So Yasha Levine and Mark Ames are claiming victory for their Playboy piece claiming Rick Santelli was a plant by a vast Koch-funded conspiracy to spill tea all over the streets of our nation's cities. We know this because I am dating Peter Suderman.
This does not quite seem to follow, does it? I offer their explanation:
Right, so even though Megan has about as gigantic a conflict-of-interest as is humanly imaginable-namely, she spoons every night with a guy who was on Freedomworks' payroll--and even though her article absolutely defends Freedomworks by attempting to discredit Freedomworks' critics--she nevertheless concludes, against all logic, "I think it's kosher." Speaking as two Jews to a McArdle, we want you to know that your conflict-of-interest is about as kosher as a bacon-cheese-and-crab-melt sandwich.
Megan leaves out a few other details--like what exactly her partner Peter Suderman did for FreedomWorks, and how long ago he left.
One project that Megan's life-partner, Peter, produced for FreedomWorks is a video that he directed last year for the site angryrenter.com, which the Wall Street Journal described in its subheader as: "Angry Renter' Web Site Has Grass-Roots Look, But This Turf Is Fake". Fake grass-roots: exactly like the Tea Party/Santelli campaign . . .
And now, here is Megan McArdle's life-partner Peter Suderman's brilliant work for the site that even the Journal says is designed to deceive people into thinking it was representing the disgruntled masses in order to mask its real purpose--to serve the super-wealthy:
What other projects, one wonders, do the Megan-Peter team produce that masquerade as one thing (like for example a non-partisan blog) that really serves another interest (like for example, a certain mega-wealthy rightwing Republican advocacy group)? We may never find out the answer to that, but we sure know the answers to other important matters in Megan's life. Like for example, here is the freakishly-tall Megan McArdle showing the world her "look at me and my life-partner Peter Suderman being a pair of vile consumerists dipshits, I think it's so fun that I'll blog it to the world because that's how vain and shallow I am"
. . . Ha-ha! Omigod Megan, seriously! It's like, you go girl! Ha-ha!
If you've ever looked at those horrible middle-aged Republican couples who attend Washington balls and fundraisers for soulless reptiles like Mitt Romney, and wondered how they got there, because they look like they must have been born in that horrible middle-aged reptilian state--well, here they are, captured in their middle-youth larval stage, just as vile as ever. And now they're coming after us.
. . . Another late-night development: obsessed Freedomworks groupie/life-partner-of-the-inimitable-Peter-Suderman/I'll-stand-in-any-line-out-there-so-long-as-it's-selling-something-no-one-fucking-needs Megan McArdle, reports on her blog an amazing admission-of-guilt by Freedomworks which pretty much puts this whole controversy to rest. Victory: Ours. The head of Freedomworks tells Megan that they were behind the tea party "grassroots" "protests." Poor Megan, first she was their attack poodle, but now that FreedomWorks knows its cover has been blown, Megan's been demoted to the role of disgraced Freedomworks watergirl: . . . The head of Freedomworks tells Megan that they were behind the tea party "grassroots" "protests." Poor Megan, first she was their attack poodle, but now that FreedomWorks knows its cover has been blown, Megan's been demoted to the role of disgraced Freedomworks watergirl. . .
Sorry Megan, but it looks like you just queefed all over your first big Republican hit-job. Our advice: go back to blogging your petty shopping habits, you've got a serious future in that. . . .
So, to sum up the events of the past few days boys 'n' girls: We publish an investigation into the fake-grassroots "Tea Party" protest campaign underwritten by rich Republican rightwing interests, exposing Rick Santelli's role as the launch event MC, and three days later, Santelli is bitchslapped down by his bosses, he's cancelled from the Daily Show, forced to issue a Bukharin-like confession, FreedomWorks confesses that it was behind it from the start as we wrote, and every media outlet in the country from the New York Times on down is writing up the scandal.Yes, it's a victory for us and for the forces of independent journalism. Sure, we're doing a dirty chicken dance in the endzone now. But the truth is, it's a bitter victory, because we've also been forced to confront the awfully familiar face of America's own version of the Soviet Union at work: giant scary corporations threatening and scaring smaller fish into censorship, while their bought-off minions in the media do their dirty work to try to protect the mega-conglomerate's brand.
I hadn't realized that my romantic life was a threat to the very foundations of Democracy. I just thought we were, like, decorating.
Their piece contains yet another factual error: on July 10th, when Peter and I slept out in line for the iPhone, we weren't dating. We were good-ish friends. In the interests of absolutely full disclosure on this vital topic, Peter Suderman had that very week left his job at Freedomworks, and was about to join the ill-fated Culture11. The two of us decided to camp out in line three weeks before, at a party which I believe to have been hosted by Matthew Yglesias and his roommates, though it could also have been at one of a half-dozen other friends. We met up that evening at a book party for Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat, and then decamped for Virginia. While it is true that we shared a queen-sized air mattress for several hours, Peter was a perfect gentleman.
Peter and I started dating two weeks after that, on July 24th, if you can refer to his invaluable help cleaning up my apartment after a fairly lengthy cocktail party as a "date". Several months later we decided to seek a rental lodging together, thereby permanently depriving both of us of the opportunity to be shocked and a little horrified when people we know get engaged after four months--something we both noted at the time.
