Posted on | June 9, 2012 | 41 Comments
Celebrating Smitty’s return from Afghanistan, September 2011
FROM AN UNDISCLOSED LOCATION
Remember when an alleged “singer,” performing under the name Champagne Dream, recorded an unspeakably wretched version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”?
Alas, the video has been removed from the Internet, so that readers can no longer experience the weird combination of insane laughter and projectile vomiting that Champagne’s performance invariably produced. More than two years later, however, the April 2010 blog post about that bizarre musical monstrosity — “VIDEO: Hate Crime Caught on Camera!” — retains the all-time record for the most-commented post in the history of TheOtherMcCain.com.
We just recorded our 10 millionth hit — 6.7 million since Smitty switched us from the original Blogspot format to the custom WordPress site on New Year’s Day 2010 — and, in commemoration of this occasion, I asked Smitty to compile the list of Top 20 Most-Commented Posts:
- April 24, 2010: VIDEO: Hate Crime Caught on Camera! — 438 comments
- May 10, 2010: Because I’m Not That Stupid — 277 comments
- ‘The Demagogic Bloggers on the Right’
- REPORT: Aaron Walker Arrested After Maryland Hearing on Kimberlin Case UPDATE: Walker Now Released
- The Longest Comment Thread in the History of This Blog? Go Ahead, Guess.
- Nov. 5, 2011: ‘F– Michelle Fields!’ — Interview With Reporter Harassed at Occupy DC Protest — 220 comments
- ‘Not Only Wrong, But Dangerous’
- Will Libertarians Decry The Boston Tea Party?
- May 22, 2012: Brett Kimberlin Saga Takes a Bizarre Turn, Forcing Me to Leave Maryland
- Death Toll Now Reported at 91 in Norway ‘Christian Fundamentalist’ Terror Attack UPDATE: Video Added; Gunman Posed as Policeman and Boasted, ‘I’ll Kill You All’
- When Phyllis Schlafly Speaks the Truth, Democrats Call It ‘Extremism’
- Aug. 4, 2010: Marcela Hoeven Bikini Scandal?
- Nov. 4, 2011: #OWS Protesters Attempt to Storm AFP Defending the American Dream Summit –138 comments
- ALASKA SENATE COUNTDOWN TODAY UPDATE: MURKOWSKI CONCEDES!
- Brett Kimberlin’s Heiress Aunt Helping Fund His Tax-Exempt Harassment
- Sept. 18, 2011: HOLY. FREAKING. CRAP. — 139 comments
- Newsweek Intern Attempts to Describe Hayek’s Road to Serfdom: Massive FAIL
- April 10, 2012: SANTORUM DROPS OUT
- May 21, 2012: Never Doubt That God Answers Prayer
- April 20, 2012: Drip, Drip, Drip: ‘Mormon Mitt’ Meme Keeps Popping Up in Mainstream Media — 139 comments
What is most pleasing to me in this list is the extent to which it is dominated by original reporting. “Content is king,” they say, and some of these items were actual shoe-leather work, such as No. 14, my live report from Anchorage, Alaska, about the GOP Senate primary between Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski.
Something funny to notice is how, sometimes, news just happens.
Two of the Top 20 (No. 5 and No. 13) were products of my November 2011 trip to the Americans for Prosperity Summit. I went to D.C. that weekend to see the GOP presidential contenders who were speaking at the Summit, and also expecting to drink free at the expense of some of my sources. But I accidentally found myself in the middle of a riot — “#OWS Protesters Attempt to Storm AFP Defending the American Dream Summit.”
That wasn’t something I planned or expected. I’d stepped outside to have a cigarette and wandered over to watch the Occupy DC protesters do their silly chants. Chris Moody of Yahoo News and Michelle Fields of the Daily Caller were standing in front of a cop car, watching them, too. We chatted a bit — reporters comparing notes — and then one of the Occupy leaders yelled, “Road trip!” That was apparently their pre-arranged signal to rush the doors, and I turned on my little pink camera (the famous “Barbie Cam”) to record the action:
Total chaos. When I wedged my way through the mob, trying to get inside to safety, I found that the cops had locked the doors to prevent the Occupiers from entering. So I was trapped in the middle of all these enraged smelly hippies, and noticed I shared this predicament with four other “civilians”: Two AFP Summit attendees, as well as Michelle Fields and her Daily Caller videographer.
When news breaks, every second counts. There is high value to being the first to get a breaking story online: “The need for speed.”
As soon as the cops finally let us “civilians” inside, I sprinted upstairs, and filed this as quickly as I could type it:
“Occupy DC” protesters just attempted to force their way into the Washington Convention Center where the Americans for Prosperity Foundation is holding its Ronald Reagan tribute dinner for the “Defending the American Dream Summit.” I was in the middle of the scrum of smelly hippies when they stormed the doors and have multiple photos and video which I’m uploading now. . . .
