Ambush Interviews and Double Standards

Review: Jason Mattera’s ‘Crapitalism’

"To Steve: the only other person I’ve been detained with."

That’s inscribed on the first page of my copy of Crapitalism by its author, Jason Mattera. It’s referring to the time a Dave Obey staffer called the Capitol Police after she tried to manhandle me in a futile effort to stop us from asking the congressman about bizarre expenditures buried in Obamacare.

After a short detention, which scared the crap out of a 22-year-old me, we were released. We went on to film more interviews with guys like Alan Grayson and Jim Moran. Jason used them to promote his first bestseller, Obama Zombies.

For Crapitalism, Mattera is returning to form. He’s gone after the likes of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. The video of him confronting Lois Lerner has drawn the most attention, even sparking outrage and handwringing from some.

I can understand where they’re coming from. When I first watched I thought maybe Jason shouldn’t have gone to where Lerner lives or confronted her as she walked her dogs. (Though it’s pretty interesting that her neighbors won’t let her in when she tries to take refuge from Mattera and his cameraman in their home.)

Then I realized this was nothing new. Jason was simply doing what TV reporters have done for decades. It is something they still do to this day. He wasn’t conducting some sort of needless intrusion into a private citizen’s life. He was doing a tough interview with an important public figure who didn’t want to answer the questions he was posing.

It’s something that goes on everyday across the country. TV journalists always loved doing it.

Just watch CBS News’ retrospective on Mike Wallace’s career. There’s a whole sequence, beginning around the 6:30 mark, glorifying his ambush interviews.

If you turn on the local news right now you’ll probably see some reporter showing up at the door of a city official accused of fraud or a local business owner accused of running a scam.

The only real differences between those reports, which draw no outrage, and the ones Mattera does are the targets and the lines of questioning.Mattera goes after corrupt liberal politicians, bureaucrats, and activists. He asks them questions the rest of the media won’t. That’s why his videos are treated differently.

The same is true of another friend of mine: James O’Keefe.

Every time O’Keefe releases a new video the left tries to dismiss it based on his tactics alone, as though undercover investigations or stings are something new. Or something that O’Keefe hasn’t brought a new level of transparency to by releasing all of his raw video.

Compare, for example, any of O’Keefe’s videos with this 1991 ABC investigation of crisis pregnancy centers, which condense three months’ worth of undercover video down into a few short clips, and which include as much editorializing as any O’Keefe or Mattera video has ever had.

There was no media outrage over that report, or the nearly identical one from Vice News this year, because of the target.

The same paradigm can be applied to Crapitalism itself.

If Mattera were documenting the corruption of Mitch McConnell, the Koch brothers, and Bill O’Reilly instead of Harry Reid, Tom Steyer, and Jay Z, you can be sure he’d receive a glowing reception from the Today Show to MSNBC.

Instead, he’s getting challenged to knife fights.

That’s too bad, because the book is impressive. In typical Mattera form, Crapitalism coats serious analysis in a layer of snark. He documents a myriad of different ways in which politicians, business owners, and activists rip off taxpayers in order to line their own pockets.

Those expecting a typical bomb-throwing conservative concoction won’t be disappointed, but they may be surprised. Mattera’s rhetoric wouldn’t be out of place on an AM radio talk show. He doesn’t hesitate to skewer his targets. However, his takedowns are meticulously researched.

Mattera’s tactics aren’t new. But his targets are.