Wednesday, May 16, 2012

James O'Keefe = Christine Vole: A Conspiracy Theory for the 21st Century

Spoiler alert: if you don’t want to know the ending to the Agatha Christie short story/play Witness for the Prosecution or the Billy Wilder movie based on Christie’s work, read no further.

In the 1957 Billy Wilder film “Witness for the Prosecution,” based on a short story and subsequently a play by Agatha Christie, Tyrone Power plays Leonard Vole, who is on trial, accused of murdering a wealthy widow. Things look bleak for the defense, especially after Vole’s wife, Christine (Marlene Dietrich), agrees to testify against him. She constructs an elaborate plot whereby she arranges for her own damaging testimony to be discredited, making it seem the spiteful accusation of a spurned wife. When her husband is acquitted, she reveals that her charade was prompted not by her belief in her husband’s innocence, but because she knew him to be guilty. There’s more, but those are the pertinent facts for the following commentary.

What gets lost in the twists and turns of the ending is this: without Christine’s false and easily impeached testimony, Leonard would almost certainly have been convicted. The jury in the case couldn’t see past the explosion of what seemed to be crucial testimony but was really only the icing on the cake. That is, they distrusted the entirety of the prosecution’s case because a particularly flashy part of it disintegrated in public view. Think that can’t happen in real life? Does the sentence “If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit” mean anything to you?

All of this brings me to a conspiracy theory for the 21st century: James O’Keefe is actually a Democratic operative. He is, like Christine Vole, actively seeking to sabotage the cause he purports to be supporting. There can be no other explanation.

O’Keefe first gained notoriety for his obviously deceptive and unethical attacks on ACORN. That organization may well have deserved some scrutiny, but the sheer amateurism of O’Keefe’s efforts made it very clear to anyone who didn’t work for Fox News that, whatever ACORN’s faults, they were in fact innocent of the hyperbolic and frankly ridiculous charges brought by O’Keefe and his late and unlamented mentor, Andrew Breitbart.

There have been other stops along the way for O’Keefe, including, for example, a scheme to discredit NPR that was so transparent in its ineptitude that even Glenn Beck’s website called him out on it. Now O’Keefe’s “Project Veritas,” an appellation roughly as apt as the German Democratic Republic, has a new video out, purporting to show egregious problems of voter fraud in North Carolina. And indeed the ability of prospective voters to get a ballot without any legitimate demonstration of their identity is troubling: voter fraud may be considerably less ubiquitous than the right would have us believe, but doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, that it isn’t problematic, or that reasonable measures shouldn’t be taken to ensure that only those authorized to vote can in fact do so. O’Keefe has managed to make us forget all that, just as the imploding testimony of Christine Vole distracted our attention from the fact that her husband really was guilty.

O’Keefe uses three specific examples in his 10-minute video. The first is William Romero. He, according to O’Keefe and his minions, is registered to vote, but isn’t a citizen. The evidence presented is a jury refusal record dated December 30, 2010. But, OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD he was registered to vote in 2012. Hmm… might it just be that Mr. Romero became a citizen between those two dates? That’s what his family says. [UPDATE: they've now provided proof.] Moreover, according to Scott Keyes of ThinkProgress,
What’s more, Romero’s family told ThinkProgress that they had began [sic.] receiving harassing telephone calls two weeks before the incident in the video asking if Romero was a citizen. They confirmed to the caller—it’s unclear whether they were speaking with O’Keefe himself or another individual—that Romero is indeed a citizen. Nevertheless, O’Keefe proceeded to ambush the family at their home and publish this video claiming he’s not a citizen.
So much for Exhibit A.

O’Keefe’s second charge is that Zbigniew Gorzkowski, also presumably a non-citizen, is also registered to vote and, unlike Mr. Romero, has actually done so. Without knowing the date (or provenance) of the jury refusal form in question, it’s difficult to know whether Mr. Gorzkowski might in fact be guilty of lying about his citizenship to escape jury duty, but there is every indication that he has in fact been a citizen since long before 2008: he says since the 1980s, and a news story from 2008 identifies him as a naturalized citizen.

OK, fine. But there’s still Exhibit C. After all, Michael G. Bolton died in April, but got a ballot in May. Shock! Horror! Travesty! Yeah, well, as the unedited tape shows, it was the purported Michael G. Bolton Jr. who was given a ballot. Mr. Bolton, Jr., is indeed registered to vote, and his current address is the same as that of his recently deceased father.

The rest of O’Keefe’s tape consists of a bunch of university faculty looking nervous that the O’Keefe operative claims to have committed voter fraud. There isn’t anything there that any reasonably intelligent non-partisan would take as evidence of anything.

What we’re left with, then, are the three men: Romero, Gorzkowski, and Bolton. O’Keefe says the first two aren’t citizens and the last is dead… except, of course, for the fact that he seems to be wrong about all three. Look, I’m a Hanlon’s Razor kind of guy: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. For some time I’ve been working on the theory that O’Keefe is simply an imbecile. And that would explain one or even two screw-ups out of the three examples he presents.

But three for three? That has to be intentional. And, indeed, it’s what anyone other than the folks at Fox News will see: every single example posited by O’Keefe was blown out of the water within a day. Meanwhile, the fact that imposters were in fact given ballots is lost in the shuffle. Christine Vole would be very proud.

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