I called bullshit and Bullshit finally responded: “It’s bullshit.”
And, as it turns out, the sole basis for her article — Rick Ellis’s article in Examiner.com — was debunked by Ellis himself nine days before Wolf decided to feed her feverish fact-free article to the frenzied masses.
But let’s back up.
Naomi Wolf: Hunting for a scandal
As you may recall, Michael Moore tweeted on November 15 that the occupy crackdowns were being coordinated by DHS and greenlit by President Obama. When challenged, he pointed to journalist Rick Ellis’s article in Examiner.com. Moore then appeared on Current TV and ran with the crackdown rumor.
Wonkette picked it up and ran with it on November 16, also relying on Ellis’s article. I called bullshit on the 15th and again on the 16th, after which I assumed the issue was settled — at least until Ellis verified his story (as he said he would do in his last update to his article on 15th.)
Days later on November 22, in an error-riddled post on her personal blog, Naomi Wolf picked up the torch:
Now is the time to get cops on board with the OWS movement — especially now that Alternet has broken the story that municipal police are being pushed around by a shadowy private policing consultancy affiliated with DHS. [No, actually Alternet broke no source story, as Joshua Holland, Alternet’s senior editor, explains here. -ed.] If you study any closing society decent people get handed monstrous orders and are forced to comply, and right now municipal police are being forced to comply with brutal orders from this corporate police consultancy, by economic pressure.
Three days after that, on November 25, Wolf wrote a post in the Guardian accusing Congress (with the greenlight from the White House, of course) of attempting to wipe the Occupy movement off the map out of fear over one of Occupy Wall Street’s demands.
You see, Wolf, frustrated (ironically so) that the media wasn’t reporting on Occupy Wall Street’s message, solicited occupiers online: “What do you want?” Of the hundreds of answers she received, one answer apparently shocked her so much that it sent her careening down Conspiracy Lane. This shocking OWS demand would “draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.” (emphasis hers.)
Got that? Wolf asked a bunch of people on the internets “What does OWS want?”; a bunch of people responded; Wolf created some list of “agenda items” from these online responses; and then melodramatically declares, “When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes.” ::cue ominous music::
For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, “we are going after these scruffy hippies”. Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women’s wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time) [No. DHS is not “answerable up a chain of command. That is false. DHS is a cabinet-executive committee that does not have a “chain of command”; does not report to Congress (except for a few reports required by law); and does not “answer directly” to either Peter King or President Obama, as Alternet’s Josh Holland explains here. -ed.]
In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.
So what exactly does Wolf think would cause our elected officials to begin waging war on us? Greed, obviously — the need to protect their own economic privilege and to keep hidden information that, according to Wolf, would “surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum.”
But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarised reactions against its own peaceful constituents? The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the “scandal” of presidential contender Newt Gingrich’s having been paid $1.8m for a few hours’ “consulting” to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies’ profits is less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum. Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.
Naomi Wolf: Lionized
Over the past few days, Wolf has been lauded as some sort of progressive hero for revealing the shocking truth about the conspiratorial war that Congress and President Obama have been waging on peaceful citizens. Twitter has gone bananas in the wake of her post. Frankly, it has been appalling to see the left manipulated so deftly by those who likely have agendas that don’t square with Occupy Wall Street’s.
I tried to slow the roll of Wolf’s fact-free screed — The Shocking Truth about Naomi Wolf’s Journalistic Hackery — but to little avail. And, disturbingly, in response to my post on Wolf”s unfounded claims, people have accused me of trying to “silence” Wolf or of trying to “defend” President Obama. Some have argued nonsensically that I should stop being so hard on Wolf and try to find The Truth. These arguments are unavailing.
Naomi Wolf herself should have tried to find “The Truth” before going off half-cocked about the feds running point on covert nationwide ops to crackdown on Occupy locations (never mind that not all Occupy locations have devolved into violence), based upon nothing but speculation, supposition, her gut instinct, and the general truthiness of the purported facts as proffered by Rick Ellis on a site that is (I’m told by people who know such things) merely a collection of blogs with no editorial oversight. Oh, and it is owned by a Murdoch-grade wingnut, Philip Anschutz.
I can understand why so many have accepted Wolf’s claims as truth. After all, the source upon which her claims are based, Rick Ellis, lays out a case that has all the elements of a good conspiracy, one that occupiers already distrustful of the government would accept unquestioningly:
And according to one Justice official, each of those actions was coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police agencies.
The official, who spoke on background to me late Monday evening, said that while local police agencies had received tactical and planning advice from national agencies, the ultimate decision on how each jurisdiction handles the Occupy protests ultimately rests with local law enforcement.
According to this official, in several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present.
It feels true, right? I mean, it’s probably true, yeah. I bet it’s true. It’s definitely true — no doubt about it. We are under attack by our own government.
