Is Ratfucking Journalism Dead?

James O'Keefe's latest video exposé is another selectively edited pooch-screw. A conservative kids' blog gets blasted for paying political operatives and snowing sources. A bowtied bro and his protegé, who's trying to do the Tea Party a solid, get played by Cuban spies. The right-wing gotcha industry is in disarray!

Like Icarus ascending to the sun's wax-melting radiation, the conservative journalism brat pack has soared too high too fast with its soft-money donations this summer. So it seems a fair time to wring our hands and ask whether this new model of journalism—online right-wing ratfucking—is sustainable in the long term.

Let's burrow a ways down the China-bound rabbit hole of assorted recent conservapundit foul-ups:

O'Keefe's latest video sting—purporting to be Hollywood B-list environmentalists working with an Arab oil sheik to destroy U.S. energy independence—was counter-stung by a subject who recorded his encounters with O'Keefe's actors and exposed the video as a sham.

The Washington Free Beacon, a fun blog for kids who hate liberals and love microbrews, ran a bullshit hit piece last week claiming political scientist Daniel Drezner and progressive think-tanker Matthew Duss, two of the most saccharine personalities in Beltway punditry, palled around with a "close friend" and allegedly Holocaust-denying paleoconservative on a DC conference panel.

The Beacon's sycophant publisher, a Weekly Standard remainder named Michael Goldfarb who claims he was the 2008 McCain campaign's deputy communications director (although the campaign, after seeing him get torched on CNN, replied: "He's our blogger"), tried to drop a smarm bomb on Drezner and Duss—"I would never associate [sic] a bigot like that in the first place"—and failed to recall that he'd repped a neocon money front run by an Islamophobe under fire for her own bigoted public statements.

That was the biggest of the Beacon's summer pooch-screws, but not its first. That honor goes to its big scoop from June, in which it re-reported a 2008 Newsday story about Hillary Clinton making some callous audio-taped statements about an alleged rape victim after Clinton had been appointed in 1975 to defend the victim's accused attackers.

The story was a non-story, except to right-wing red-meaters; few others were surprised to learn that a '70s-era Clinton might have been "a relentlessly ambitious lawyer whose lawyering exhibited lawyerly tendencies." But the Beacon credited the story to writer Alana Goodman (who also "broke" the Drezner/Duss/Holocaust denier ad hominem) without mentioning it paid a Republican opposition researcher to extract the Clinton recordings from the University of Arkansas library under false auspices. The university now claims the Free Beacon's obtaining of the tapes through that operative, who signed a bunch of releases on how they could be used, constitute an "ongoing violation" of "intellectual copyright."

(Clinton, in the meantime, put the Beacon story out of its misery today by claiming she'd tried to beg off the rape case, but was assigned to it nevertheless, and vigorously defended her clients.)

And finally, there's Tucker Carlson's two-year-long Daily Caller nightmare, in which his site's 2012 hot scoop about Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) cavorting with Dominican prostitutes ended up being a complete botch job. The story blew up in Carlson's face a year ago, when three of the prostitutes—whom the Daily Caller had paid through their "attorney," a political operative who worked for a Dominican president that Menendez had publicly blasted for drug corruption—recanted their stories.

But the best part came late last night, when the Washington Post reported that the Daily Caller's entire Menendez story might have been a false flag planted with them by agents of the Cuban communist government. Carlson, the bowtie-loving ur-bro of online conservative gotcha journalism, was clearly gotcha'd when asked about the Cuban surprise by the Post. "I really can't assess it without more information," he told the paper. "It's bizarre on its face, but also fascinating."

Even more fascinating: The researcher for that now-thoroughly discredited Daily Caller story was an enfant terrible of the right-wing ratfucking crew calling himself Charles "Chuck" Johnson. Johnson busied himself this summer trying to become an oppo-research kingmaker for crazy tea-partiers challenging Republican incumbents in U.S. Senate elections. Just don't call him a blogger, dammit!

As I wrote last week, "Chuck" Johnson is currently tearing up the Mississippi Senate race with his reverse Midas touch for journalistic truth—every time he touches a story, it turns into a steaming turd. It's an art he honed to a fine craft in the Menendez story.

Now, he's busying himself with trying to discredit Republican Sen. Thad Cochran's wafer-thin margin of victory in Mississippi against the decidedly nuttier Tea Party favorite, Chris McDaniel. Chuck would like to tell you how Cochran has a married mistress! He'd like to discuss voter fraud by (gasp) black Democrats! So it kind of sucks that he's got to waste time pushing back on this Cuban business with punch-drunk tweets:

And hashtags like #NotACubanAgent.

The time has come, as Hunter Thompson might say, for an agonizing reappraisal of the whole scene. Privileged conservative white dudes have for a generation now been cynically trying to move the national conversation with this brand of gonzo oppo: Fox News-friendly dirt on Dems and their collaborators, with a sprinkling of racial animus and titillation. It was entertaining for a time, at least, and it helped the bratty purveyors find the next round of old rich benefactors. It was, in other words, a great business model for doing journalism in the internet age.

But what happens when their product becomes so embarrassing—so GOP-destroyingly, Castro-pleasingly ghastly—that even the old wealthy coots can't bring themselves to sustain it? In all likelihood, we're about to find out.

[Illustration by Jim Cooke]