Keefe have been criticized for accuracy problems,” the article notes. “Their videos include the oft-repeated conservative claim that ACORN is expected to get up to $8.5 billion in government funds.”
But that’s a bold exaggeration, as it includes $3 billion in stimulus funds set aside for revitalization efforts nationwide, and $5.5 billion in federal community development grants. The number assumes ACORN would apply for and win every project and grant in the country, while ACORN says it is not applying for any of the stimulus funds.
“I’ve not owned that $8.5 billion number and tied it to ACORN, because I’m the publisher of this story,” Breitbart said. “I ask the journalists to check their facts.”
The Post also obtained a July 24 police report that showed police were called when O’Keefe and Giles attempted their sting at ACORN’s Philadelphia offices—and that the couple were escorted out of those offices. While that hardly negates the sensational ethical breaches that Giles and O’Keefe did capture, it still adds some context to the video.
And: that’s how it’s supposed to work, Ken Silverstein says.
“Should there be more context provided? Yeah. And other people will report the story and provide the context. I’m not advocating in any way for ACORN to have its money taken away. The revelation will be exploited by people who want to just tarnish the organization. There’s a long history there, and that should be discussed and debated,” Silverstein says.
Indeed, in a democracy like ours, debate is an outcome whose value is hard to…debate with. The O’Keefe/Giles finding, Mark Bowden says, is “not a story.” Still, though, it’s something. “It’s a political protest. It’s a revelation,” he says. “But it’s not a work of journalism. The video itself is the piece of information and the question then becomes, ‘How do you present it?’ As long as it’s not misrepresented as a work of journalism, I don’t have a problem with that.”
In his Atlantic essay, Bowden describes such an ideology-infused approach to shaping news as “post-journalistic.”
It sees democracy, by definition, as perpetual political battle. The blogger’s role is to help his side. Distortions and inaccuracies, lapses of judgment, the absence of context—all of these things matter only a little, because they are committed by both sides, and tend to come out a wash. Nobody is actually right about anything, no matter how certain they pretend to be. The truth is something that emerges from the cauldron of debate. No, not the truth: victory, because winning is way more important than being right. Power is the highest achievement.
There is nothing new about this. But we never used to mistake it for journalism. Today it is rapidly replacing journalism, leading us toward a world where all information is spun, and where all “news” is unapologetically propaganda.