I am a blogger. I am not a journalist. I don’t have the time or energy to be a journalist. Journalism requires a special set of skills that most bloggers don’t have. Being able to read and cull others’ news stories and opine on them does not make one a journalist. I know there’s a tendency to call bloggers “citizen journalists,” but they also call Fox News, well, “News,” and we all know it isn't. Bloggers are bloggers. I suppose you can call it a "form of journalism," but I prefer to think I have standards. I respect and value the diversity of opinion of bloggers, but trust them for "news"? No thank you. Anyone can post anything online; to believe anything posted online without some level of verification and corroboration makes you "gullible," not smart.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't believe anyone. There are hierarchies of bloggers and journalists and their believability. On the one end, there are Richard Engel and Christiane Amanpour, and on the other end, there are Andrew Breitbart and James O'Keefe. If something the first two say report turns out to be wrong, it was likely they made a mistake or got bad information. If the second two mutter it, it's probably just a lie. If they SCREAM it, you know it's a BIG Lie™.
I’m a skeptic. I don’t believe much of anything anyone tells me without checking it first, and you should know, I’m pretty good at research, so I can usually call “BS” pretty quickly. But I don’t even have to be skeptical when the Right Wing Fart Machine spews something, because there’s a 99% chance its untrue. If someone on Fox told me it was dry in southern Arizona, I would instinctively look around me. They have zero credibility.
But I'm sad to report that some on our side of the aisle are resorting to the same sorts of trickery and deceit that their side uses, and I refuse to let it sit there. The latest example; Michael Moore.
I've never met Michael, but I find most of his films useful, when taken with a large block of salt. I loved "Sicko," for example, even though he left a few key details out of the film, especially when he described the French and Canadian systems. But that’s neither here nor there; when the film was fact checked, it was found to be true and accurate. Plus, if we start faulting journalists and documentarians for leaving things out, all news stories will have to be 100 pages long and documentaries would have to be 24 hours.
Now, for the record, I don't necessarily think of Michael Moore as a journalist, per se. He's more of a carny. His job isn't exactly to uncover a story, but rather to point you to the story, so that you can find more information about it. But he has a lot of followers who trust him. A lot of people depend on Michael Moore to at least point them to the truth. Which is why his recent actions on the Occupy movement have been a bit troubling.
First of all, he's actively trying to portray himself as the face of the movement. He'll deny it, but for Chrissakes, folks; every time you turn on the TV, Moore's face is plastered on the screen. I give him credit for what he attempted to do on the Piers Morgan show, when he brought 40 protesters into the studio, but in the end, he pretty much hogged the microphone. And when confronted on the fact that HE, in fact, now belongs to the 1%, he tried to deny it. I don't know what it is about Moore, but he seems to have this need for a fake "authenticity," when real authenticity would serve him so much better. I don't doubt that he empathizes with the people in the Occupy Movement; he doesn't have to BE one. I don't have to have cancer to raise money to fight it, do I? Basically, he's trying too hard.
But he really stepped into it a couple of days ago. On his Twitter feed in the middle of the night, while the police were “evicting” the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccoti Park, Moore Tweeted the following:
The question marks don’t help. The implication he made was that, somehow, Obama and/or Janet Napolitano were somehow coordinating with various cities to get rid of the protesters. When you're Tweeting that to nearly a million followers, you are essentially starting a rumor.
The concept is silly on a number of levels. First of all, the federal government doesn’t have jurisdiction in cities (Yes, even after the Patriot Act). Second, no one in their right mind, least of all someone as politically astute as Obama, EVER thought police could get rid of the protesters and they’d never return. And that fact actually makes highly unlikely the only plausible reason the Obama Administration MIGHT intervene in such a case, and that would be because of a credible threat to the protesters themselves. If that was the case, then they wouldn’t have let protesters return at all, would they? So that's pretty much out.
Moore apparently got some heat for the Tweet. And why not? It was irresponsible. Just ask Ashton Kutcher, who took some heat for posting an uninformed Tweet about Joe Paterno to his eight million followers. For someone whose reputation is based on supposedly cutting through bullshit and getting to the truth, starting a rumor is how credibility dies. If I were to Tweet “Does Michael Moore own millions of shares of Bank of America stock as he's working with #OWS?” does the presence of a question mark relieve me of responsibility for that irresponsible statement?
There's only one answer to that question, and it is "no." "I'm just asking questions" is what assholes pretending to be "journalists" do. Reporting speculation, rumors and innuendo are what Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe do. Michael, honestly, do you want to be like them? God, I hope not. The progressive movement has enough problems with messaging. If we become a mirror image of the Right Wing Fart Machine, we're doomed.
