AP's Academic 'Expert' Excusing Flash Mob Crime Is An Undisclosed New Media Leftist

NOTE: This post replicates one which originally appeared on August 10 but was inadvertently deleted due to system complications two days later.

For some reason, Associated Press reporters Eric Tucker and Thomas Watkins, in a story about the wave of flash mob crime in the U.S. this summer, felt compelled to find an "expert" who would express some sympathy for its participants.

Well, they supposedly found one. His name is Jonathan Taplin. Here's what he told the AP:

Jonathan Taplin, director of the innovation lab at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, said he was not surprised to see people using social media for organizing flash mob robberies.

"You are essentially having a world where you have 25 million people who are underemployed and 2 percent of the population doing better than they ever have," Taplin said. "Why wouldn't that lead to some sort of social unrest? Why wouldn't people use the latest technologies to effect that?"

Initially, it appears odd, to say the least, that Tucker and Watkins would have found their "let's blame our unjust society" quote from a guy like Taplin in the first place.

Really, that's a pretty fiery quote coming from a guy at an "innovation lab." What does Taplin know about what goes on in the hearts and minds of those who, from various accounts nationwide, have appeared to be mostly black and mostly teenagers -- to the point where publications like the Chicago Tribune have felt the need to explain their politically incorrect decisions to say as much? It seems even odder when one learns that Taplin holds himself out in his Annenberg job as a specialist "in international communication management and the field of digital media entertainment." This makes him an expert on class envy and social unrest?

Let's look at what the Annenberg Innovation Lab project's "initial areas of focus" are:

  1. Innovative applications for configuring news content that fully utilize the capabilities of devices such as digital tablets and e-Book readers.
  2. Interactive Television applications and widgets for the next generation of fiber optic delivered high definition TV.
  3. The evolution of the E-Book into the multimedia realm using video, music and graphics in addition to text.
  4. The use of portable digital devices of all sorts in the production, distribution and monetization of news and entertainment content.
  5. The use of immersive digital platforms as a journalistic medium.
  6. The evolution of social networking as a platform for commerce, entertainment and journalism.

Obviously there's nothing wrong with any of this, but AP's reporters either didn't know or didn't care that they were basically talking to someone who could fairly be characterized as just another media guy (though with a much wider background than is often found, as noted here in a sympathetic CBS New piece in February 2009).

The AP's use of Taplin as a so-called expert starts to make (propaganda) sense once one sees his favorite news sources at the bottom of this April 2011 interview: "New York Times, Talking Points Memo (TPM), FiveThirtyEight." Hmm. The latter two indicate more than an average person's interest in politics.

Far more important, Tucker and Watkins didn't disclose that Taplin's sympathies unsurprisingly lean far to the left, as evidenced by political contributions of $250 to Moveon.org in August of 2009 and $750 to the DNC Services Corp. (otherwise known as the Democratic National Committee) in 2010. Nor did Tucker and Watkins seem to care that if one looks into where Taplin lives and his likely standard of living (though anyone could easily get a handle on it, I'm keeping the evidence out of this post), there's at least a reasonable chance that he is among the 2% of the population he derided.

Removing any doubt about his political outlook, one finds that Taplin is far more than a fan of TPM. He is a TPM Cafe blogger going back to at least 2009 (it's hard to tell for how long, because TPM makes it appear as if his archive has been scrubbed, when it hasn't been). Here are some of the choice opinions offered therein:

June 4, 2009 ("Big Trouble Ahead") -- "Reagan's solution to stagnation was Military Keynesianism. Instead of investing in alternative energy solutions or more efficient transportation when the Arab Oil Embargo was staring us in the face, he chose to create the largest military expenditure in peace time history with borrowed money. And what do we have to show for it? Our current economic crisis."

August 11, 2009 ("Don't Know Much About History") -- "When ever I see a pictures of 70 year old white guys on medicare protesting at town hall meetings about "no government health care" or "socialized medicine", I have to wonder about the strange Vulcan Mind Meld (Glenn) Beck and (Rush) Limbaugh have over their audience. And then I think about Santayana's epic quote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It's obvious that both Limbaugh and Beck were partying too hard in their youth to ever show up at history class. And now they are passing on their ignorance to millions of listeners a day."

September 21, 2009 ("The Interregnum") -- "The people who are angry and paranoid listening to Glenn Beck are like the smokers--they don't associate with happy people and they only listen to media that keeps them riled up. ... As they (Limbaugh and Beck) ride around the country in their private jets they may be laughing at how they are able to get the poor crackers all riled up about an imminent invasion of martians or socialists or Nazis while they take it to the bank."

Taplin has also had his own predictably leftist blog since December 2007, where he posted heavily in the final months before the 2008 presidential election in favor of (surprise! -- not) Obama-Biden. His latest blog entry came just five days ago on Thursday, August 4 ("Brave New World Redux"; teased at TPM; full home blog version). Here's the pull quote (bold is mine):

Whatever political will the country might have had for a WPA style program —putting millions of unemployed construction workers back on the job fixing America’s third world infrastructure—now seems to have evaporated. It was perhaps our last chance to avert the Coming Anarchy. Imagine an explosion of technology aided Flash Robs.

That's a pretty interesting final sentence, given the quote he gave to AP. I wonder if Eric Tucker or Thomas Watkins (or both) are Taplin fans, and decided to get a quote from him based on the just-excerpted statement?

Regardless, the AP pair owed us far more information than we were provided about a someone who appears to have no sociological or other background to support the alleged expertise of his statement, and who just happens to have said what Barack Obama himself might be saying if he didn't happen to be president.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.