I want to make this clear despite what I presume is a general monumental lack of interest in how, when, and where Peter Suderman and I first lost our hearts. I apologize for the excessive detail, but I don't want any question about a lack of disclosure to linger.
So forward: during our seven months together, I have learned very little about Peter's work at FreedomWorks, other than the location of his former office, the fact that he had to wear a jacket and tie, and that his FreedomWorks supplied Blackberry was easier to type on than an iPhone. This was not because he went to any great lengths to conceal the details of his employment from me, but simply because it didn't really come up. I venture to say that Peter couldn't tell you much about my time at The Economist, other than the fact that I met Hernando DeSoto on my first day, and Hernando DeSoto buys suits at the same New York clothing shop as my father. We were busy finding out about each other's favorite colors, albums, and preferences in coffee and candlesticks.
Indeed, until Peter himself pointed it out on Monday, it hadn't occurred to me that anyone would think I had a conflict of interest. I don't know much about the group except that Dick Armey heads it, and Dick Armey is apparently a genuinely funny guy, as his impromptu response to a question about Monica Lewinsky seemed to indicate. Peter's tenure with the organization did not overlap his tenure with me. I don't know what projects he worked on there. I have no financial interest in the future of the organization, as Peter has no plans to work there. I have not, as far as I know, ever met or spoken to anyone else who works there, except Brendan Steinhauser, who I spoke to for the first time on Monday, a conversation I already blogged about.
But of course, I know all that, and you don't. It's reasonable to weigh anything I say about the group in light of the fact that someone I love used to work there. That's why I made sure to disclose it as soon as I realized that it presented the appearance of a conflict of interest. It's not possible to write a broadly focused blog without having some conflicts of interest--we all have families and friends. All we can do is tell you about them when they come up.
Ames and Levine, however, seem to think that merely pointing out a potential conflict of interest constitutes a rebuttal. It doesn't--it just changes how you weigh both sides assertions. As I see it, the central problem with their original article still stands: they make a large number of unsupported assertions, one of which I am told by multiple sources is highly unlikely. They have no source for their statement that Koch funds FreedomWorks. They have no source that gives them any positive reason to suspect that Santelli said what he said at the behest of some shadowy conspiracy. They have no source proving any connection between the various groups they accused of "astroturfing". They're not even right in the follow-up post that calls Angry Renter a secretive FreedomWorks operation: the bottom of the front page notes that the content is copyrighted to FreedomWorks.
If Levine and Ames are so confident in their thesis, why have they not attempted to fill any of the gaps in the follow-up? Why haven't they offered any explanation for their article's sudden disappearance from Playboy's site, other than the obvious inference that the editors and lawyers concluded they could not back up their claims?
They certainly haven't provided any source for their implication that Peter and I are working on some secret to undermine my allegedly nonpartisan blog. Aside from a little freelance work and a few speaking gigs, all of the money that I am paid comes courtesy of The Atlantic. The only person or entity who has paid me to write any of the content on this blog is The Atlantic Media Group. The only joint project Peter and I have ever worked on, aside from the construction of Ikea furniture, is the videoblogging we did from the iPhone line before we dated. And I don't think I can rightfully be accused of ever having hidden my politics on this blog, though to be fair, Ames and Levine seem blissfully unaware that I supported Obama.
All I will say about their victory dance for "independent journalism" is that I don't see what their journalistic efforts have actually, y'know, proved. That FreedomWorks helped organize the tea parties? Finding that out didn't require "independent journalism"; it required reading the FreedomWorks press release to that effect. The relevant question is not whether a donor-funded group spread the word about a protest it supported--MoveOn does that every day. The question is whether, as they basically asserted, Charles Koch masterminded a vast attempt to create the impression of popular support for a project in order to apply political pressure, while hiding his involvement through front groups that manufactured wholly imaginary popular support.
As far as I can tell, FreedomWorks a) isn't funded by Charles Koch and b) hasn't hidden its involvement. Their central thesis does not jibe with the facts available to me. Indeed, it seems deeply weird, because getting tea and a hundred or so people together in front of a government building isn't exactly an expensive endeavor. Last I heard, the DC operation was borrowing the megaphone they used, and getting the tea for free from some tea company.
This doesn't mean I endorse what FreedomWorks does--I frankly don't know enough about the organization to have an opinion on its operations. It merely seemed to me that their specific charges about the tea parties were insufficiently backed up with specific facts. Playboy has published some great journalism in its time. The ratio of speculation-to-evidence in the Levine and Ames piece was thus disappointing, especially since it was rapidly taken up as gospel truth by substantial sections of the lefty blogosphere.
Perhaps Yasha Levine and Mark Ames have some hard facts--or hell, even an untrustworthy anonymous source--who can substantiate some of these claims. If so, I wish they would provide them. Or at the very least, stop hurling unsubstantiated accusations at anyone who dares to point out the weaknesses in their case.
Update: Two commenters and one emailer have already made this mistake, so just to be completely clear, I did not write about FreedomWorks without disclosing that I was dating someone who had worked there. The very first post I wrote on the topic contained the disclosure that Peter and I were dating. This was, I presume, how Ames and Levine learned of it. If they had contacted me before writing their updated post, I would have been happy to give them the timeline, including how long Peter worked for Freedomworks (part of the year before we started dating), and tell them what I knew about the group. This would have prevented their multiple errors. But apparently, this is not the sort of thing their "independent journalism" encompasses.
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