Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 8, 2011

THE 'STING' THAT NEVER STUNG.... In January, a right-wing group called Live Action organized a James O'Keefe-style "sting" operation targeting five Planned Parenthood clinics. The goal was to capture on video Planned Parenthood officials helping a man who claimed to be involved in underage sex-trafficking. The little stunt failed miserably; Planned Parenthood contacted the FBI; and Live Action was reduced to deliberate deceptions.

Perhaps most importantly, the conservatives involved in this foolish endeavor came up far short in their primary goal: generating media attention. Outlets expressed some preliminary interest last week, but it quickly faded, unlike most far-right press stunts, which tend to generate media frenzies.

Why did this fail where others succeeded? Part of this is the result of news organizations who've been burned following conservatives down pointless rabbit holes, and as Dave Weigel explained last night, much of this is the result of better preparation from progressive organizations.

In September 2009, we saw a series of successful right-wing initiatives, including the ACORN videos and the resignation of Van Jones. Media Matters, Dave reported, sent out word to like-minded groups that the left "needed to anticipate things like the Jones campaign or the ACORN tapes, and they needed to stop them from taking good people down with them."

The lessons learned were applied to the Planned Parenthood "sting," to great effect.

Media Matters and other liberal groups pounced as soon as the video went up. Media Matters welcomed the videos with a "refresher course on Andrew Breitbart's dishonest tactics" and the screaming headline "HOAX VIDEO EXPOSED." The hoax? Planned Parenthood had already warned the FBI about the sting. Subsequent Media Matters reports alleged that audio in the tapes had been spliced and mashed to make stuff up. Within 72 hours, the group put together a conference call for Planned Parenthood leaders to speak out about Rose and a joint letter to members of Congress from 26 progressive groups.

Most of those groups didn't even work on abortion issues -- the SEIU, the Sierra Club, the liberal think tank Demos. The goal was to stop another weak-kneed moment like the vote to defund ACORN. The message to Democrats: If you don't stop letting conservatives run these operations against us, they're never going to stop. Their cave-in on ACORN had led to people like Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., taking power and launching new investigations.

"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.

The aggressive response to the manufactured controversy proved effective. Live Action's deceptions were exposed; reporters steered clear of the con job, and the entire effort quickly became an embarrassing dud.

To be sure, the far-right activists are still trying, but they're still failing. They've managed to get Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's (R) attention, but sensible people everywhere have come to see the Planned Parenthood stunt for what it is: a fiasco.

Steve Benen 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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Don't we have one prosecutor in this country who will go after these dirt bags? What they are doing is illegal in my books.

Posted by: John R on February 8, 2011 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

That ACORN funding was removed - in bipartisan fashion - following the Breibart videos was reprehensible.

That ACORN's funding has not been fully and completely restored - subsequent to revelations of the video's demonstrable fabrication - remains a travesty.

Posted by: terraformer on February 8, 2011 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

If not legal action, shouldn't there be more press about these bogus "stings"?

Posted by: mlm on February 8, 2011 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

The SOBs aren't giving up yet -- they've enlisted Bill O'Reilly and his stalker, Jesse Watters, to try to keep the story alive.

A wooden stake might be necessary to kill this one.

Posted by: Steve M. on February 8, 2011 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

If it can be shown that they deliberately altered tapes in an attempt to destroy people or organizations, it would seem that legal action could be brought. The problem, I guess, is how to keep the case legally narrow, so that the question is just whether the tapes are fake, while massive discovery actions by the other side to try to come up with dirty laundry aren't admissible.

Posted by: Joe Buck on February 8, 2011 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

All this talk of "legal issues" assumes that the Left is ready, willing and able to FIGHT BACK!

Obama refuses to go after War Criminal George Bush, and the rest of the left follows his example.

Posted by: DAY on February 8, 2011 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

They need to arrest these clowns and prosecute them.
And when they're found guilty, go away for a dozen or so years.
That might take some of the 'fun' out of this BS for them.
There's 'investigative journalism,' of which the right knows nothing, and there's "GOTCHA!" "journalism," which the right confuses with the investigative kind.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on February 8, 2011 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Part of this is the result of news organizations who've been burned following conservatives down pointless rabbit holes

Facts not in evidence. The MSM is like Bart Simpson sticking his finger in a light socket.

