26 January 2010

Landrieugate: Chapter One

Now begins a story we are sure to learn more about in coming days and weeks: James O'Keefe, the producer of last year's expose of ACORN which showed some employees of the controversial organization giving business advice pimps and prostitutes, has been arrested in New Orleans with three other men. They are accused of attempting to tap phones in the home office of Senator Landrieu, for purposes as yet unknown.

Mr. Right was just arriving in the office as I was reading the early reports. I asked him if he'd heard the story and he had. He predicted that some people will latch on to this news as a kind of exoneration of ACORN, though with his usually partisan exaggeration he claimed that the "mainstream media" as a whole will do so. Of course, he is absolutely correct to note that it does not follow that O'Keefe was wrong about ACORN because he appears to have done wrong now. It does, however, raise fair questions about the ethics of investigative reporters like O'Keefe who seem determined to bring down community activists and the (usually Democratic) politicians they tend to support. It can also be argued that investigative journalism often involves some ethical risk regardless of partisanship, based on the journalists' sense of urgency about discovering and exposing well-concealed, potentially decisive truths. Politics often comes down to a mismatch of means and ends, so it shouldn't surprise anyone if journalists obsessed with discovering abusive means or sinister ends end up unbalanced themselves.

The real issue may be whether this becomes a politicized case. At the moment, Mr. Right says he sees no way that a positive spin can be put on O'Keefe's alleged activities, but it wouldn't surprise me if other sympathizers try to find a way to characterize what's coming as a political persecution of the defendant. Some will certainly assert that O'Keefe's presence in the office proves that there's something dirty about Landrieu that needs to be brought to light. There may well be, since she's been one of the Senators most self-interestedly wheeling and dealing over the healthcare-reform legislation, according to some reports. But her story is something separate from O'Keefe's, and our attitude toward each should not be determined by our attitude toward the other. Partisanship, however, tells us that we must always consider the enemy's interest in everything we do, so many people will judge this case based on which party it seems to benefit. That's the difference between two-party politics and justice, and it should give people cause to question whether the two can co-exist.

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