Got that online, sent it out via Twitter and e-mailed a tip to Instapundit, while waiting for the video to upload to YouTube, then embedded that in the first update. By 9:20 p.m., it was linked at Instapundit and by 10:30 p.m., I was enjoying free beers at the expense of my sources — as originally planned.
Then, the follow-up: The next morning, while driving home from the Summit, I rummaged through my pockets, found Michelle Fields’s business card and called her up, switched on my digital recorder and conducted a brief interview while I drove up I-270. Recognizing the news value of what she had told me, I exited the freeway at Gaithersburg, went into a Burger King (free WiFi), set up my laptop, transcribed the recording, and posted the exclusive: “‘F– Michelle Fields!’ — Interview With Reporter Harassed at Occupy DC Protest.”
At 10:52 a.m., that was also linked at Instapundit. Then I finished my breakfast, got back in my car and drove home, knowing that by the happy coincidence of good luck and experienced news judgment, I’d just scored another important exclusive.
Hey, whatever happened to the Occupy movement, huh?
UPDATE: Our 10 millionth hit came at 7:24 a.m. ET today, when a reader in Newton, Massachusetts, clicked a link from Rachel Lucas about the Day of Silence — another weird situation where, in covering the story, the reporter becomes part of the story.
This is what I call the “Gonzo Factor,” borrowing the term from Hunter S. Thompson who, along with Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and others, helped pioneer a style that became known in the 1960s and ’70s as The New Journalism.
Thompson originally aspired to be a novelist, but stumbled into a reporting career almost by accident, staring out as sports editor for the newspaper at Eglin Air Force Base. He subsequently honed his craft during a year and a half as a freelance Latin American correspondent for the National Observer (a now-defunct paper, published by Dow Jones). Thompson had zero academic training as a journalist — he never attended college, but called himself “Dr.” as a sort of inside joke — and everything he knew about the reporter’s trade was the product of on-the-job experience, supplemented by reading lots of newspapers and magazines, and of course his own madcap genius.
The most crucial factor often overlooked by those who think of “Doctor Gonzo” as nothing but a drugged-out left-wing satirist is this: Hunter S. Thompson paid his dues. Congenitally incapable of holding down a regular staff job — after being fired two or three times, he came to grips with his temperamental incapacity for the bureaucratic reality of office life — Thompson spent years hustling for freelance gigs on the gritty margins of American journalism.
Along the way, he developed a profound contempt for what we today call the MSM (mainstream media), the journalistic Establishment that Thompson spotted as rotten, decadent and corrupt long before the advent of online New Media gave citizen-journalists a chance to Speak Truth to (Media) Power. That Thompson was always a man of the political Left (with an unfortunate penchant for substance abuse) ought not cause conservatives to overlook the value of his work as a sort of meta-narrative on the shortcomings of mainstream journalism.
Thompson despised the Establishment press for its transparent pretensions of “objectivity,” and his writing often included mockery of their work, mockery that was at time overt and at other times submerged in clever humor. One thing his best work consistently did was to expose how it was that reporters actually did — or sometimes, failed to do — their jobs.
In Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, Thompson points out how the “Wizards” of the political press corps bought into the hype for media-friendly candidates like Ed Muskie, John Lindsay and Hubert Humphrey, while underestimating the potential of George McGovern’s anti-war candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. He provides behind-the-scenes details on numerous episodes on the campaign trail, including Muskie’s doomed “Sunshine Special,” a whistle-stop train tour through Florida cooked up as an expensive publicity stunt, an attempt to force-feed manufactured “news” to the press that ended up as a first-class P.R. catastrophe. Reporters on the Muskie train were bored out of their skulls, their coverage of Muskie’s mushy speeches reflected their growing doubts about the erstwhile Democrat frontrunner, and the final stop of the “Sunshine Express” in Miami was disrupted by a deranged hippie who had gotten aboard the train with a media credential borrowed from the campaign correspondent for Rolling Stone magazine.
Well, enough of these Gonzo musings, eh? This strange digression began as merely an attempt to explain why — or perhaps, how — I’ve sometimes become part of the stories I’ve covered, including the strange tale of Brett Kimberlin, which accounts for four of the 20 most-commented posts in the history of the blog.
UPDATE II: Those four stories from The Kimberlin Files:
- May 21: Never Doubt That God Answers Prayer
- May 22: Brett Kimberlin Saga Takes a Bizarre Turn, Forcing Me to Leave Maryland
- May 27: Brett Kimberlin’s Heiress Aunt Helping Fund His Tax-Exempt Harassment
- May 29: REPORT: Aaron Walker Arrested After Maryland Hearing on Kimberlin Case UPDATE: Walker Now Released
Did I plan for any of that to happen? Does this reflect some kind of “media strategy”? Is it all a weird right-wing conspiracy? No.
