James O'Keefe's New Book 'American Muckraker' Hammers Powerful Who Control Information and Ideas

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File

James O’Keefe’s new book – American Muckraker: Rethinking Journalism for the 21st Century (Post Hill Press) – is an important snapshot of the furious collapse and the reorganization of power over media, ideas, and even basic facts.

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The book releases Jan. 25.

A few should read it for laughs, particularly those he roasts so thoroughly like New York Times editor Dean Baquet and Lachlan Markay at Axios. In a nation as polarized as ours, the powerful media figures O’Keefe deconstructs will treat American Muckraker somewhere between Mad magazine and the ravings of a madman.

To the rest of the country sick and tired of the candy-coated propaganda at once unifying gathering places like ABC’s Good Morning America or the color-coded pages of the USA Today, American Muckraker frames the information flow revolution and its role in allocating power.

The mainstream media are not mainstream anymore. The mainstream media now oppose mainstream American values. Apart from blue bookends on the coasts, the mainstream media ridicule the rest of America and give voice to those who hate the country.  The mainstream media enhance the deconstructing lies of a newly confident radical fringe that has seized so much high ground in the culture wars — from the flow of information, to the schools, and even to the National Football League and its newfound obsession with race.

O’Keefe’s new book introduces us to a 21st Century Everyman, the Muckraker.

Today’s Muckraker is more than just O’Keefe. The Muckraker is anyone who has exposed the consolidation of power in the flow of information and the lies this consolidation has allowed to permeate our culture and our airwaves.

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The Muckraker undermines the establishment, and therefore the establishment marginalizes the Muckraker.  O’Keefe:

At the core of this vortex are the tech platforms that freely circulate falsehoods wile banning the truthful videos of the muckraker. So disorienting is the result that the unknowing citizen sees the American muckraker as the agent of disinformation. Whereas in the Soviet Union, people knew  Pravda was a lie, these days there is a substantial portion of the American people who truly believe what they read in the chyrons on CNN.

The Muckraker unintentionally exposes consuming hypocrisies in the culture and media. One Muckraker, David Daleiden, exposes an industry in the selling of aborted human tissue, criminal charges against him follow. Yet:

If he had exposed the unethical and commercial destruction of puppies (as opposed to the sale of aborted body parts), the country would have rallied to his defense.

O’Keefe, spreads footnotes and citations across American Muckraker like stars in the sky. I’ve never seen so many footnotes, and for good measure, O’Keefe closes each chapter with page after page of sourcing. This is deliberate, of course. Weary of the attacks on his veracity, he leaves a hostile fact-checker no beachhead.

If there is a criticism of American Muckraker it is when O’Keefe plays lawyer and overwhelms his audience with the legalese of defamation, motions to dismiss, and evidentiary burdens. Lawyers and tales of revolutionaries don’t mix well; it can grind down for the non-lawyer in thankfully few places.

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If Steve Coll, the Dean of Columbia’s journalism school had any courage, he would invite O’Keefe and some other conservative media pioneers to teach a seminar about their work.

He won’t, of course, not only because they have no courage, but also because as O’Keefe notes, Columbia’s J-School is about wrecking the modern Muckraker.

Graduates of premier journalism programs, O’Keefe argues, are now about protecting the powerful, and being in proximity to the wealthy so they can aggrandize their own lot in life as well-paid journalists.

Perhaps one day, a century from now, some student of journalism might be researching James O’Keefe and the media revolution that occurred in the early 21st Century. They will try to capture the disruption he caused to modern American politics and to the status quo. To be sure, they will find a firsthand account of one of the revolutionaries in American Muckraker.

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