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Profile: Yasha Levine
Yasha Levine was a participant or observer in the following events:
Two of the signs being carried by ‘tea party’ protesters at the Santa Monica event. [Source: GayPatriot (.net)]Yasha Levine, co-author of a Playboy article alleging that the Rick Santelli “tea party” “rant” on CNBC was part of a pre-planned rollout of corporate-funded tea party organizations (see February 27, 2009), attends a tea party event at the Santa Monica pier. The event, planned as a “spontaneous” citizen protest of the Obama administration’s economic policies, was planned and supervised by Tony Katz, who organized it through a Facebook page. The event is planned to last 45 minutes, and consists of a quick “meet and greet,” three keynote speakers (an actor, a writer, and a comedian), and as a finale, a quick teabagging ceremony. Levine says the event’s timing is not conducive to attracting large numbers of protesters, being as it takes place at the beginning of a workday. However, she notes, it is quite conducive for media coverage: journalists would “get the material and be back in the office before noon, enough time to write and edit their segments to appear that same day.” Levine arrives late, but in time to witness Katz finishing his closing speech and event organizers passing out tea bags. She estimates the crowd size at about 50, “not what you would expect from a grassroots movement that supposedly tsunamied so fast that a whole network materialized in just a few days” (see February 19-21, 2009). Some protesters hold anti-Obama signs, others wave signs with anti-tax slogans. At least a third of the crowd, Levine writes, is made up of reporters and other “media types.” At 9:35, Katz exhorts the crowd to throw their tea bags into a pot of water (as throwing them in the ocean constitutes littering) and scream out their anti-tax demands. Levine observes: “It was a total sham, a front in order to get TV facetime. It worked, too. Fox News sent a camera crew. So did NBC. Koch [the Koch family, whom Levine has accused of clandestinely funding many tea party organizations] was teabagging the media, and the media loved it.” [Yasha Levine, 2/27/2009]
Mark Ames. [Source: Guardian]CNBC’s Rick Santelli has become something of a superstar among conservative media pundits and others exasperated by the Obama economic bailouts, after engaging in a purportedly impromptu “rant” during an on-air broadcast (see February 19, 2009). Investigative reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine discover that Santelli’s rant may have been a pre-planned incident timed to coincide with the launch of a so-called “tea party movement” predicated on opposing the Obama administration and supporting conservative and Republican ideas and agendas. In the hours and days following Santelli’s appearance on CNBC, the authors write, “[a] nationwide ‘tea party’ grassroots Internet protest movement has sprung up seemingly spontaneously, all inspired by Santelli, with rallies planned today in cities from coast to coast to protest against Obama’s economic policies.”
Connections to the Koch Family - Ames and Levine write that Santelli’s CNBC “rant” was “a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a ‘Chicago Tea Party’ was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest right-wing oligarch clans this country has ever produced.” Ames and Levine are referring to the Koch family, headed by Fred Koch (see 1940 and After), the billionaire co-founder of the extremist John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) and whose sons are heavy donors to right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups such as the Cato Institute (see 1977-Present) and FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After).
ChicagoTeaParty.com - On the air, Santelli said, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July, all you capitalists who want to come down to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.” Within minutes, Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report had posted headlines about the “tea party” rant on his Web site. Within hours, a new Web site, chicagoteaparty.com, had appeared, featuring a YouTube video of Santelli’s rant and calling itself the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain name had been registered months before by right-wing media figure Zack Christenson (see August 2008), but had remained dormant until after Santelli spoke on CNBC. Ames and Levine note that Christenson bought the domain around the same time that Milt Rosenburg, the Chicago talk show host whom Christenson produces, began attempting to link then-presidential candidate Barack Obama with “left-wing terrorist” William Ayers (see August 2008). Ames and Levine write: “That Rosenberg’s producer owns the ‘chicagoteaparty.com’ site is already weird—but what’s even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg’s launch of the ‘Obama is a terrorist’ campaign. It’s as if they held this ‘Chicago tea party’ campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.”
