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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

wtf: mainstream journalism is even more of a mess than we thought

I knew things were bad with the state of journalism — or as I like to call it, journalmalism — but this is almost a perfect storm of WTF-ness in this arena.

Remember James O’Keefe? He’s the right-wing darling who recently actually succeeded in taking down ACORN — an organization whose great crime was having the temerity to ensure that poor people were registered to vote — with a video maliciously doctored to make it appear as if he were a pimp soliciting ACORN for advice on how to run a prostitution ring. In fact, as The Brad Blog summarizes:

O’Keefe did not “represent himself as a pimp” to ACORN workers… He represented himself as the boyfriend of the girl/prostitute (played by Hannah Giles) trying to save her FROM an abusive pimp who was trying to kill her.

This has been demonstrated via incontrovertible evidence again and again, but the mainstream media continues to promulgate the pimp story.
This week, we learned that O’Keefe had another scheme in the works that was thwarted at the last minute. Via CNN, under the facepalm headline “Fake pimp from ACORN videos tries to ‘punk’ CNN correspondent”:

A conservative activist known for making undercover videos plotted to embarrass a CNN correspondent by recording a meeting on hidden cameras aboard a floating “palace of pleasure” and making sexually suggestive comments, e-mails and a planning document show.

James O’Keefe, best known for hitting the community organizing group ACORN with an undercover video sting, hoped to get CNN Investigative Correspondent Abbie Boudreau onto a boat filled with sexually explicit props and then record the session, those documents show.

The plan apparently was thwarted after Boudreau was warned minutes before it was supposed to happen.

Right away, any sane person must wonder, How would this embarrass Boudreau? It sounds like it would embarrass only O’Keefe… except after his fakey pimp stunt — in which he did parade around in an outrageous caricature of a 1970s blaxploitation pimp, just not at ACORN offices — it would appear he is not capable of embarrassment.

But it gets so much better. O’Keefe and his idiot cronies had a detailed written plan for the “punking,” which CNN obtained. It’s hilarious. From CNN’s summary of the document:

Listed under “equipment needed,” is “hidden cams on the boat,” and a “tripod and overt recorder near the bed, an obvious sex tape machine.”

Among the props listed were a “condom jar, dildos, posters and paintings of naked women, fuzzy handcuffs” and a blindfold.

According to the document, O’Keefe was to record a video of the following script before Boudreau arrived: “My name is James. I work in video activism and journalism. I’ve been approached by CNN for an interview where I know what their angle is: they want to portray me and my friends as crazies, as non-journalists, as unprofessional and likely as homophobes, racists or bigots of some sort….

“Instead, I’ve decided to have a little fun. Instead of giving her a serious interview, I’m going to punk CNN. Abbie has been trying to seduce me to use me, in order to spin a lie about me. So, I’m going to seduce her, on camera, to use her for a video. This bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five will get a taste of her own medicine, she’ll get seduced on camera and you’ll get to see the awkwardness and the aftermath.

Perhaps the most hilarious thing about all of this is that O’Keefe assumed he’d have absolutely no trouble whatsoever getting Boudreau into bed. No, wait, even more hilarious still is the imaginary scenario outlined in the planning document that O’Keefe believed would work:

AB: Are you recording this?
JP: If you want, I can record it, I usually don’t record it unless I’m trying out a new position or something really kinky though. I have the camera set up though, so we can do whatever you want, whatever you feel comfortable with.

AB: Is this a gag?
JO: Abbie, I’m not really into S&M, so I don’t have any toys like that…
AB: No, is this a joke, are you kidding?
JO: Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were talking about S&M, what do you mean is this a gag?
AB: You can’t be serious, I’m married.
JO: Abbie, there’s never going to be a right time for you and I. There’s only right now. We have to make the most of the time we’re given, and we’re being given right now.

AB: Are you serious?
JO: I’ve never met a woman like you, one who had the drive, ambition, and the same creative power, the same creative juice. We’re the same person Abbie, we’re meant to be together. I’m serious because my heart is serious.

Grammatical and punctuation errors are in the original. Emphasis is mine, because this is simply too too precious not to appreciate to the fullest.

Oh my god, it gets better:

As the operation is going on, James will have to adapt and adjust to her mood and her reaction. If she is pulling away, withdraw and pull her back in. If she’s unsure, comfort her and reassure her. Vacillate between somewhat serious interview amd the come-hither persona as needed in order to confuse her judgment and also keep her on the boat.

I’m dying laughing here. “Come-hither persona?” What about that, anyway?

James should have a more sleazy persona than normal, with slicked back hair and exposing his chest. It should be entirely over the top. The persona should be very touchy-feely, wearing gold chains and with cigarettes.

Someone could write a 100,000-word thesis about adolescent male sexuality based solely on those two sentences.

Remember, the plan was intended to get Boudreau into bed. They thought this would work to seduce an adult woman.

Remember, too, that the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck love O’Keefe — he’s a hero to them. This is what they all think about women. It says an awful lot about male privilege and assumptions in some circles about professional woman.

This guy O’Keefe is not some randon nutjob. He is celebrated in certain circles that our culture has accorded the honor of being taken seriously.

This is terrifying.

But the whole thing also brings in how women are presented by the mainstream news media: they are expected to look and dress a certain way, even though that then precludes them from being taken seriously. As the O’Keefe battle plan states is their motivation:

[I]f they go on the attack, you should point out the hypocrisy in CNN using the inherent sexuality of these women to sell viewers and for ratings, passing up more esteemed and respectable journalists who aren’t bubble-headed bleach blondes and keep the focus on CNN.

Boudreau herself expresses frustration with this state of affairs:

As a woman in the news industry you have to be tough. I have always had to work harder than my male counterparts to be taken seriously and to be treated with respect. As a woman in the news industry you have to ignore all of the silly talk from your managers about the clothes you should wear on-air or what color your hair should be. I have had my share of conversations like that, and to be honest, it stings. I’m left wondering, “When will my work stand on its own? Why does this always have to be part of the conversation?”

I have worked so hard to have people pay attention to my work, and to be a respected journalist. I don’t want to be judged based on anything other than my work. But apparently, I represent all of the things this group hates about the mainstream media. They feel because of the way I look that I do not matter, and that my reporting is a joke. They don’t know anything about my work ethic – my history – my dedication and commitment – and my love for reporting. They just saw my blonde hair. And the ironic thing is that I’m really a brunette.

No, the really ironic thing is that Boudreau dyed her brunette hair blond. Why should she have to do that?

I’m really begining to despair in earnest that we can ever fix things.

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