Hans Christian Andersen wrote the fairy tale about “two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes” but the clothes happen to be invisible to those “unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent” – like the Emperor, apparently. When he paraded around in his invisible clothes, everyone was afraid to say anything “until a child cried out, ‘But he isn't wearing anything at all!’” Woops!
Here's an idea for an updated, adult version of this story: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) plays the part of the Emperor, and the real star of this story - investigative reporter Brendan Keefe from Atlanta's WXIA 11 Alive (NBC) - as the child who calls them out publicly on a delusion that is obvious to everyone else.
Last night, Brendan went back on TV for an update of a story we covered a couple weeks ago, about ALEC, "the secretive so-called 'charity' run and funded by big corporations that subsidize the involvement of conservative state lawmakers, who then push for enactment of model bills written by the corporations who pay them." As we wrote,
In deciding ALEC’s agenda, corporate lobbyists and their state lawmakers meet behind closed doors and vote. However, this kind of secrecy does not sit well with reporters like Brendan Keefe. He tried to attend ALEC’s spring meeting at a resort hotel in Savannah, Georgia. Not only was he kicked out of the meeting, but also - to make sure he stayed out - ALEC “called over a sheriff's deputy, one of six off-duty police officers … taking their orders directly from ALEC staff members. He called three of his fellow deputies as back-up.”
When this story first appeared, it received some decent attention. But then Media Matters got ahold of it and the news story went about as viral as any we’ve ever seen. Suddenly, millions of people nationwide were watching and learning about this dirty group. New clothes (so-to-speak) might have helped an honest organization respond to this negative exposure but not when it comes to ALEC – especially when there’s videotape! Here's a bit of last night's story:
As reported last night, “ALEC responded on its website, saying the 11Alive report ‘exhibited a fundamental misunderstanding of ALEC… ALEC is a forum for the exchange of ideas and free-market policies by a diverse array of members including legislators, business and thought leaders, think-tank scholars and individuals.’”
We asked an ALEC state chair from New England if we could join.
"Is it an organization that Joe Public can join? Or do you have to be a lobbyist or legislator?" Keefe asked.
"Yeah," the representative said. "The only way would join is to be a…"
"I see," Keefe said. "Now, I've gotta run for office!"
"Well, or be a lobbyist," the rep said.
The ALEC spokesperson in the video said we caught him off guard, and then referred to his media policy, which allows the organization to hand-pick which reporters are allowed in. It requires written permission to rebroadcast legislative meetings like the one we walked into.
He also touted the organization's transparency efforts.
So we asked ALEC for permission to show you the video from inside that committee room.
We are still waiting for an answer to that request.
A transparent forum for the exchange of ideas? “How beautiful the Emperors new clothes are! Fit to perfection!”