There's a new think tank in town called the Center for American Freedom. Politico's Ben Smith reported last week that a team of journalists and operatives have joined to create a conservative alternative to the liberal, Center for American Progress. Its goal, according to Smith, is to "wage a well-funded assault on the Obama White House and the liberal domination of partisan online media."
The media arm of CAF will take the form of The Washington Free Beacon. As Politico reported, this outlet designed to emulate and counter TPM, Think Progress and Huffington Post, will have Matthew Continetti at the helm. Continetti, formerly with the Weekly Standard, is the author of "The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star."
Among the staff recruited by Continetti is Patrick Howley of The American Spectator. Howley's presence on The Beacon's masthead raises some interesting questions about the methods and the lengths to which CAF will go to compete in what Continetti calls "ideological journalism."
CAF chairman, Michael Goldfarb, told Politico that the Beacon's focus will be on breaking news and investigative reporting. "I suspect most of the press is going to be pretty suspicious of this," he said. But, he added "If we break news and our work is of quality, people will necessarily have to treat it as legitimate."
Suspicious? It was only three months ago that Patrick Howley, then assistant editor at the conservative American Spectator, went into virtual hiding following his antics at an anti-drone protest and pepper spray melee at the National Air and Space Museum.
His behavior at that October 8 action and subsequent rewrites of his breaking news story, "Standoff in D.C.," were widely mocked and condemned as journalistically unethical. The Economist blog, Democracy in America, called Howley a "conservative jackass."
Why the comparison to "Jackass," the former MTV series in which young men engaged in dangerous stunts and pranks? The answer can be found in Howley's initial news report filed after dozens of people including protesters, tourists and reporters were pepper sprayed without warning by NASM security guards.
Howley boasted that he "infiltrated" the October2011.org movement (now OccupyWashingtonDC.org) in order to "mock and undermine in the pages of The American Spectator."
This involved, he reported, sneaking past one of the museum guards after entrance had been denied at the first set of doors. He then took advantage of a shoving match between an agitator whom he described as his "fellow comrade" and a guard in the vestibule by sprinting toward the second set of doors.
Patrick Howley in circle. Photo credit: Cheryl Biren
This sudden and chaotic scene triggered one guard to unleash, without warning, a blast of pepper spray affecting everyone in the immediate area including a fellow guard and this writer who was covering the protest for Opednews.com. Within moments, several other guards began indiscriminately spraying protesters, bystanders and reporters attempting to exit the building.
But, Howley wasn't done. He was not going to give up, he wrote, until he had his story. "Under a cloud of pepper spray I forced myself into the doors and sprinted blindly across the floor of the Air and Space Museum." With two guards in pursuit, Howley "dodged a circle of gawking old housewives and bolted upstairs."
Claiming that he was "the only one who had made it through the doors," Howley mocked the protesters for not having the "nerve to confront authority." For some unexplained reason Howley felt it incumbent to show the protesters how it's done. "Their only chance, as I saw it, was to push the envelope and go bold. But, if today's demonstration was any indicator, they don't have what it takes to even do that."
What Howley missed during his "infiltration" was that a small group entered the building before him to protest a special exhibit on military unmanned aerial vehicles. They walked through the doors peacefully, dropped a banner that read, "No Drones. End Afghan War," and were escorted out as they had planned all along.
Banner "No Drones. End Afghan War." Photo credit: Bill Perry
Though he characterized the protesters as inept, even wimpy, Howley's report took an illogically ominous tone, "What began on Wall Street is now spreading," he said, "and the question still remains: is it dangerous?"