I’m still a peon in the world of journalism, interning at a paper and running this blog. That doesn’t mean I haven’t read enough in my lifetime to know good journalism from bad, and the Mark Ames-Yasha Levine “Kochtopus conspiracy” hit piece against the Opt Out movement was unquestionably the latter. Mind you, I like Mark Ames–I love reading old stuff from The eXile paper he infamously founded with Matt Taibbi in Moscow in the 1990s. This article, though, was a horror show.
The main problem with it is hardly a unique one. It’s one that I have noticed in plenty of left-wing journalism: the idea that you can always crack a story just by “following the money.” Perhaps it should not be surprising that people with socialist leanings would have a materialist approach to investigative journalism, too. Anyways, I’ve critiqued this approach before in my criticism of The New Yorker‘s anti-Koch hit piece this summer, but it applies again here. And what made it even worse in the Ames-Levine story is that they didn’t even bother to follow the money, instead resorting to even lazier associative BS that I saw one site describe as “Six Degrees of Separation for the libertarian movement.” “Oh, this person is a Free Stater? They must know the Koch brothers.” That makes about as much sense as saying that just because someone lives in Omaha, they must know Warren Buffett.
Furthermore, Ames and Levine seem to want us to believe there is something creepy or wrong about libertarians fighting back against the TSA’s revolting new procedures. Yes, libertarians are recording their encounters and intentionally pushing the envelope. It’s called civil disobedience. Was what Rosa Parks did creepy because she was an anti-segregationist with some support from the NAACP? Was what John Scopes did creepy because he was an evolutionist with some support from the ACLU? No. People with a strong ideological opposition to some distasteful piece of legislation are the ones most likely to risk the most to see it defeated.
My favorite response to the article came from Glenn Greenwald, one of America’s preeminent civil libertarians but also a political progressive to the left of most of the Democratic Party, just like Ames and Levine. Of course, this did not stop Ames and Levine from essentially calling him a CATO Institute shill, as pointed out by Brian Doherty at Reason. Greenwald’s piece is a real and thorough fisking that debunks nearly every paragraph of the Ames-Levine article.
Returning to my introduction, I may be only a fledgling journalist, but the time I have spent working on stories makes me realize how lame of an attempt Ames and Levine made at doing research and how lax the editors at The Nation must be. They apparently made no attempt to contact the people they smeared in their story, something that would not have been hard to do with all the talk shows John Tyner and Meg McLain have done. Heck, Meg is even a weekly cohost on Free Talk Live. Now that I’ve used Facebook to track down long-forgotten high school classmates of murder victims and visited creepy old homes just to get a phone number for an interview, I feel safe in saying that the effort Ames and Levine needed to put into this story to achieve a baseline level of good research was minimal. That didn’t stop them from failing to do it.