Ziegler Makes Waves Left and Right

There has been no small amount of buzz on the right the last few days in the wake of Western CPAC. There were two dramas this weekend, one decidedly more dramatic than the other, which are both symptomatic of some deep problems with the conference and, generally, with the state of activism on the right.

The less dramatic of the two involved my friend Ed Morrissey of Hot Air. While participating in a “New Media” panel, Ed was ambushed by another panel member who accused him of “rudeness” for disagreeing with an earlier presentation in an article published at Hot Air. More bizarrely, the “New Media’ panel member proceeded to belittle the importance of new media, urging people to “pick up the phone.” It is certainly worth noting that the panel member, Christopher Carmouche, is in the fax blasting business. Yes. Really. A number of bloggers and attendees speculate that Carmouche “donated” his way onto the panel.

Which is a pretty good segue to the much bigger drama to come out of this weekend: Ziegler vs. Keene.

American Conservative Union chair David Keene, you may recall, was the central figure in an ugly pay-to-play scandal earlier this year. He also supported Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey … you know, back when Specter was a “republican.” He also previously accused Sarah Palin of “whining” about negative media coverage and “bailing” on her office as Governor.

Enter another friend of mine, documentarian and relentless interviewer John Ziegler. Ziegler was an invited speaker at WCPAC, just as he has been at the last few CPAC events. While there, he did that thing which is the very reason he gets invited to such events: he conducted an aggressive on-camera interview.

When the subjects of Keene’s pay-to-play scandal, Palin criticisms, Specter support came up, the tone became decidedly adversarial, and Keene soon abruptly tried to end the interview. Zielger, however, did not give up. Read Ziegler’s take here, and scroll to the bottom to see the whole episode play out on video. It’s important that you read and watch to understand the remainder of my article.

As you might expect, there has been both support and criticism regarding Ziegler’s interview. I think by far the best analysis has come from Ed Morrissey, with J.P. Freire’s thoughtful post also well-worth reading. Ultimately I have to disagree with the critics.

John Ziegler is a personality on the right for doing precisely what he did here. This is the very thing. The fact that this time it was David Keene rather than David Shuster or Katie Couric is the only difference. Ziegler was a credentialed speaker for WCPAC. He was invited to speak because he makes hard-hitting documentaries and doggedly pursues stories. He’s good at it. Far from criticizing him for lack of courtesy, we celebrate his championing of the cause in hostile environments like daytime MSNBC; for facing off with folks like Keith Olbermann (more on that in a minute.) So yes, it is reasonable for J.P. to dislike this form of interview or journalism; but is, I think, very unreasonable for WCPAC to throw Ziegler out for doing the very thing that got him invited in the first place. Invited, I might add, to speak about being unjustly removed from a media event earlier this year. Yep.

But there is a bigger picture here too. As Ed, Ziegler, and many others have pointed out since the event, the attendees shared a sense that the whole thing wasn’t really about the message, but rather about the money; thus fax-blasting. Even worse, though, was the attitude on display. Shut up, get in line. It’s why Ed was called “rude” on his own panel, it’s why Newt endorsed Scozzafava, it’s why the RNC endorsed Crist, and it’s why David Keene saw fit to finance Arlen Specter, who promptly turned coat.

As Ben Domenech recently extensively detailed, much of the right is failing to adapt to a new environment. The WCPAC flare-ups are just symptoms of a larger disconnect. The grassroots are disconnected from the party, the new media is not understood by the old money, and the leadership is increasingly deaf to the base.

If you are like me, you are with the grassroots, the activists. So maybe, like me, you think it’s about time someone got in the faces of the old guard and demanded answers.

Just a thought.

So that’s the waves on the right. Now for the waves on the left …