On May 17, I was minding my own business, planning to go cover the G8 Summit until I saw Aaron Walker’s 28,000-word account of his ordeal and recognized it as a news story of far more potential value than whatever might happen at Camp David. In one sense, this was like my hunch in early December that the guy with the best chance to beat Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination was Rick Santorum, who was then bumping along in sixth or seventh place in all the polls. A certain measure of self-interest was involved: When the Cain Train ran off the rails, it took down my best hope of becoming the Future U.S. Ambassador to Vanuatu, so I needed another hopeless underdog and . . .
OK, that’s not exactly half-joking, but it’s at least 37% humorous, eh?
A reporter must have access to do his job, and good luck getting access to a presidential candidate who is regarded as a Serious Contender if you’re a freelance correspondent who can’t afford to stay on the campaign trail for months at a time. In my situation, the best shot was to find a candidate whom all the “experts” regarded as a doomed loser, get as close to the campaign as possible, and hope he could pull off a miraculous upset. Then, when he emerged as a Serious Contender, I’d have the benefit of a relationship with his campaign staff built up during the days when almost nobody else was covering him.
Baltimore-Washington International Airport, September 2011,
after returning from a CNN debate in Tampa, Florida
There was more to my hunch — evangelicals are still a mighty force in the Iowa GOP caucus, of course — but the basic calculus involved the idea of getting in on the Big Story before other reporters realized it was happening, and the fact that Santorum came up short didn’t diminish the value of having Been There Early. Even the Romney staffers respected my cleverness in having out-guessed them, as they had thought that either Gingrich or Perry would be the most formidable Not-Mitt rival after Herman Cain called it quits.
Santorum’s April 10 concession also made the Top 20, of course — Rick fought the good fight — and perhaps you see how this relates to my May 17 decision to jump onto the Kimberlin story.
Aaron Worthing’s story of how he says Kimberlin tried to frame him on an assault charge was interesting to me because of the mention of Democrat campaign consultant Neal Rauhauser.
This was the real news angle, the connection to the world of actual politics, and because I’d previously written about Rauhauser in the context of the 2010 “TwitterGate” scandal, I saw that connection as newsworthy. I’d never heard of Brett Kimberlin before then, but the first couple of items I read were mind-blowing: A convicted terrorist running a 501(c)3 non-profit? Dude.
This was definitely news, which I was in a position to start covering before any other reporter recognized what a big story it was.
Executive decision: Screw the G8.
Other business now beckons, requiring a temporary pause in the Current Narrative, which I intend to resume updating later today. In the meantime, ponder what Bum Phillips meant when he once said about Bear Bryant: “We can take his players and beat yours, or he can take yours and beat his.”
UPDATE IV: The “other business” that beckoned was an hour-long appearance on Da Tech Guy’s radio show on WCRN-AM in Worcester, Massachusetts, where I closed with a rant pointing out something that enrages me: In January 2007, Massimo Calabresi of Time magazine wrote a 2,000-word article that exposed Brett Kimberlin for “repeatedly asserting as fact things that are not true.”
If only other major news organizations had picked up on Calabresi’s article — if they had just done their jobs — Kimberlin’s menace to First Amendment rights might have been thwarted.
Instead, they stayed silent. And here we are, you see.
Life is too short to spend all your time angry about politics and the incompetence of the liberal press, which is why I smiled to see that the Top 20 list included my August 2010 exclusive, “Marcela Hoeven Bikini Scandal.” Of course, the point of that item was that there was no scandal.
The lovely daughter of North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, who was the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate at that time, Marcela had once been photographed by some guy who was trying to convince her she should pursue a modeling career.
Marcela had deleted most of the pictures from the Web, but there was this one shot which was still available via Google cache. A trusted source of mine, a GOP operative, was afraid that Democrats — who had tried some such shenanigans when Hoeven ran for governor — would discover this photo and try to turn it into a bogus scandal, a last-minute dirty trick late in the campaign. When my source told me about this, I instantly knew how to fix that problem: Get the photo online early so that, if anybody tried to bring it up later, it would be an “asked and answered” sort of thing: Old news.
Also, I understood a basic fact. No sensible adult is offended to discover that Republican women look good in bikinis. And this kind of keen insight is why they pay me the medium bucks.
UPDATE V: To continue the story I was telling before being distracted by Marcela Hoeven’s bikini picture — c’mon, you know you want to click that link — there are times in the news business where you just go with a gut-hunch and see what happens next.
There are people who get paid big bucks to “manage” the news, to develop “media strategies,” to control and plan how a story develops, and I’m obviously not one of those people, or else I wouldn’t be out here hustling up a living $20 and $50 at a time on the tip jar. But being a P.R. operative — a flack — is for smooth slickers, of which I am not one.
