The ‘sting’ that never stung

THE ‘STING’ THAT NEVER STUNG…. In January, a right-wing group called Live Action organized a James O’Keefe-style “sting” operation targeting five Planned Parenthood clinics. The goal was to capture on video Planned Parenthood officials helping a man who claimed to be involved in underage sex-trafficking. The little stunt failed miserably; Planned Parenthood contacted the FBI; and Live Action was reduced to deliberate deceptions.

Perhaps most importantly, the conservatives involved in this foolish endeavor came up far short in their primary goal: generating media attention. Outlets expressed some preliminary interest last week, but it quickly faded, unlike most far-right press stunts, which tend to generate media frenzies.

Why did this fail where others succeeded? Part of this is the result of news organizations who’ve been burned following conservatives down pointless rabbit holes, and as Dave Weigel explained last night, much of this is the result of better preparation from progressive organizations.

In September 2009, we saw a series of successful right-wing initiatives, including the ACORN videos and the resignation of Van Jones. Media Matters, Dave reported, sent out word to like-minded groups that the left “needed to anticipate things like the Jones campaign or the ACORN tapes, and they needed to stop them from taking good people down with them.”

The lessons learned were applied to the Planned Parenthood “sting,” to great effect.

Media Matters and other liberal groups pounced as soon as the video went up. Media Matters welcomed the videos with a “refresher course on Andrew Breitbart’s dishonest tactics” and the screaming headline “HOAX VIDEO EXPOSED.” The hoax? Planned Parenthood had already warned the FBI about the sting. Subsequent Media Matters reports alleged that audio in the tapes had been spliced and mashed to make stuff up. Within 72 hours, the group put together a conference call for Planned Parenthood leaders to speak out about Rose and a joint letter to members of Congress from 26 progressive groups.

Most of those groups didn’t even work on abortion issues — the SEIU, the Sierra Club, the liberal think tank Demos. The goal was to stop another weak-kneed moment like the vote to defund ACORN. The message to Democrats: If you don’t stop letting conservatives run these operations against us, they’re never going to stop. Their cave-in on ACORN had led to people like Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., taking power and launching new investigations.

“Ever since ACORN, we’ve been very involved in sounding the alarm on this,” said Nan Aron, the president of the Alliance for Justice, a progressive umbrella group that signed the letter to Congress.

The aggressive response to the manufactured controversy proved effective. Live Action’s deceptions were exposed; reporters steered clear of the con job, and the entire effort quickly became an embarrassing dud.

To be sure, the far-right activists are still trying, but they’re still failing. They’ve managed to get Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s (R) attention, but sensible people everywhere have come to see the Planned Parenthood stunt for what it is: a fiasco.