Champions call him a muckraking journalist. Critics say he’s an unethical trickster. Love him or hate him, conservative-leaning investigative filmmaker James O’Keefe, 26, creates content that attracts buzz.
He’s behind the undercover video of an NPR official taking potshots at the Tea Party that helped trigger the resignation of two NPR executives in March. Earlier, O’Keefe exposed corruption in the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which led to the federal government cutting off funding for the now-defunct group.
He also produced an undercover video about a New Jersey Teachers’ Union conference, stylized to imitate the raunchy “Girls Gone Wild” series. More recently, O’Keefe helped produce a video about corruption in Medicaid offices that has prompted an official investigation.
In 2010, he went too far in a federal building. He pleaded guilty, along with several partners, to misdemeanor charges after posing as telephone repairmen to gain access into Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office. O’Keefe is on three years’ probation for the incident.
His undercover work has received widespread attention — from coverage on ABC News to usage in a “Daily Show” segment and a recent article in The New York Times — but many media experts scoff at O’Keefe for taking people’s words out of context and creating narratives that expose only the most damning information.
“Maybe someday O’Keefe’s private choices might be rolled out and subjected to the same relentless scrutiny he shines on others with an almost scary lack of awareness of possible human consequences,” said Steve Gorelick, media professor at Hunter College in New York.
“Until then, I only wish O’Keefe would proceed with at least some humility about the fragility of human nature and the struggle of many people to think and act coherently in a hurried moment,” Gorelick added.
In his college days at Rutgers University, O’Keefe and several other Irish-American students went into the diversity office to protest against Lucky Charms cereal, saying the leprechaun on the box misrepresented their ethnic heritage. They were making a political statement about what they saw as the ridiculous demands of political correctness. Rutgers took the group seriously and banned the cereal for a week.
O’Keefe now publishes his work with Project Veritas, a nonprofit he runs. He refers to himself as a “community organizer” of citizen journalists, a jab at President Barack Obama’s pre-public office career.
One thing O’Keefe prides himself on is posting raw, unedited video after releasing the edited stories that make him popular and controversial. In that vein, here are some unedited comments from the self-described muckraker; he discusses his philosophy, his agenda, and his gripe with traditional media.