The Sam Adams Alliance - The ChicagoTeaParty.com Web site, Ames and Levine report, is part of a larger network of conservative Web sites set up over the last few months under the auspices of the “Sam Adams Alliance” (SAA), an organization linked to the Koch family and to FreedomWorks, a public relations group funded by Koch and headed by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey (see April 14, 2009). The SAA is a Chicago-area libertarian/conservative group named for Samuel Adams, who led the Boston Tea Party protest in 1773. [Playboy, 2/27/2009] In 2008, the New York Times described the SAA as having “started an ambitious project this year to encourage right-leaning activists and bloggers to get online and focus on local and state issues.” [New York Times, 7/19/2008]
OfficialChicagoTeaParty.com - Another Web site, officialchicagoteaparty.com, went live on February 19 as well. That site is registered to Eric Odom, a Republican specializing in faux-grassroots PR campaigns sometimes called “astroturf” (see April 15, 2009). Odom has worked with Koch Industries, a large oil and natural gas corporation and the source of the Koch family fortune, in supporting offshore oil-drilling legislation. Odom was, until January 2009, the “new media coordinator” for the Sam Adams Alliance. Upon his departure, the SAA removed Odom’s name from its Web site. The SAA also removed any mention of Koch’s funding, or any other connections between Koch and the organization, from its site. Two of the SAA’s board members, Eric O’Keefe and Joseph Lehman, are tied both to Koch and to FreedomWorks.
FreedomWorks - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, FreedomWorks posted a large photo of Santelli on its Web site’s front page with the caption: “Are you with Rick? We are. Click here to learn more.”
Other Sites - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, other Web sites such as Right.org, promoting a tea party support group that purports to be a citizen-launched organization “created by a few friends who were outraged by the bailouts” and headed by “Evan and Duncan,” and numerous pro-tea party Facebook pages, were launched. Right.org is sponsoring a $27,000 prize for an “anti-bailout video competition.” Ames and Levine ask: “Who are Evan and Duncan? Do they even really exist?”
No Connections on the Surface - Ames and Levine note that the numerous Web sites and Facebook pages have remarkable similarities in language and appearance, “as if they were part of a multi-pronged advertising campaign planned out by a professional PR company. Yet, on the surface, they pretended to have no connection. The various sites set up their own Twitter feeds and Facebook pages dedicated to the Chicago Tea Party movement. And all of them linked to one another, using it as evidence that a decentralized, viral movement was already afoot. It wasn’t about partisanship; it was about real emotions coming straight from real people.”
Santelli and the Tea Party Organizers - Ames and Levine ask why Santelli, and CNBC, would “risk their credibility, such as it is, as journalists dispensing financial information in order to act as PR fronts for a partisan campaign.” Santelli’s contract with CNBC is about to expire, they note. Until the “tea party” rant, Santelli was an obscure financial commentator with few prospects. Now, though, he is a “hero” of the right. As another Chicago tea party organization, the Daily Bail, wrote on its site: “Rick, this message is to you. You are a true American hero and there are no words to describe what you did today except your own. Headquartered nearby, we will be helping the organization in whatever way possible.” Ames and Levine speculate that Santelli may have been brought into the fold by one of his CNBC colleagues, Lawrence Kudlow, who himself has strong connections to FreedomWorks. [Playboy, 2/27/2009] Steve Megremis of the Daily Bail will call Ames and Levine’s allegations about his Web site’s involvement “categorically untrue,” writing: “It’s unfortunate because I believe that the article did some great investigative work and then at the end they threw me under the bus for no apparent reason. Apparently, the authors just assumed we were part of this conspiracy because of my own personal excitement about the prospect of a mid-summer tea party.” Megremis will post a response on his site, but the response will soon disappear. [Barry Ritholtz, 2/28/2009]
Playboy Removes Article - By March 2, Playboy will remove the Ames and Levine article from its Web site. No explanation is offered. The article will instead become available on a Web site called “The Exiled,” which bills itself as an “alternative” press outlet. [Jeffrey Feldman, 3/2/2009]
Entity Tags: Rick Santelli, William Ayers, Playboy, Sam Adams Alliance, Yasha Levine, The Exiled, Steve Megremis, Zack Christenson, Obama administration, Milt Rosenburg, Right.org, Mark Ames, Dick Armey, CNBC, Cato Institute, Eric O’Keefe, Chicago Tea Party, Eric Odom, FreedomWorks, Lawrence Kudlow, Joseph Lehman, Matt Drudge, John Birch Society, Fred Koch
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
