Pamela Key does not work for the Republican National Committee. She has no formal training in journalism. An illustrator of children's books, she never finished college. And yet, her oppositional research, her investigative journalism, and her philosophical convictions have all come together to shape the national mood, receiving even the attention of the White House. On August 4 of this year, Linda Douglass, the communications director for the White House, released a video where she instructed the public, "My job is to keep track of all the disinformation that's out there about health-insurance reform. And there are a lot of very deceiving headlines out there right now, such as this," she reads the Drudge Report from her computer screen, "'Uncovered Video: Obama Explains How His Health Care Plan Will Eliminate PRIVATE Insurance.'"
What most don't know is that Douglass was targeting a video unearthed by Key, first released on her video news website, Naked Emperor News, and then picked up by the Drudge Report. The video, which pieces together various Obama statements, damningly quotes the president at an SEIU forum in 2007 saying, "I don't think we're going to be able to eliminate employer coverage immediately. There's going to be, potentially, some transition process: I can envision a decade out, or 15 years out, or 20 years out."
The same day the White House posted Douglass' video on its blog, it also released this message: "If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org."
A self-described Reagan-conservative, Pamela Key laughs the whole thing off, noting that the White House's overreaction "hilariously made it a bigger story. Really bizarre." And bizarre is the word she comes back to, time and again, when she describes her informal foray into investigative journalism. Though her website, Naked Emperor News, debuted in 2008, she was first inspired to dig into Obama's past after reading his memoir Dreams From My Father at the end of 2007. It was then that she "realized what a total radical this guy was."
Originally intended to be a site about children's books, Naked Emperor News was coming together right as the Jeremiah Wright controversy exploded across the media. With a title appropriately suited to its content, Key decided to devote the website to exposing candidate Obama and his pals as mainline members of the political fringe. Obama, Key was certain, was not the centrist fellow the mainstream media was painting him to be in 2008.
The former art director at L.A. Brides magazine, Key began to do freelance art in the late nineties for children's books once she started raising a family. Over a decade later, working out of her home in southern California, Key watched as the Wright controversy popped and fizzled out in the mainstream media and realized that "no one is really telling the Wright story," with no pun intended. Taking the concept of the Rev. Wright tapes, she searched for others candid videos to release on an open forum. "Just like I supply an illustration for a children's story, in the same way, I'm going to supply a video for these stories," she says. Her website, with its gaudy and grotesque design, is researched and run by Key and Key alone. Between book projects, she forages the Internet for bygone audios and clips on the hot political issues of the day, splices them together into a video, adds captions, and posts them on her website.
Looking through the archives of Chicago's public radio stations, of C-Span, of YouTube, and various other forums, Key uncovered clips of Obama saying cap and trade will bankrupt coal plants, of Van Jones calling for a revolution against "suicidal, gray capitalism," and of congressional democrats refusing to regulate and audit Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2004. In one of her most viewed videos, which received nearly three million hits, Obama advocates for redistribution of wealth. In that 2001 Chicago public radio interview, Obama tells a radio talk show host, "One of the I think tragedies of the civil rights movement was [the] tendency to lose track of political and community organizing activities on the ground that are able to put together actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change." To this effect, he criticizes the radical Warren court (1953-1969) as not being radical enough: "It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the constitution generally, the constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what states can't do to you, says what federal government can't do to you. But it doesn't say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf."
In the video, he does not debate whether redistributing wealth is the task of our constitutional government. Rather, he speculates about how to achieve distributive change: through the courts or through the legislature; in the end, the legislature is where he comes down.
After listening to hours of Obama, Key heard Obama repeatedly argue on behalf of a greater government presence in the average American's life. But to her dismay, both the Republican National Committee and the press--conservative and mainstream--are failing to take Obama to task for his own words and political philosophy. "No one is really having a discussion with him of what our Constitution means. That would be an interview millions of Americans want to see." The problem is, as Key sees it, in the corps of D.C. elites, from Republican and Democratic legislators, to media members, to Obama and his administration, most are entirely out of touch with Middle America. Officials at the Republican National Committee, for instance, are oblivious to Key's website--RNC press secretary Gail Gitcho said that she has never heard of Key's website and that the RNC not been in touch with Key about her research. This is despite the fact that Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and the White House itself brought Naked Emperor News to the national spotlight. "If it were up to me," Key says, speaking about the results of the midterm elections in congress, "everyone would go home."
Key remarks sardonically that in 2008, when she started her site, she assumed it would be a temporary endeavor, that the mainstream media would begin holding Obama accountable. What amazes Key is that the media are becoming all the more subservient. Speaking about Obama's recent media circuit, Key says, "he did all those interviews and no one asked him about Acorn and Van Jones." Since the mainstream media is not doing its job, Key is still fishing through Internet archives to uncover information about her next target, Acorn.
Streaming across the head of her website is a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran minister-turned Nazi resister, which summarizes the raison-d'etre behind Naked Emperor News. "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." While her detractors may shake their heads, or call her findings "fishy," Key has become an Internet sensation because she is willing to do what most D.C. elites aren't: market herself to the people who count, Middle Americans.
Emily Esfahani Smith, a Collegiate Network fellow, is an editorial assistant at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.