Monday, September 29, 2008

Allow me to introduce myself...

Since 2003, I have been an advocate for progressive principles in politics and the media. From the very beginning, I believed the best way to fight for those principles was to confront those that would frustrate them. I began my efforts by calling the cheats and liars that hosted local talk radio programs. Soon, I learned that the corrupt (Democratic) mayor of my town hosted a radio show; I started making that show unpleasant for him. Over time, I gained confidence and began calling national radio shows. Suddenly, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity could no longer count on being able to lie with impunity. At about the same time, I discovered the blogosphere.

Actually, this is kind of funny. I was always a “closeted” talk radio caller. I knew it was extraordinarily geeky – nobody I grew up with would even admit they listened to talk radio, let alone listened obsessively – and called in! The blogosphere changed that. One day I decided to confess my filthy habit in a blog post; I chronicled one of my calls. To my surprise, other bloggers and blog readers really seemed to enjoy reading about me calling talk radio. Before long, I got “noticed”.

A fairly new organization, MediaMatters.org, found themselves regularly posting audio clips of calls that I had made to national radio show hosts. By chance, a staffer linked those calls to my blogposts at DailyKos.com. An email arrived in my inbox, I was offered some help and that extraordinarily generous staffer hosted a house party/fundraiser for me. The proceeds funded my first blog, CallingAllWingnuts.com.

I ran CallingAllWingnuts full time for about a year, beginning in early 2006. I’d call 2-4 radio show hosts a day, say something truthful, listen to the host rant, spin, scream or cry, record the audio, and post it to the blog. More often than not, the product was at least mildly amusing. Sometimes it was hilarious. Sometimes it made national news.

I had to put CallingAllWingnuts into dormancy – or so I thought – when I started law school in the Fall of 2006. I still used it occasionally to keep up with loyal followers, but everyone knew that my time would be limited – that there just wouldn’t be time for me to make a lot of calls.

I never thought that within weeks, I’d be at the center of a media storm.

I moved to Virginia to begin law school. At the time, there was a contested Senate race in full swing. Jim Webb was trying to unseat George Allen. I had been keeping loose tabs on the race, but I was not particularly deeply invested in it.

Just a few weeks before I arrived in Virginia, Allen had called a Webb campaign tracker “Macaca”. The YouTube video of the incident was widely circulated and Allen went through fits trying to explain that he meant nothing by it. Unfortunately for him, he had a long and storied racist history. Fortunately for him, the media was allergic to putting the “Macaca Moment” in its larger natural context. They dutifully reported every iteration of the excuses Allen’s press shop cranked out, but simply refused to report things like, say… Allen kept a noose in his office… or he opposed making Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday… or that he carried on a long love affair with the Confederate Flag – even though he was raised in Los Angeles.

So… when I heard Allen would be at a campaign event in my neck of the woods, I decided to take a page out of the CallingAllWingnuts playbook and apply it in real-space. I went to his event with an audio recorder, asked him if he had ever used the word n*****, (he said no), confirmed that he had never used the word in his life (he confirmed it) and then asked why he kept a Confederate Flag and a noose in his office. I took the audio home and posted it to my blog.

Email tips came flying in from people that had lived in Charlottesville at the same time Allen did. Several people claimed personal knowledge that Allen abused his first wife. A couple of weeks later, an arrest record surfaced. A few weeks after that, Allen came back to town. I was ready.

I went to the hotel, asked some more questions and his staff assaulted me. I soon found that 15 minutes of fame lasts much longer when networks are competing to fill a 24 hour news cycle.

Anyway, I’ve gone on much too long for an introduction section, so let me wrap up…

This blog will be used to keep you informed of my efforts to provide powerful people with their own “Accountability Moments”. Since my George Allen adventures, I’ve visited with Bill O’Reilly, Rick Santorum, Nancy Pelosi, John McCain, Barack Obama, several Representatives and many, many others. I personally asked each of them to answer questions they found uncomfortable. Many more will follow.

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