How “Convicted Criminal” James O’Keefe Came to Be “Discredited”


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Investigative reporter James O’Keefe is admittedly a repeat offender. Over and over again he has committed old-fashioned, gumshoe journalism. Worse, he has gone after targets grown fat, soft and corrupt from years of media protection. In the process, O’Keefe has embarrassed the mainstream media and enraged their political allies. Now the whole lot of them wants his head.

To experience the media’s angst one only had to watch Anderson Cooper’s CNN panel discussion on the morning of the Las Vegas debate. The subject at hand was the Project Veritas video that showed Democratic operatives bragging about how they incited violence at Trump rallies. Although CNN felt compelled to report on the story—five million people had already seen it—Cooper and his colleagues were more disdainful of O’Keefe than they were of the two dirty tricksters already fired as a result of his video.

Cooper introduced the videos by sniffing at O’Keefe’s “less than stellar reputation for accuracy.” As inevitably happens, he cited no examples of O’Keefe’s inaccuracies. Cooper then turned the task over to CNN “investigative reporter” Drew Griffin who promptly upped the libel ante by referring to O’Keefe as a “discredited conservative activist.”

Again, there was no effort to prove the “discredited” label or the “conservative” one for that matter. O’Keefe has never endorsed a candidate or taken a public position on anything more controversial than free speech. And although some of his stings have misfired, no one has ever discredited any of his reported stories.

The same cannot be said for CNN political contributor Maria Cardona. “James O’Keefe has zero credibility,” she insisted in the panel discussion that followed Griffin’s presentation. “He is the one who did the doctored videos of Planned Parenthood, which were completely false. He is a criminal, right?”

In less than thirty seconds, Cardona undid her own “reputation for accuracy,” however dim that may be. For starters, pro-life activist David Daleiden made the videos in question. As to whether those videos are false, those who have had stomach enough to watch Daleiden’s fifth video  would surely beg to differ.

Shot at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston, this video shows a clinician with a Valley Girl accent picking through a tray filled with the parts—a lung here, an intestine there--of a “fetal cadaver.” In this lengthy, unedited segment she calmly discusses the viability of these parts for resale in the fetal tissue market. Earlier in the video, the Director of Research explained on camera how baby part commerce helped Planned Parenthood with the “diversification of [its] revenue stream.”

Daleiden should have won a Pulitzer Prize for his work. Instead the Harris County District Attorney colluded with Planned Parenthood to arrest him on a charge of “tampering with a governmental record,” namely using a fake driver’s license to get into the clinic. A judge later dismissed the charges, but Planned Parenthood had its talking point. “Since faked criminal videos hit,” Planned Parenthood tweeted in April of this year, “politicians in 24 states have tried to cut patients' access to Planned Parenthood.”

James O’Keefe should have won a Pulitzer Prize long ago. The undercover work of his fledgling organization led to the collapse of the community organizing cartel known as ACORN, earned him praise from Governor Chris Christie for his work exposing corruption in New Jersey’s teachers’ unions, forced the resignation of major players at National Public Radio, and led to the reform of voter laws in New Hampshire—all of this before he turned thirty.

No one in the major media has anything like this track record.
As David Daleiden discovered, however, when a citizen journalist dares to expose a protected institution, he risks reprisal from the government and, even more disturbingly, a rebuke from the major media. In January 2010, O’Keefe and a few of his colleagues learned this the hard way when they attempted an impromptu sting in New Orleans.

They had gone there to investigate corruption within the city’s public housing. But while in New Orleans, they decided to see whether Senator Mary Landrieu’s office had been refusing to take calls on the senator’s Obamacare vote as Tea Party activists believed. To test this claim, O’Keefe decided to pay the senator’s office a visit.

At the security checkpoint, O’Keefe and two colleagues showed their actual driver’s licenses. Dressed casually, O’Keefe headed up to Landrieu’s tenth floor office and took a seat. A few minutes later his two cohorts arrived, wearing hard hats and reflector vests. They were supposed to tell the staffer manning the desk, “We’ve gotten complaints that the phone lines were tied up, and no one can get through.” They were hoping the staffer would say something like, “It’s those tea-baggers tying up the line, but we’re just ignoring their calls.”

Stalling for time and hoping for the desired response, the faux hard hats started talking about examining the phone closet. They ended up speaking with the fellow in charge of building maintenance who sniffed out their con in a minute. The fact that they had no tools was something of a give-away.

O’Keefe had captured this admittedly amateurish sting on video. The video would have proved how innocuous the whole enterprise was, but when a squad of federal marshals, guns drawn, arrested him and his pals, the jump drive with the video on it was confiscated, never to be seen again.

After a night of squalid uncertainty in the St. Bernard Parish jail,
O’Keefe and crew were signed out on bond. Showing their colors, as soon as the media heard of the arrest, they pounced. “It was not clear precisely what the men were trying to do in Ms. Landrieu’s office,” admitted the New York Times in a front-page story. That said, its editors captioned the accompanying photo, “Four people were arrested for trying to tap the phones of Senator Mary L. Landrieu.”

The media could not hide their glee. They called the affair
 “Louisiana Watergate” or, given the youth of the defendants, “Watergate Jr.” True, Watergate was a massive abuse of governmental power and this was a prank by crew of young would-be journalists, but if the media ever worried about their own “reputation for accuracy,” it was far from obvious.

Carol Leonning of the Washington Post had already misreported O’Keefe’s role in the ACORN sting and had been forced to issue a correction. She retaliated in an article headlined, “Acorn Foe Charged in Alleged Plot to Wiretap Landrieu.”

When the charges were unsealed, however, Leonning was forced to issue another retraction. There was no wiretapping charge. Wrote Leonning, “O’Keefe, 25, waited inside the office and used his cellphone to record his two colleagues saying that the senator’s phone was not receiving calls.” Watergate this was not.

O’Keefe was eventually charged with a misdemeanor—18 U.S.C. § 1036, “Entry by false pretenses to any real property, vessel, or aircraft of the United States or secure area of any airport or seaport.” If this were any other jurisdiction, O’Keefe might have fought the charge. As the prosecutors knew, he did not enter the building under false pretenses. But as his attorneys knew, justice is not a given in the Big Easy.

So began and ended the criminal career of “convicted felon” James O’Keefe. Never before has so slight an offense earned a more enduring label, and never again will anyone with eyes to see trust the major media.



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