The Weekly Standard, in a column by Jonathan Last, promotes and celebrates the nascent “tea party” movement that started as a reaction to an on-air “rant” by CNBC commentator Rick Santelli (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009) against the government bailouts of large corporations. (The article is dated March 9, but is posted on the Standard’s Web site on March 2.) Last notes that previous organizations opposing the bailouts had been proven to be “astroturf” groups pretending to be grassroots, citizen-driven organizations, but in fact owned and operated by such conservative public relations firms as FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). Now, however, Last says the “tea party” organizations springing up around the country are actual grassroots organizations with no affiliations to conservative PR firms or political organizations. Last notes that conservative radio producer Zack Christenson had indeed bought chicagoteaparty.com in August 2008 (see August 2008), as noted by progressive reporters who have alleged that the “tea party” movement—and Santelli’s “spontaneous” rant (see March 2, 2009)—were part of a pre-planned launch effort (see February 27, 2009), but claims that Christenson merely bought the domain “thinking it might be a good name for a group,” and “retooled the site” hours after seeing Santelli’s rant. Last claims that dozens of other sites, including reteaparty.com (see March 2, 2009), were bought and posted “spontaneously” within hours of Santelli’s broadcast, as were dozens of Facebook “tea party” and Santelli fan sites. Last claims that reteaparty.com owner Anthony Astolfi, with the help of “his roommate and a cousin,” bought the domain, designed and posted the site, and promoted it on dozens of “high-ranking results pages” within 12 hours of Santelli’s rant, and awoke the next day to find they had had 40,000 visitors to their site and become “a minor sensation.” Last concludes by writing: “[I]t’s easy to see the groups that might make up a real grassroots movement: the Ron Paul libertarians, renters, housing bubble obsessives, disillusioned Democrats, stat-head financial types, and, of course, rich, heartless Republicans. And then there is Santelli, who, if so inclined, might put himself forward the way Howard Jarvis did with his property tax revolt in California in 1978. The question is whether or not these people can find each other and figure out a way to push back.” [Weekly Standard, 3/9/2009] Investigative reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine note that Astolfi’s Web site is indeed funded by a conservative political action committee (PAC), a fact that Last either does not know or chooses not to report. [Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, 3/2/2009]
Entity Tags: Mark Ames, CNBC, Anthony Astolfi, FreedomWorks, Jonathan Last, Rick Santelli, Zack Christenson, Howard Jarvis, Ron Paul, Weekly Standard, Yasha Levine
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, the reporters-turned-bloggers who recently caused a firestorm of controversy with their article on Playboy.com accusing CNBC commentator Rick Santelli of colluding with FreedomWorks and the Koch family in launching the anti-Obama “tea party” movement (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009), discuss Playboy’s recent unexplained deletion of their article from its Web site. AlterNet editor Jan Frel writes that Playboy’s action was likely taken due to fear of libel suits. In an e-mail to Frel, Ames and Levine write: “There has been a lot of speculation as to why Playboy removed our original article from its site. Let us put it this way: When you look at the fallout from our article—FreedomWorks admits its role in the teaparty, Santelli issues a giant lawyer-penned opus about how he loves Obama (see March 2, 2009), and CNBC (whose parent company is the megaconglomerate General Electric) frightens a bunch of Astroturfing Web sites into dropping Santelli’s name and into revealing their own PAC sponsors (see March 2, 2009)—then it’s clear we hit the bull’s-eye and stirred up the wrath of a very scary monster. Given all of this, it would not be unreasonable for one to consider the possibility (as many have) that the multigazilliondollar megabeast GE threatened the much smaller independent media company Playboy with a terrifying and expensive lawsuit, which, given the current financial crisis, is not something anyone but another GE-sized megabeast could cope with. ‘Nuf said on that.” Frel notes that some of the critics of Ames and Levine have their own ties to the subjects of the controversy. Playboy has a film deal with NBC Universal, the parent company of CNBC. The New York Times, which has been critical of the story, has disclosed its content-sharing agreement with CNBC. And Atlantic Monthly blogger Megan McArdle, who has attacked the credibility of the story, has disclosed that she lives with a man who used to work for FreedomWorks and who has engaged in similar “astroturfing” incidents as the ones Ames and Levine reported on in their article (see March 2, 2009). [AlterNet, 3/3/2009]
Entity Tags: Jan Frel, Fred Koch, Atlantic Monthly, General Electric, Rick Santelli, Yasha Levine, New York Times, Mark Ames, FreedomWorks, NBC Universal, Megan McArdle, Playboy
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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