The Problem with Pete Santilli

what is a journalist-pete-santilli

By CHERI ROBERTS for Challenging the Rhetoric

What does it mean to be a journalist in a tech-savvy society? Is it any different now than before there was an internet? Does the internet redefine what a journalist is, or open up the gates for anyone to be one? Should it?

Established ‘legacy’ media types often look down on internet bloggers and podcasters; finding no need — and in some cases, no right, for them to be protected under shield laws or even be considered journalists at all. And, when a legal case* like Pete Santilli’s comes along, I can see why. This 59-page document makes a relatively clear case against him.

pete santilli7

IMAGE SOURCE: Santilli live stream screenshot

The bulk of the known evidence in the investigations of the jailed Bundy Ranch and Malheur Refuge militia ‘Patriot’ protesters comes from the vast enclave of Santilli’s live streams, which are broadcast on YouTube, Talk News Network, Guerilla Media NetworkSpreaker, iTunes, TuneIn and more. Don’t let the mere 67,513 YouTube subscribers fool you. Santilli’s overall online reach is at least twice that amount, and I’m being conservative.

Santilli, believing himself to be an advocacy journalist ‘shock jock’, not only pushed too far, he pushed many people right over the cliff with him. Not only by way of inciting followers and emboldening militia compatriots, but his broadcasts also instilled fear in the local, State and Federal officials who were involved in the shooting and arrests. Under questioning, statements made by Oregon State Police (OSP) officers involved, all described their prior knowledge of the defendants and deceased. All referenced the many videos documenting their target’s weaponry and threatening rhetoric which is why the felony traffic stop on highway 395 where Lavoy Finicum was killed was considered, a ‘high risk’.

Facing what could amount to life in prison — primarily for the Nevada case, from jail Santilli holds firm that he is a journalist and should be protected by  the First Amendment. The ACLU early on put out an article, followed by a statement, in support of the internet talk show host’s rights after his arrest.

There is no doubt Santilli was advocating in his shows, but for what and why was questionable to many. Was he providing any real journalism with it? Was there a point beyond attention and commissions on militia and survival gear?

Neither ethics, nor honesty, were part of Santilli’s regular repertoire. His shtick was built on click bait headlines and eye-popping assertions delivered in rants on the various online shows and platforms he has had over the years. He didn’t just fib or embellish the truth, he created whole new truths with which to mislead.

Some of his misdirection of listeners was intentionally geared to drive clicks and hits and donations; other Santilli offerings were based on some of his very real beliefs. But, regardless of what he is saying on his show, when Santilli talks, his fans listen. Many will do, and have done, more than just listen. Many willingly heed his calls to action by taking his words as fact, willing to do his bidding, including take up arms.

For Santilli, along with bloggers and podcasters everywhere, the running assumption has been that if you are doing the work you perceive is that of a journalist, what does it matter the platform you use or for whom you do it? Does one need to be part and parcel of a recognized media outlet in order to be considered a real journalist? Does one have to parrot the talking points of others or adhere to any ‘official story’ put forth by governments and corporations to be deemed a journalist?

First let me clarify that not all bloggers and podcasters consider themselves journalists. People blog and podcast for myriad reasons. In my case, as a prolific blogger and internet talk show host, I do consider myself to be a journalist, but not because I have a reader and listener-ship.  I’m a journalist, simply because, I journal.

what is a journalist-pete-santilli

IMAGE SOURCE: Merriam-Webster

I document life and history as it happens, as well as revisit and report on already documented history of the past. I research. I interview. I write. I produce. And then, I deliver it. And, even if I never delivered it, I’d still be a journalist by definition.

But, there is more to being a journalist than all of that and it’s the most basic fundamental ethic of truth in record. Journalists depend on records and other documentation by others in order to tell their story. The same credibility they seek out should be the same credibility they put out, not a modified or otherwise molested version of the truth. And, while there is plenty of room for ‘shock jock’ type journos in today’s media landscape, people like Pete Santilli are far more than ‘shock jocks’ and far closer to propagandists who use shilling and fearmongering to make a living.

According to a report by The Oregonian‘s, Maxine Bernstein,

In their court filing, Nevada prosecutors argue that the facts in the Nevada indictment ‘independently justify’ Santilli’s detention as a danger to the community and risk of flight. They describe him as part of the ‘organizing nucleus’ of the conspiracy and as Cliven Bundy’s ‘shill’ and ‘propagandist’ who ‘beat the drums’ over the Internet to incite and motivate followers to Nevada.”

In an April 2000 commentary to the Canadian Association of Journalists, Sue Careless gave advice to advocacy journalists who seek to establish a collective view of journalistic standards.

Published in May 2000 in The Interim, Careless’s , “Advocacy journalism” she offers the following 7 rules and advice:

  • Acknowledge your perspective up front.
  • Be truthful, accurate, and credible. Don’t spread propaganda, don’t take quotes or facts out of context, “don’t fabricate or falsify”, and “don’t judge or suppress vital facts or present half-truths”
  • Don’t give your opponents equal time, but don’t ignore them, either.
  • Explore arguments that challenge your perspective, and report embarrassing facts that support the opposition. Ask critical questions of people who agree with you.
  • Avoid slogans, ranting, and polemics. Instead, “articulate complex issues clearly and carefully.”
  • Be fair and thorough.
  • Make use of neutral sources to establish facts.

