Someone Read Their Saul Alinsky

01.31.13

James Taranto, Heckler?

Neil Heslin (Screenshot from MSNBC Video) ()

James Taranto writes the "Best of the Web" column on the Wall Street Journal website.

Two-plus years ago, Taranto and I had an exchange over Andrew Breitbart's promotion of a falsified video. The video had been doctored to present a black official in the Department of Agriculture, Shirley Sherrod, as an anti-white bigot. In fact, Sherrod was telling a story about overcoming racial animus - her own and other people's.

Back then, Taranto defended the post-truth methods of the late Andrew Breitbart's journalism.

Breitbart set a trap for the NAACP, and the NAACP walked right into it. He was able to do so because he correctly identified the organization's moral weakness.

Confronted by a video showing apparent racism at an NAACP function, its leaders appear to have panicked and made a snap decision to denounce one of their own so as to pre-empt the charge of employing a double standard.

It was a very effective bit of Alinskyite political theater, and in a way more so for Breitbart's having gotten the story wrong.

Taranto called me "silly" for objecting to this way of looking at things.

Two-plus years later, Taranto has returned to the debate. This time, he has abruptly reversed sides, or seemingly so, with a vituperative denunciation of perceived media bias and misinformation in the coverage of Neil Heslin. I'm a particular target of Taranto's name-calling, and not for the first time.

I am a strong believer in the "better late than never" principle. A commitment to more accurate information is always welcome. It's especially welcome at the Journal. I worked at the Journal from 1989 until 1992, and I've been distressed in the years since by the Journal's willingness to distort facts and figures in service of its editorial agenda. If an editor at the paper will speak up for journalistic ethics, hurrah.

But in this case, unfortunately, Taranto is not calling for more truth. Quite the opposite.

The topic nominally under debate is whether the word "heckling" is the right word to describe the behavior of gun advocates during the testimony of grieving Newtown dad Neil Heslin? Or might some other term be more exact? "Shouted retort" might work, or possibly "angry outburst." Whatever the term they used, few who watched the video would dispute that the gun advocates behaved in a way that was both shocking and cruel. James Taranto functions as the Journal's approximation of an in-house comedian, but if you want a real laugh, imagine how he'd react to a protester who shouted "Allah is great!" during a pause in the testimony of a 9/11 victim 30 days after that atrocity.

Taranto, however, isn't quibbling over word choice. He wants to make the jump straight to a whole other reality, a reality in which the party abused at that public meeting was not the bereft father, but rather the people yelling at him. Taranto: "The audience members, and by association all gun-rights supporters, were victimized by the journalists who knowingly or unknowingly propagated a smear against them."

That's an audacious move, and it's more audacious still to present this reversal of reality as a call for truth - and to denounce as "liars" those who won't submit to the reversal.