But the situation actually devolved, believe it or not. That evening, apparently feeling some heat, Michael just HAPPENED to find one story, which he hurriedly spewed as a source that somehow “proved,” or at least “strongly suggested” that his prescient Tweet had been correct. He told everyone about it on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” and cited his source; “the Minneapolis Examiner.”
Yes, I said the Minneapolis Examiner. More accurately, Examiner.com. There actually IS no "Minneapolis Examiner."
For those of you unfamiliar with the Examiner, it’s a blog. It makes The Huffington Post seem like the New York Times. Anyone can join it, pretty much, and become a "professional journalist." Here’s an application. When you get to step 4, you have to tell them why you’re qualified for that topic, but given the limited amount of information you have to give them in steps 1-3, there doesn’t seem to be an elaborate screening process.
Here is the article Moore cited to Keith Olbermann. This is the part that bothers me. A LOT. not because I think the person who wrote it is lying, but because there's no way to verify its truth.
The official, who spoke on background to me late Monday evening, said that while local police agencies had received tactical and planning advice from national agencies, the ultimate decision on how each jurisdiction handles the Occupy protests ultimately rests with local law enforcement.
According to this official, in several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present.
Essentially, the person writing this piece is saying that someone he knows said something about Homeland Security and something may have happened.
The author of the piece is "Rick Ellis." I don’t know Rick Ellis, and this isn’t ABOUT Rick Ellis. Rick Ellis is a television writer who runs a relatively small website called allabouttv.com. He’s had this website, or at least the domain, since 1999, according to the domain records.( I normally wouldn’t show an address, but it’s not his home; it’s a mailbox at “Mail N Parcel,” so it’s ok. ) If you look at the stats for his site, which can be found here beneath the screenshots, the average traffic per month is 2,929 unique visitors. The last year has been kinder to Rick, as these statistics show. This year, he’s averaged 10,107 per month.
As for the rest of his background, since he didn’t show up at all in a search of the last 20 years on Nexis, all I can go by is his “profile” at Examiner.com. He does dabble in writing "local news" in Minneapolis for Examiner.com, and there are a few errant posts about the OccupyMN protests, but nothing to indicate he has ANY hard journalism experience. His profile also says he started at the Chicago Tribune. Someone sent me one piece that someone named “Rick Ellis” wrote in 1986 (The Tweeter claimed he found it on Google. He didn’t.) But it’s a cute little feature story about a movie theater. There is nothing on his LinkedIn profile, to suggest he has any sort of hard news background. Yet, we're to believe that some unknown "contact" from DHS just happened to call him and tell him something that just happened to make Michael Moore's rumor seem true. I'm not saying he's lying. It might have happened. But if you "just believe" that, how gullible are you?
You should know that, once upon a time, back in 1975-1976, I wrote for a newspaper, the Baltimore News-American. I was 17 years old, and working in an independent study program at my high school. I wrote a lot of copy, and even did some feature writing. Because I believe in fact, here is proof. Download Funeral Home (Go ahead and laugh. I do. I was cute.) In other words, I once "wrote for a newspaper," too. And the traffic for this PCTC Blog is actually a bit higher than his. I say that not to brag, but to illustrate. You don't really know me. I don't have the journalistic reputation of Richard Engle or Keith Olbermann. If I was to post something like the above (For the record, I would never post something like that.), I’d expect you to call BS on it. I would DEMAND that you do so. You don’t know me well enough to “trust me” when I tell you something I can’t confirm. For me to expect you to "just believe me" is absurd.
The point is, no one knows who this guy is, anymore than they know who I am. Because no one knows who this guy is, It's not possible to treat the above as credible on its face.
I’m sick of this crap, where people just claim someone said something once, and then every acolyte who wishes to believe it passes it on as if it was true. By the way, Michael; you should read the goddamn right wing blogs today; you’re their hero. Oh, and there's a surpise for you at the end of this piece.
I once worked in a soup kitchen and served homeless people along Venice Beach. As anyone who has spent time on Venice Beach knows, the level of "crazy" is unique. I can’t tell you how many stories I heard there. If I pass them off on my blog, would you just repeat it as if it was true? Hell, to this day one of my lefty friends who worked at Lockheed Martin for years will SWEAR that a missile, not a plane, hit the Pentagon, despite the fact that I know at least a half dozen eyewitnesses who saw the plane hit. Would it be responsible for me to claim “a Defense Department Contractor said” and quote him? Of course it wouldn’t. It might get me on one of Jesse Ventura’s shows, but that’s about it. I would, and should, lose credibility.
