Right-Wing Media Send Their Mobs of Crazy Fans to Go After Private Citizens -- Including Kids
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Last week, a Washington Times blogger posted a call to arms, beseeching readers to help the newspaper dig up more information regarding a long list of arts organization representatives who took part in a conference call with the White House on August 10. The call was part of a National Endowment for the Arts initiative, and it's a conference call that was secretly taped and has been wildly overhyped in conservative media circles as some sort of linchpin in a larger criminal enterprise being run out of the White House to politicize the arts. (There's no evidence the August 10 conference call broke any laws.)
Still, the Times was asking for help. It wanted readers to search through a spreadsheet it posted that included names of the arts representatives who participated in the NEA conference call. The Times wanted readers to snoop around online -- doing some crowdsourcing -- and find out everything they could about the arts reps.
In theory, of course, online dirt-digging and sleuthing makes perfect sense and represents a new era of participatory journalism embraced by the Internet. Josh Marshall and his reporting team at Talking Points Memo, for instance, famously used crowdsourcing to track policy positions of members of Congress during the debate over Social Security in 2005. Readers also chipped in and helped rifle through thousands of pages of memos that the Bush White House dumped at a time when the U.S. attorney scandal was widening. Thanks to Marshall's readers, TPM was able to tease out all sorts of interesting news leads.
Note, however, who the targets of TPM's crowdsourcing were: members of Congress and other major players in the federal government. Marshall urged his readers to monitor politicians and to read through government documents while focusing on people in power who are expected to be held publicly accountable.
But The Washington Times' disturbing call to arms? The paper wanted its readers to find out all they could about private citizens who work at little-known arts organizations and whose only connection to the spotlight was that they were invited to dial in to a conference call.
Times blogger Kerry Picket assured readers, "The people on the call didn't necessarily do anything controversial or wrong." Yet look at the kind of dirt Times readers were urged to dig up about the arts reps. Had they:
- Been active in Democratic politics?
- Made any campaign donations recently?
- Blogged for The Huffington Post?
- Believed in the 9-11 "Truther" conspiracy theory?
The obvious odor of Red Scare-era snitching that hung over the Times' wrongheaded project was too much to take even for some loyal conservative readers. Wrote one Times reader in the comments section:
As a Republican, this story makes me sick to my stomach. What is this? A witch hunt? McCarthy is back? As someone who lived through that, I am saddened to see the Washington Times engage in this type of behavior. STOP ACTING LIKE THIS. They are private citizens. I am a VERY proud Republican, but this is not who we are.
But increasingly, this is who conservatives have become. They've become a mindless mob, and the right-wing media, more and more often, are sending their overeager foot soldiers out on seek-and-destroy missions involving private citizens. They're even targeting innocent schoolchildren, like the group of second-graders in New Jersey that became a right-wing (mob) object of disgust last week after an old YouTube clip surfaced that showed the students singing a song in honor of the president of the United States. (You're supposed to recoil in horror at the mere suggestion of such a thing happening in America.)