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Pseudo-journalists with a camera

Simon Owens on how activists with a camera practice gotcha journalism:

But what should be pointed out above all else is that Thomas did not seek out the spotlight to air these views. She did not say them during a speech before a university or include them in one of her columns. She had an activist come up and thrust a camera in her face and ask her a slew of politically loaded, vague questions. We don’t see the context of how Nesenoff introduced himself or what happened after the video cuts away. We have a completely manufactured incident that never would have happened if it weren’t for an activist’s — yes, I’ll say it — entrapment.

Do we really want to live in a world where you can get fired because some guy comes up to you unannounced, launches questions for which you haven’t prepared, forces you to say things you had no plans to say, then edits the video down into the most damning soundbite before hanging you with it?

James O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart would say this is a world where corruption and malfeasance is uncovered, but I say it’s a world in which mainstream journalists unquestioningly carry the water of political activists who masquerade as fellow journalists.

I was thinking some of these very thoughts during the Helen Thomas thing. She was being flippant and a little crude (and possibly ironic).

By the way, why should we start ignoring the writings of a noted journalist and instead start focusing on the random remarks she made extemporaneously to some nobody? If Helen Thomas had simply said, “The Israels should get the f—- out of Gaza and the West Bank,” she would have still been fired.

There are occasions when circumstances warrant an on-the-run or undercover interview, but most of the time it seems unnecessary. The problem I have with these kind of surprise interviews is that the interviewee is not at his or her best. He doesn’t have his positions ready; he hasn’t had time to consider the implications of his remarks. If Helen Thomas had been writing those remarks in an editorial, she would have given the sentence more nuance.

One of the underlying problems behind gotcha video journalism is that American politicians are so inaccessible and many don’t make public appearances. They will talk to local TV stations and maybe CNN or Fox, but if you’re a freelancer or (worse) a print journalist, you’re out of luck.

A question remains about how the legal system can deal with people who make fake entrapment vids. ACORN is not a private company, so they’re not likely to start a SLAPP lawsuit. If a libel suit were ever initiated, would O’Keefe be held solely responsible or would broadcasters like Fox? I have to wonder if Fox made O’Keefe indemnify Fox against lawsuits when it started running his videos.

See also:  how Sascha Cohen got his subjects to sign legal releases .

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