Rick Ellis posted an article on his blog, using a blind source with no corroboration. It's his column, and he has the right to do so. But it's irresponsible and disappointing for anyone who is looked up to by so many progressives, to cite to something like the above as if it had any inherent journalistic credibility.Gosh, who could imagine a planted anti-Obama article on a newspaper-sounding website that’s part of a nearly defunct newspaper enterprise founded by billionaire right winger Philip Anschutz? I couldn't imagine one, could you? (That was sarcasm.)
This is what the Right Wing Fart Machine does, folks. They pay a blogger like Breitbart to quote some unnamed source (or worse, that guy they call “Sumsay”), and they build a line of crapola around it. For all we know, Breitbart or Fox News make up a line they think sounds good, and hand out cards to a bunch of people and ask them to read it. Then they can “legitimately” say “Sumsay the world really is flat,” and “sound credible.”
And that’s exactly what Moore did when he cited this Examiner piece as corroboration for his wild-eyed speculation. We don’t know anything about the source of the story. We know nothing about the author. And that means NEITHER DID MICHAEL. Michael Moore cited an unconfirmed source in order to validate something he said off the cuff during a heated moment at Occupy Wall Street. I get that people sometimes say things in the heat of the moment that is ill-advised. It's quite common, in fact, which is why there's a DELETE button on every Tweet. If you believe your statement to be true, Michael, that’s fine. Stand by it. But it's your OPINION, and the rest of us get to call you on it. And you cannot be allowed to cite an uncorroborated piece from an unknown author from a sketchy website owned by a right wing billionaire family who would love nothing better than to trash Obama as “proof” that you are right.
Now, I told you I have a surprise. Seems Mr. Ellis has posted an “update” to the article Michael Moore cited on “Countdown.”
Here’s an excerpt:
Since I published my initial story about how several federal law enforcement agencies had been providing logistical advice to local authorities on how to handle the 'Occupy' protests, I have been attempting to get an official response from the Dept. Of Homeland Security (DHS).
I've spoken to several DHS officials on background in the last 24 hours, and they stressed several things to me.
First, despite some press reports to the contrary, the only official DHS role in any 'Occupy' arrests took place in Portland. In that case, officers from Federal Protective Services (which is tasked with protecting federal buildings) assisted the Portland Police Bureau in clearing the federally-owned Terry Shrunk Plaza. Officers from FPS did make several arrests, although it's not clear how many.
I was also assured that FPS officers only had jurisdiction on federal property and would only make arrests after the situation has been deemed unsafe or unsanitary by the General Services Administration (GSA). That agency is that is the permitting authority for protests on federal property.
Okay, so we have ONE unnamed “source” claiming a coordinated effort, and “several” unnamed “background” sources that claim they didn’t. There is also a statement from a DHS spokesperson that says what everyone with any sense should have known all along; the feds only have jurisdiction on federal property, and they can’t tell cities what to do. If asked, they can advise, but no one’s denying they asked for advice. That's not what Moore suggested with his Tweet.
See, the way you dispense information, Michael, is to start with the facts, and draw conclusions from the facts. Starting with a conclusion and looking for (or making up) "facts" to support them is how the Right Wing Fart Machine does business. They have huge agencies that do nothing but create "facts" that serve their point of view. The FACT is, the federal government doesn't have the power to tell cities to do anything that is within their jurisdiction. It’s against the rules. It’s unconstitutional. If you have evidence that shows they broke the law, present it. But a blind “source” without corroboration does not refute the facts, and to say so puts you on Fox News-type footing.
I don't know Moore's motivation for this sort of thing. I know he has an unnatural dislike of Barack Obama, but then, he was also part of the genius "progressive" media cabal that helped sink Al Gore and make George W Bush president, so he has a history of this sort of thing. But hey; that's another column for another day.
For now, all I ask is that high profile lefties hold themselves to a HIGHER standard than Breitbart/O'Keefe and Fox News. If the progressive movement is to grow and change the politics, we can’t be like the Right Wing Fart Machine. We have to stick with the facts, and we can't just repeat stories unless they're TRUE, no matter how much we want to believe them. Feel free to speculate, but when people call you on it, at least have the cajones to hold up to the scrutiny.
That’s what THEY do. We’re not LIKE them. We can't be, or the country's screwed.