- - Monday, July 22, 2013

By James O'Keefe
Threshold, $26, 352 pages

Watch out, fraudsters. James O'Keefe is celebrating coming off federal probation with a New York Times best-seller, “Breakthrough: Our Guerrilla War to Expose Fraud and Save Democracy.”

When provocateur-journalist Mr. O’Keefe was arrested in early 2010 in Louisiana for misrepresenting himself at a federal building, the full weight of the government and the mainstream media fell on him and his compatriots. The American left breathed a collective sign of relief. The wicked pimp was dead. Or so they thought.

Mr. O'Keefe was tried in the papers as though he were only a couple of shades better than Timothy McVeigh. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, under pressure from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., threatened the maker of undercover films with felony and 10 years in prison. Mr. O'Keefe could get his life back — or some semblance thereof — only if he copped a plea to a lesser misdemeanor charge and a federal probation regime that was the effectual equivalent of a three-year gag order.

If Mr. O'Keefe had his day in court, his footage, the proof of his craft, would set him free. However, by some strange happenstance, Mr. O'Keefe’s video, taken from him upon arrest was destroyed. How convenient. As a result, Mr. O'Keefe took the deal.

Where was the free press? Sadly, Mr. O'Keefe writes, “This was acknowledged during my sentencing hearing on May 26, 2010, with ABC News and Fox News in attendance, but no one saw fit to report this destruction of critical exculpatory evidence.” It’s worth noting the U.S. attorney who prosecuted Mr. O'Keefe later resigned in disgrace for leaking information about other people — the very thing Mr. O'Keefe had reason to think they were doing to him.

What made James O'Keefe a person of such intense national interest?

Just a year earlier, Mr. O'Keefe pulled off an undercover-journalist sting for the record books. Posing as preppy pimp — the chinchilla coat, chapeau and struttin’ stick were just over the top, mau mauing pre-role props — and accompanied by Hannah Giles, a minister’s daughter cast in the starring role of a “working girl” striving for madam pay, the intrepid duo entered eight ACORN offices across the country and made the most indecent of proposals: the basic pitch was that they needed ACORN’s help in setting up and keeping under the radar a whorehouse that would specialize in importing and pimping out underage Central American girls. Not just any house of ill repute, but one that would traffic in underage sex slaves. These are bright, immoral lines, that when crossed are democratically damning.

No one would have expected that even ACORN, for all its warts, would fall for such a sting. But serially, they did. More importantly, their employees were caught on tape doing so. Jon Stewart captured the broad damage perfectly with a segment lead, “The Audacity of Hos.”

The consequences were swift. Congress moved to defund ACORN, and President Obama — who had worked for ACORN back in his Chicago days — was left politically powerless to help.

That is not to say that the media did not do its part to save ACORN. Rather than focus on what they had uncovered, the media shifted the narrative to the means by which the footage was acquired and the motivations of its producers. Mr. O'Keefe was labeled a racist, and the media called for his prosecution for violating two-party consent laws.

But wait a minute. Mr. O'Keefe caught a public servant on tape advising a pimp to deduct sex slaves as dependents. Whatever your definition of the word “is” is, this is the real story. With the self-knowledge of a person twice his age, Mr. O'Keefe writes: “In short, we plant moral trees in an amoral universe and turn the cameras on.”

There are no Pulitzers for those who slaughter liberal sacred cows. Reading “Breakthrough,” you see just how vested, retaliatory and hypocritical the mainstream media can be when you break through their narratives. In this world, James O'Keefe and Andrew Breitbart are right-wing scum, and Scott Prouty — who surreptitiously captured Mitt Romney’s 47 percent remark in a two-party consent state — and David Korn of Mother Jones magazine are protectors of our democracy. While Mr. O'Keefe was prosecuted for entering a federal building on a false pretense, Curtis Morrison, who bugged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office, got the Justice Department’s protections as a journalist.

My own opinion is that our democracy is well served by this kind of undercover “gotcha-razzi” journalism. It would be nice if partisans policed their own conduct, but human nature gets in the way. However, if the other side is watching for misdeeds, and the third button on a shirt just might be a hidden camera, better behavior is the inevitable byproduct. Captured on tape is the best antiseptic.

Breakthrough” ought to be read by every aspiring journalist. Some might not like Mr. O'Keefe’s ends, but it is hard not to be impressed with his sheer courage. He has paid a huge price for his craft. If you are concerned with media freedom, this “Breakthrough” will shock and inspire you.

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