Some of my best friends are in the P.R. racket, and I respect what they do, but it’s not what I do. There is more money in the P.R. business, but no real adventure, and if I wanted to sit around an office all day,I could have been a banker or something.
So when I jumped on the Brett Kimberlin story, it was like pulling back the plunger on a pinball game, flinging the ball up the chute and into the playing area, and watching it bounce around the bumpers while I sat with my fingers on the flipper buttons waiting for my chance to flip the ball back up again.
If a story is big enough, no one can really control how it develops. It doesn’t matter who got the first break on the story. Once it starts breaking, everybody is in a race to keep up with it, and my great advantage was that I had head start on everybody else.
So I grabbed hold of the story and started pushing it, and my original idea was that by Sunday — May 20, three days into my coverage — I’d have enough to put together an American Spectator article. But Sunday came and I was still chasing facts as fast as I could, so I decided to wait until Monday and try again.
Then, about 3 o’clock Monday afternoon, May 21, my wife informed me that she’d been called into an emergency meeting at her workplace. Brett Kimberlin had called her employer, claiming that I was “harassing” him. The employer Googled Kimberlin’s name, discovered he was a convicted terrorist bomber and . . .
There were security concerns, you might say. And as soon as I heard about it, I knew that there was only one thing to do. Hit the road and ask for intercessory prayer, even while invoking the Five Most Important Words in the English Language:
From Manchester, Kentucky, to Lake Placid, New York, to Wasilla and Boca Raton, to Iowa and New Hampshire, to Pasadena and Las Vegas and New Orleans — over the past four years, the Shoe Leather Fund has paid the bills for all kinds of crazy trips, but none of those journeys were ever as crazy as this trip to the Undisclosed Location, and there are many tip-jar hitters who are owed a debt of gratitude.
This wild adventure in reader-sponsored journalism isn’t over yet, but eventually I’m going to have to get back onto the presidential campaign trail, which is where I was when the police department in Livonia, Louisiana, clocked me doing 81 mph in a 45 mph zone early one morning in late March, trying to make it to a Santorum campaign event in Shreveport.
You win some and you lose some. The way I looked at it, God didn’t want me to go to Shreveport for some reason, and sometimes the angels of the Lord arrive with blue lights flashing in your rearview mirror at 1 a.m. in Livonia, Louisiana.
When God says, “Go,” you go. And if God says, “Slow down” . . .
OK, that was March, and my involuntary departure from the campaign trail — there was an unpaid ticket from October 2010 in New York, when I was driving Da Tech Guy’s big Buick through Ann Marie Buerkle’s district — required the payments of fines and other bureaucratic hassles, but I am now legally licensed to drive until 2017, which is news in itself:
NOTORIOUS HIGH-SPEED TRAFFIC MENACE
ELUDES NATIONWIDE POLICE DRAGNET!
Bob Belvedere links up, you see, as if to provide a cosmic omen: “I got that green light, baby. I gotta keep movin’ on . . .”
A Road Man for the Lords of Karma, as it were.
UPDATE VI: A curse upon Pagan Temple who, in the comments, informs us that Champagne Dream is still online, which gives me a chance to explain how she became the Most-Comment Thread in our four-plus years of Excellence in Blogging.
It seems that Champagne’s promoter in Ohio, doing business as Blaze Records, had pissed off a whole bunch of people who thought he was a shady scoundrel, etc. Somehow, my post about Champagne Dream’s hideously awful version of “Sweet Home Alabama” was circulated via Facebook, e-mail and various Web forums by these pissed-off people, who got into the comments and started making all manner of outrageous remarks about whatever ax they were grinding against Blaze Records.
At one point, somebody claiming to be Champagne Dream herself started commenting and things got so out of control that I posted a follow-up in which I explained:
For the record, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of any of what people write in the comments. . . .
So now I’ve got the blogospheric equivalent of a “Jerry Springer Show” episode in the comments of a two-week-old post that I just put up as a bit of weekend snark. But I guess it goes to show the unpredictable nature of online viral phenomena.
That follow-up post generated another 100-plus comments, and a few weeks later, some semi-literate blowhard e-mailed me a ridiculous “cease and desist” order from the alleged “Legal Affairs Department” of the aforesaid Blaze Records.
After penning a brief e-mail reply (two words, the second of which was “you”), I then posted the grammatically flawed “cease and desist” order and — bingo! — another 200-plus comments on that post. Champagne Dream had become a genuine viral phenomenon, although perhaps not in the way she had hoped.
All of which is a roundabout way of explaining why convicted terrorist Brett Kimberlin doesn’t scare me.
Once you’ve heard Champagne Dream sing “Sweet Home Alabama,” nothing else on earth can ever really frighten you again.