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.
This is not a “woe is me” book. Mr. O'Keefe fought the machine and won. His arrest gave birth to the following veritas maxim: “The law will always surround you. Learn it.” Probation forced him to take his craft to a new level. Rather than star in his videos, he directed others via painstakingly executed scripts that were vetted by world-class lawyers, and with technology, he could call off a mission in New Hampshire from his parent’s house in Bergen County, N. J. While on probation, Mr. O'Keefe shook up the funding and personnel at NPR, and helped changed voter-ID laws in six states, all for pocket change.
Imagine, the smile on Mr. O'Keefe’s face when Mr. Holder was before the House Judiciary Committee and was asked how a person a fraction of his age and of a different race could have been offered the ballot of the attorney general of the United States without showing identification. Mr. Holder’s remark was testament to the evolution of Mr. O'Keefe and his organization, Project Veritas: “You know, I mean it’s an attempt to show something, I suppose. But I think what I drew from that — the video was that that guy was very careful not to say he was Eric Holder. Not to actually get a ballot. He did not do the things that would have subjected him to criminal .”
While Mr. O'Keefe’s ends are detested by the left, the means he employs have a pedigree that can be traced to the philosopher-tactician of community organizing, Saul Alinsky, author of the must-read “Rules for Radicals.” Mr. Alinsky’s 10th rule for radicals: “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this that will cause the opposition to react to your advantage.” This captures the O’Keefe experience to the core.
But there is more to being “O’Keefed” than falling for the tactics of Alinsky. Project Veritas’ “cinema verite” is written with “Rules for Radicals” grammar and Tom Wolfe’s “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers” prose. Channeling his inner Wolfe, Mr. O'Keefe said the following in a deposition: “I don’t think pimp protocol requires the wearing of chinchilla. Pimp protocol requires the whoring out of underage girls.”
The blend is a sure recipe for “Breakthrough” and summertime best-sellers. Veritas rule No. 1: “Content is king. Without strong content, nothing else matters.”
David DesRosiers is president of Revere Advisors.