Posted by: martin on February 8, 2011 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

They've managed to get Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's (R) attention

Talk about lowering the bar.

Posted by: Joe Friday on February 8, 2011 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

It is worth noting the difference between how Republicans respond to opposition groups and how Democrats generally respond to opposition groups.

Republicans will identify a group or individual that is opposed to their agenda. And then Republicans will take steps to delegitimize the group or individual. If Republicans don't like the message they shoot the messenger. I mean that metaphorically. For the most part.

It doesn't matter if it is ACORN, Media Matters, MoveOn, Van Jones, George Soros, Michael Moore, or in this case Planned Parenthood. Republicans identify an opposing source of power and attack it.

OTOH, Democrats rush to befriend their opponents. It isn't just Barack Obama, who followed up is Bill O'Reilly interview with his speech to the Chamber of Commerce. All established Democrats do this.

The Clintons just loved them some Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife during the '08 primaries.

Show me one establishment Democrat who has engaged in any sustained effort to discredit FOX, Drudge, the Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, the Koch Brothers, Scaife, Murdoch, or Grover Norquist for example? despite the fact that these people spend 24/7 trashing the Democrats and making Democrats' lives miserable.

Now, before anyone puts words in my mouth, I am decidedly NOT suggesting that Democrats concoct bullshit a la Breitbart and O'Keefe. But there is more than enough legitimate material with which Democrats could attack their opponents. And they never do. Then Democrats whine about the media.

Yes, there is a liberal media. Phil Donohue. Ashleigh Banfield. Keith Olbermann. Dan Rather.

Republicans find it and destroy it.

Posted by: square1 on February 8, 2011 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

I just read about university students being charged in Orange County for heckling at a public political meeting, and these right wingers go free for manifest illegality. What ever happened to the same rules for both sides?

Posted by: Bob M on February 8, 2011 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Yep. We have several kinds of criminal conspiracy, including presenting materially false information to congress (since this was all designed to provide cover for the more-dead-women faction to cut PP's federal contracts).

Posted by: paul on February 8, 2011 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK


In an embarrassing report that just aired on the CBS Evening News, their ‘Chief Legal Correspondent’, Jan Crawford, fell for the scam by Live Action hook, line, and sinker. She reported it as a legit undercover investigation.

Good grief.

Posted by: Joe Friday on February 8, 2011 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure the result is quite as neatly defined as Benen would like: there has been particularly heavy attention on one Planned Parenthood office, which did seem to fall for the deception, and did apparently dispense some less than appropriate advice. Like O'Keefe (never mind Breitbart), I think the aftershocks from this have yet to be felt or fully understood.

The main distinction, I think, is also more obvious: Planned Parenthood isn't ACORN; the organization is older, more established, and more professionally run from a central office. They've dealt with controversy and right wing hate for a very long time, often under threats of violence or death. Thus I think some of the lessons here were kind of obvious in advance: right wingers wishing to see PP destroyed a la ACORN were probably only kidding themselves, and left wingers who confidently assume that an O'Keefe like stunt can't still work are probably kidding only themselves.

Posted by: nycweboy on February 8, 2011 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

[...] one Planned Parenthood office, which did seem to fall for the deception, and did apparently dispense some less than appropriate advice. -- nycweboy on February 8, 2011 at 8:05 PM

Perhaps yes, but, OTOH, maybe not.

The person has been fired, which supports your thesis, that something smelly had been going on there. But I can't shake off the memory of the Sherrod "incident"... she, too, had been fired in a panicky reaction, before anyone managed to gather whatever wits they had and noticed that the tape had been, rather obviously, "doctored". Her firing seemed to legitimize the tape the same way the firing at the PP has. Doesn't mean that what she stood accused of was true, though.

Posted by: exlibra on February 8, 2011 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

I'd prosecute them for sex trafficking. They're on tape admitting to it. Who's to say this whole "sting" operation isn't an elaborate ploy to hide their guilt?

Posted by: MarkJ on February 9, 2011 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK



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