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Thursday 25 November 2010

Defunding And Dodgy Evidence – A Stateside Lesson

The first student protest – the one where 30 Millbank, left mysteriously unguarded by the Met, got trashed – had hardly ended before the calls started for defunding. What that? Well, the thrust of this attack from the right leaning part of the blogosphere was that the National Union of Students (NUS) should no longer receive public money.

Why this should happen was not explained, other than the suggestion that staging a demonstration against the Coalition and its plans to hike tuition fees was some kind of clinching argument for the defunding call. But there is previous on this one, although not in the UK.

Calls to defund bodies that act in ways that are inconvenient to those of a conservative persuasion are a staple of politics in the USA. The most recent example of this was an attempt to defund National Public Radio (NPR) over their dismissal of Juan Williams.

This was no idle threat: the call to defund NPR became the first vote forced in the House by the GOP since the mid-term Elections. Fortunately for those seeking a more sane approach to politics, that vote was lost. It was not the case with a previous defunding case, that of ACORN.

The right had been after ACORN for some time: baseless stories were circulated suggesting that the organisation had “stolen” the 2008 Elections, that there had been massive and organised electoral fraud, and of course that it was all being paid for by Federal funds.

Then, by fortunate coincidence, came the “sting” videos, edited heavily and promoted by one Andrew Breitbart. The impression was given that ACORN were willing to become involved in human trafficking and prostitution. The videos were heavily promoted by Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

And it worked: ACORN is now effectively finished. But when the original videos were handed over – after a deal had been struck so that those involved would not be prosecuted – the conclusion was reached that no ACORN staff had been acting illegally. It was too late to save the organisation.

Breitbart has struck since, with the similarly heavily edited video that briefly did for Shirley Sherrod. But this is a purely Stateside phenomenon, isn’t it? I wouldn’t be too sure: the UK has plenty of media outlets – the websites of national newspapers, for starters – where this kind of “campaigning” could get a hold.

The NUS, and anyone else campaigning against the cuts, should hear alarm bells ringing when the “defund” cry comes. Because the dodgy video could soon be following right behind.

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