The way the frogs (in the season when the harvest
will often haunt the dreams of the peasant girl)
sit croaking with their muzzles out of water,
so these frigid, livid shades were stuck in ice
up to where a person’s shame appears;
theri teeth clicked notes like storks’ beaks snapping shut.
And each one kept his face bowed toward the ice:
the mouth bore testimony to the cold,
the eyes, to sadness welling in the heart.
— Dante, Inferno, Canto XXXII, 30-39 (trans. Mark Musa)
Look at this:
That’s a screen grab of a lengthy message exchange between undercover Project Veritas operative Jaime Phillips and an unnamed Washington Post employee. Phillips, who was busted and humiliated by Post reporters who uncovered her scam, had for months been trying to infiltrate the lives of journalists:
Starting in July, Jaime Phillips, an operative with the organization Project Veritas, which purports to expose media bias, joined two dozen networking groups related to either journalism or left-leaning politics. She signed up to attend 15 related events, often accompanied by a male companion, and appeared at least twice at gatherings for departing Post staffers.
Phillips, 41, presented herself to journalists variously as the owner of a start-up looking to recruit writers, a graduate student studying national security or a contractor new to the area. This summer, she tweeted posts in support of gun control and critical of Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants — a departure from the spring when, on accounts that have since been deleted, she used the #MAGA hashtag and mocked the Women’s March on Washington that followed Trump’s inauguration as the “Midol March.”
Phillips’s sustained attempt to insinuate herself into the social circles of reporters makes clear that her deception — and the efforts to discredit The Post’s reporting — went much further than the attempt to plant one fabricated article.
Phillips’s encounters with dozens of journalists, which have not been previously reported, typically occurred at professional networking events or congratulatory send-offs for colleagues at bars and restaurants. She used three names and three phone numbers to follow up with Post employees, chatting about life in Washington and asking to be introduced to other journalists.
It’s sickening. I welcome conservative critique of the mainstream media, but James O’Keefe and Project Veritas are doing truly wicked work. Let me tell you why.
In Dante’s Inferno, the lowest level of the pit of Hell is reserved for traitors. This is because in Dante’s time and place — 14th century Tuscany — there was near-constant warfare among cities. When walled cities would shut their gates at night, the only way the people there could rest easy was if they had confidence that they were safe in their beds. The idea that there might be traitors among them who would open the gates at night and let enemy armies in was intolerable. That fear made nurturing ordinary social bonds impossible, because you couldn’t trust anybody to be who they said they were. To make one slip of judgment could mean the difference between life and death. This is why Dante considered treason to be the most abominable crime. The fear of it made everybody suspicious of everybody else.
The idea that James O’Keefe, Jaime Phillips, and their lot would instrumentalize friendship for the sake of destroying the professional lives of people who welcomed them into their circles is abominable. As a journalist in mid-career, I could write a list of specific people in journalism who befriended me as a young journalist, who advised me, and who opened professional doors for me. Since then, I have made a point of doing for young journalists what was done for me when I was in their shoes. How horrible to think that because of what Project Veritas has done, media professionals will be much warier of trusting strangers, and much less likely to extend the hand of friendship and professional counsel and opportunity to young people who really want to learn the craft.
I don’t care if you, conservative, hate the mainstream media, you ought to hate what O’Keefe, Phillips, and their rotten lot of ideological fanatics are doing here. They are tearing apart social bonds, the basic support structure of civil society. When you destroy trust, you destroy a community. And for what? To get Republicans elected? For the pleasure of humiliating liberals? Is this what O’Keefe’s donors want? If they were going after criminals, that would be one thing. But journalists?
Buzzfeed News reached out to some of the small donors on public documents, to ask them if they still support what O’Keefe is doing in light of the Post sting. This is rich:
Chris Rufer, a tomato tycoon who lives in California, funds the Foundation for Harmony and Prosperity, which seeks to “persuade people to act, in all aspects of their lives, in concert with social principles that advance Human Happiness, Harmony and Prosperity.” Through the foundation, Rufer has donated at least $12,000 to Project Veritas in recent years.
Rufer said he hadn’t read the Washington Post story but “wouldn’t think that pretending to be a victim and defaming another person would be good.”
I dunno, Mr. Rufer, do you think giving your money to an organization that sends people pretending to be friends of journalists, winning their confidence, and even faking sympathy for them amid family tragedies, all for the purpose of betraying them — do you think that persuades people to live in concern with social principles that advance human happiness, harmony, and prosperity?
Look, I was burned this fall by a Washington Post reporter, though I don’t have any reason to think that it was ideological. I don’t have any special love for the Post. I criticize the Post‘s liberal bias from time to time. But what O’Keefe and his crew are doing is not so much an attack on liberal journalism as it is an attack on civil society. A conservatism that would suspend morals, ethics, and basic human decency for the sake of attacking liberals is no conservatism at all, at least none worth defending.
UPDATE: Reader Michelle:
My husband grew up in the Soviet Union, and one survival skill he learned at an early age was to trust nobody except for a very close circle of family and friends. Otherwise, you never knew when something you said or some opinion you revealed might get you in trouble with the authorities. Best to maintain superficial relationships with most people than risk giving yourself away.
He and some of his friends have noted that life in the U.S. has come to increasingly resemble life in the USSR in that you don’t want to be too candid or open yourself up too much to people you don’t know well because you can’t be sure of the repercussions, either from the PC police or conservative extremists. Like Trump, Project Veritas is a symptom rather than a cause of a deeper decay, the erosion of the bonds that make civil society possible. Both feed on the fear and disillusion that is already widespread among the population.