Naomi Wolf: Eating Crow
Except no, we are not under attack by our own government, or, at least, nothing substantiates Wolf’s claims that we are. And, incredibly, (and much to Wolf’s discredit) Rick Ellis debunked the story himself nine days before Wolf’s article was published in the Guardian. On November 16, Ellis writes in yet another article on Examiner.com,
Since I published my initial story about how several federal law enforcement agencies had been providing logistical advice to local authorities on how to handle the ‘Occupy’ protests, I have been attempting to get an official response from the Dept. Of Homeland Security (DHS).
I’ve spoken to several high-ranking DHS officials on background in the last 24 hours, and they stressed several things to me.
First, despite some press reports to the contrary, the only official DHS role in any ‘Occupy’ arrests took place in Portland. In that case, officers from Federal Protective Services (which is tasked with protecting federal buildings) assisted the Portland Police Bureau in clearing the federally-owned Terry Shrunk Plaza. Officers from FPS did make several arrests, although it’s not clear how many.
I was also assured that FPS officers only had jurisdiction on federal property and would only make arrests after the situation has been deemed unsafe or unsanitary by the General Services Administration (GSA). That agency is that is the permitting authority for protests on federal property.
When I tried to get a sense of how much involvement the department may have had in assisting local tactical plans, I was told DHS is not actively coordinating with local governments or police agencies on the ‘Occupy’ evictions.
What isn’t clear to me is what is meant by “actively” coordinating. That definition leaves a lot of room for advice, both tactical and otherwise.
Ellis also obtained an official response from DHS spokesman, Matthew Chandler:
“Any decisions on how to handle specifics situations are dealt with by local authorities in that location. If a protest area is located on Federal property and has been deemed unsanitary or unsafe by the General Services Administration (GSA) or city officials, and they make a decision to evacuate participants, the Federal Protective Service (FPS) will work with those officials to develop a plan to ensure the security and safety of everyone involved.”
Thus, as it turns out, Wolf’s article has no factual basis whatsoever and is, therefore, a journalistic failure of the highest order. Are various mayors and cities talking to one another? I’m sure they are. Are they receiving advice from the feds? I’m sure they are. But as Josh Holland writes,”[t]he difference between local officials talking to each other — or federal law enforcement agencies advising them on what they see as “best practices” for evicting local occupations — and some unseen hand directing, incentivizing or coercing municipalities to do so when they would not otherwise be so inclined is not a minor one. It’s not a matter of semantics or a distinction without difference.”
If Homeland Security, the FBI, and federal law enforcement officials were working in concert to violently crackdown on the Occupy movement, that would be a huge deal. If — as Naomi Wolf baselessly charged — the feds were being ordered to do so by Congress and the White House in order to protect their personal wealth, it would (and should) be a significant scandal. But, again, there is no evidence to support her claims.
Naomi Wolf: Outfoxed
Given the the gravity of the accusations made by Wolf against Congress and the White House, it was incumbent on her to fully research her claims and to provide facts to back them up. Moreover, the fact that Ellis made and then walked backed his claims — the claims which formed the sole basis for Wolf’s and other articles about these purported coordinated crackdowns — nine days before Wolf decided to provide more grist for the rumor mill suggests that truth-seeking is not her goal — narrative-creating is.
Yes, Ellis concluded his clarification (which reads more like a well-spun retraction) by claiming he was “left with more questions than answers” and that he had concerns about the meaning of “actively coordinated.”
But certainly Ellis’s original claims — that the FBI provided local authorities with specifics on amount of force, use of riot gear, time of day, and press relations — fall on their face. If Ellis’s original claims don’t constitute “active coordination” — the sort that DHS denies — then I don’t know what would constitute “active coordination.” (And furthermore, if the Justice official upon whom Ellis relied has knowledge of facts regarding these crackdowns why won’t he step forward? Why did he not provide such information to actual news organizations? Why did Ellis spend 24 hours in contact with Homeland Security but made no apparent effort to contact any other DOJ officials?)
The bottom line is this: Irrespective of Ellis’s lingering questions, Naomi Wolf assumed “violent federal coordination of crackdowns” as fact, and then spun a web of conspiratorial acts and nefarious deeds by individuals at the highest levels of the government. And based on what? NOTHING.
This is what Fox News does. This is what the right-wing does. This is not what liberals are supposed to do. We live in a reality-based world. In a world where Hawaii is a state, Africa is a continent, President Obama is not a secret Muslim, and anchor babies aren’t real.
We don’t live in a Teabilly Fox-infected world that thrives on fear of the unknown boogeyman hiding in the closet. We don’t live in a world where “journalists” spew bullshit designed to manipulate and play upon the fears of their readers. We don’t live in a world where “Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Naomi Wolf’s made-up claims are true” constitutes critical thinking.
And if I’m wrong — if we do live in a world fraught with feverished paranoia? If this is what progressivism and liberalism has become, then we’re fucked. If we cannot rely on progressive and liberal journalists and bloggers to tell the truth and do their jobs, then we’re no better than the wingnuts. Should we take credible sources and concerns about potential federal involvement and investigate them? Absolutely. Should we draw conclusions from unsourced claims and tout them as The Truth. Absolutely not.
We can’t call out Fox News for this kind of crap while engaging in it ourselves.
This is just not who we are.
[cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]