Obviously, Santilli missed the mark for advocacy journalism.

If you are thinking maybe Santilli is just more of a muckraker, consider this excerpt from the speech, “The Man with the Muck-rake” given in 1906 by  our 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt:

In ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ the Man with the Muck Rake is set forth as the example of him whose vision is fixed on carnal instead of spiritual things. Yet he also typifies the man who in this life consistently refuses to see aught that is lofty, and fixes his eyes with solemn intentness only on that which is vile and debasing.

Now, it is very necessary that we should not flinch from seeing what is vile and debasing. There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muck rake; and there are times and places where this service is the most needed of all the services that can be performed. But the man who never does anything else, who never thinks or speaks or writes, save of his feats with the muck rake, speedily becomes, not a help but one of the most potent forces for evil.

There are in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, business, or social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform or in a book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.

The liar is no whit better than the thief, and if his mendacity takes the form of slander he may be worse than most thieves. It puts a premium upon knavery untruthfully to attack an honest man, or even with hysterical exaggeration to assail a bad man with untruth.

An epidemic of indiscriminate assault upon character does no good, but very great harm. The soul of every scoundrel is gladdened whenever an honest man is assailed, or even when a scoundrel is untruthfully assailed.

Now, it is easy to twist out of shape what I have just said, easy to affect to misunderstand it, and if it is slurred over in repetition not difficult really to misunderstand it. Some persons are sincerely incapable of understanding that to denounce mud slinging does not mean the endorsement of whitewashing; and both the interested individuals who need whitewashing and those others who practice mud slinging like to encourage such confusion of ideas.”

You can read the full text of his speech HERE.

Santilli was not an advocacy journalist and he wasn’t muckraker.

Because I personally know Santilli and have worked with him in the past, I can honestly say he really did believe (for the most part) that what he was doing was legal, and that he was in fact protected by his right to free speech and freedom of the press, as he claims. He often touted press credentials with the IFP, among other organizations, and wore a vest that said, “Press” as proof he was journalist. But, the problem with Pete Santilli is, ignorance is not accountable in a court of law; meaning that a mistake of law in relation to a person’s rights or responsibilities due to ignorance, is no defense in a criminal case.

As his case unfolds in the federal courts and on social media, many bloggers and podcasters should take note and not wait around for the judge’s decision before they take a good hard look at what they are putting out into the world and question their own legal lines, versus draw them themselves.

To conclude, I offer more words from Roosevelt’s ever relevant speech,

In Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ you may recall the description of the Man with the Muck Rake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck rake in his hand; who was offered a celestial crown for his muck rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.”

*On January 26, internet talk show host, Pete Santilli — a self-described ‘shock jock’, was arrested and charged with a single count of conspiracy to impede count officers from their duties in the Burns, Oregon, Malheur Wildlife Refuge armed takeover. Later, 16 counts for his previous participation in the 2014 Bunkerville, Nevada, Bundy Ranch standoff as well. The later are the far more serious and far reaching charges.



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16 responses to “The Problem with Pete Santilli

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  4. I was a Santilli listener, and eventually a contributor. I believed, at one point, that he was speaking for a lot of us who feel dis-owned by our country.
    My break w/ Santilli came after a large donation I made. I asked to speak w/ Santilli and engaged in several phone calls w/ him. During these couple of calls, I specifically asked Pete to “check the meaning of journalistic ethics” < that kind of ticked him off. In the interim, I was going to (*and in fact had developed a number of designs, etc) for t-shirts and other im-printables for sale. Finally, because I am a jew, and proud of it, I took issue w/ his "reporting" on the USS Liberty. I felt it was inflammatory, inconsistent w/ the facts and the truth. Though I was a bit put off, I chose to continue my support, as I believe that all speech is protected (*less speech inciting violence.). Finally, in my final conversation w/ him, I straight up told him the following; "You are losing listener-ship and views because of your overly aggressive posit towards "the nwo, shadows, spooks and goblins" < the us govt also. I told him that it was in HIS BEST INTERESTS to do a couple of things. 1)Stop going "into the field" if he was going to rant & rave. 2) Consider backing away from pointed attacks and perhaps discuss overall perspectives. 3)Cease calling out people to join him in the streets. 4) Cover more "MSM" type subjects to expand his listenership.
    What followed these suggestions was no less than a full scale onslaught of vile, disgusting and hateful communications. Via email & text msgs to my phone, he (*Pete Santilli) went on a seven (*7) hour tirade to and about me. He called me every name in the book, including some pretty nasty antisemitic samplings. I have this all documented, including dates/times, etc.
    I still…… believe Santilli has a gift of gab. I also believe some of the things he says, he believes. So, not to come off as completely attempting to bury another human-being, I hope he does not get sent away for a multitude of years. I believe in second chances. I hope, if he gets one, he will become much wiser than his recent past.
    Thanks, Dave


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