Last year, James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles made headlines and became heroes to conservative activists with their ACORN sting operation. O’Keefe (dressed as a pimp) and Giles (dressed as a hooker) found ACORN employees seemingly willing to facilitate shady dealings. The resulting uproar led to the demise of ACORN, at least as it then stood.
Since then, O’Keefe’s taken on the media, teachers’ unions, and the Census Bureau. After one botched stunt, O’Keefe was charged with (and later cleared of) trying to tap the phones in one of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s Louisiana offices. Most recently, he landed in hot water after he was accused of planning to seduce a CNN correspondent on a hidden camera — a charge O’Keefe denies.
O’Keefe recently agreed to answer 5 questions from The Daily Caller on his beliefs, his past, and his future:
1. Do you consider yourself an activist or a journalist? Can someone be both?
All good investigative journalism is adversarial. To not be an adversarial journalist is to be an activist for the subject you are supposed to be investigating. For example, reporters writing down what government officials say to them at press conferences isn’t journalism, it’s stenography. The NJ Star-Ledger rushing to call taped comments made by NJEA Associate Director Wayne Dibfosky “unsubstantiated” is not journalism, it’s damage control. The New York Times not assigning a reporter to the ACORN scandal until after the Congress defunds the organization isn’t journalism, it’s news suppression. The Washington Post running a front page headline proclaiming I wiretapped Senator Mary Landrieu is not journalism, it’s lying. Politico e-mailed dozens of “conservatives” in order to get two that criticized me, but wouldn’t disclose the others who would not. Is that journalism?
2. Do you have role models? If so, whom?
My grandfather; he could build something out of nothing.
G.K. Chesterton; his intellect, journalism, personality.
3. Is there someone on the political scene you would like to see run for president in 2012?
I would prefer to see the nation’s great leaders working at the grassroots level – I think you have greater liberty to affect social change outside of running for office.
4. You’ve attracted some controversy. Do you have any regrets for any of the actions you’ve taken?
It has emboldened me and made me more focused. I regret not getting (New Jersey Education Association associate director) Wayne Dibofsky’s comment on the NJEA voter fraud investigation – the media just ignored our tape of his recent admission a NJ municipal election was rigged. I also regret the government destroying the tape of our conversation inside Senator Landrieu’s office. If people were able to see our interaction with staffers they would immediately know we were there to have a conversation about phones, not to actually do anything to phones. If that were the case, the discussion would have been about the ethics and legality of undercover work inside federal buildings. (It is interesting that “False Pretenses” wasn’t even a misdemeanor at common law, and we showed our drivers licenses when we entered the federal building.) Instead it became a story about tampering with phones, something the government would later admit we never intended to do.
When ideas are interrupted and deconstructed, people jump to wild conclusions, since what we do is so difficult to put into context without the accompanying video. For example, if the pimp and hooker videos were interrupted or e-mails were leaked, I could have been charged with child sex trafficking. As for the CNN concept, some of my friends called the ACORN concept “perverted” and “stupid” before it was executed. One beltway person thought it would destroy Hannah Giles’ career (afterwards he admitted he was wrong). My job now is to make sure plans are not interrupted, and misleading brainstorming materials do not get leaked.
5. What political cause would prompt you to chain yourself to the White House fence?
We once got a tip that Harry Reid’s gate on his property in Searchlight, Nevada was illegally donated. Assuming it were, if one were to chain oneself to that fence, it would force the media to report on the illegally donated fence itself. But I will be staying away from chains and handcuffs for the foreseeable future.