Saturday, January 30, 2010

James O'Keefe

As some of you know, James O'Keefe is invited to ChesterTen in August. I am really looking forward to hearing him speak.

So I was distressed to learn this past week of his arrest, along with three other young people, in the office of a senator in New Orleans. Somehow, I knew the immediate press judgments of Mr. O'Keefe and the lack of detail surrounding the story meant that there was probably more to it than met the eye. If the press had asked me (which they didn't) what I thought of the whole thing, I would have said I needed to wait until I had more information.

When the left says tolerance, and keep an open mind, they don't really mean that for themselves, do they? Did they allow their minds to remain open about James O'Keefe? Did they give him any tolerance?

Oh, and conservatives are distancing themselves. Yes, since they asked O'Keefe to give a speech next week when he'll still be under orders to remain at home, since they need a new speaker for the event, the press labeled that "distancing". Yes, that seems fair and tolerant and unbiased of the press.

My first thought was not, "Oh my gosh, the guy who busted Acorn is busted so let's discredit the heck out of him and 'distance' ourselves from him." First of all, we still believe in innocence until proven guilty in this country. Or at least, I do. Apparently the press and the left leaners don't.

My first thought was, Who is this senator, and why were James and his friends interested in her? What's going on in that office? A question I still find inadequately addressed by the press. Her phone's been off the hook? Her constituents can't reach her? Is she ignoring the voices of those she represents whom she disagrees with? What's going on there?

Secondly, I find it amazingly funny that the press runs away with the "wire tapping" story, when there was no evidence of what exactly the young people were trying to do there. I think wire tapping can be done without going directly into an office and asking to look at the phones. Duh! If you were trying to be secretive, would you actually operate that way? Obvious to me is the fact that the boys WEREN'T there to wire tap. Wire tapping, it seems to me, could be done quite effectively in secret. I bet the networks are digital these days. I bet Chloe Sullivan would be able to hack into the system and find out what's going on via the computer. THEN the FBI could trace the hack and someone would REALLY be arrested for "digital wire tapping" or whatever they call it. The fantastic thing is, when someone thought of the words wire tapping, everyone else did, too. And no one stopped to think, oh, wait a minute--I don't think people actually "wire tap" anymore. Or if they do, they don't have to physically go into the office to do it.

So then, could it be possible that until we hear from the four boys, we really don't understand the situation or what they were trying to do? Could that even exist as a possibility in people's minds for a little while? I hear there will be a hearing on Feb 17, I wonder, could we wait till then to find out what it is they were trying to do?

And one more thing. The FBI. Why were they there? I mean, yes, the four were there, and yes, they weren't telephone repair people. But they didn't have weapons, they weren't threatening anyone, they didn't seem to have any violent tendencies, nor did they resist arrest. They didn't appear to have made off with anything of value, nor did they even attempt to take anything. So, the FBI. Again, why? Local police couldn't have come by and asked, What are you boys doing here? Have the FBI been following James and his friends around? Have THEY been "wire tapping" or following them on Twitter or Facebook, or hacking into their cell phones, just to see what they're cooking up next? Hmmmm. Because O'Keefe is so dangerous, exposing government fiscal corruption and senators ignoring their constituents is such a violent crime, I suppose.

Despite the press, I am, now more than ever, interested in hearing from James O'Keefe.

You can listen to a podcast interview where I talked with James here.


  1. Here's some interesting info on the matter from CNN...

    'O'Keefe, 25, Joseph Basel, 24, Robert Flanagan, 24, and Stan Dai, 24, were charged Tuesday with entering Landrieu's New Orleans office - which is federal property - under "false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony," according to a news release from the local U.S. attorney's office.'(CNN)

    False pretenses, federal property.

    And their ages indicate that they aren't boys, either.

    More serious still.

  2. tolerance works both ways,i don't notice the right ever hesitating from rushing to judgement when its their enemies on the receiving end.

  3. What's your point anonymous? Did Nancy ever say that she thought the right never rushed to judgement? Of course not. It's always easy to attack a straw man.

    Do you know what happened? I don't think you do.

    By your logic, if I say I'm John Smith (that's not my name) and go in to talk to my Senator, I should be arrested by the FBI...

    If you read James's remarks on the subject, he admits that what he did wasn't the best idea and he should have gone about it in another way. You quote the charges and seem to think that that's proof of anything other than that he was charged with something.

    Also, it's easy to pass judgement. Most 25 year-olds are not risking their livelihoods on making politcal change such as James. He is not a rich man, if he fails at what he's doing, he won't eat. He needs to take risks and act. He is doing what he thinks is right, he's trying to expose corurption in politics. How could you disagree with that purpose? You're imputing some malicious motive onto him simply because he's going after a democrat.

    I don't think it's fair to attack Nancy just because she says she wants to wait to see what happens and that she's interested in hearing him speak. Can you honestly say you wouldn't want to hear him speak and that you're not interested in hearing what really happened?

  4. Anon: see the thing we don't know is the end of that sentence "with the intention of committing a felony" which is the part where someone needs to read minds (or hear testimony) to find out what was going on. And, as has been said, a charge isn't a judgment, it's something that demands investigating.
    And obviously, 24 isn't a boy, but the older I get, the younger 24 is. I remember doing some pretty dumb stuff at 24 myself. Even older than that.
    And I'm not saying the left has the exclusive on jumping to conclusions. But they do keep harping on the tolerance and open minded thing, so I'm just calling y'all on that. I don't hear the right demanding tolerance and moral relativism. Neither the right nor the left has achieved perfection yet. I like to walk the Chestertonian line and criticize both sides ;-)

  5. And yeah, they were on federal property, but it's not like they broke into Fort Knox. They walked through the front door of a public office. Federal property, and the office of a senator, last I heard, was paid for with our tax dollars, and we're allowed to visit during office hours. The part that's not right is dressing up and pretending to be telephone workers. That's where the false pretenses comes in.

  6. Nancy,

    Leftie though I am, I think you have a point in one respect. I can agree with you that the Left, though its rhetoric, tends to set a higher standard for itself on tolerance and open-mindedness--just as the Right, through its rhetoric, tends to set a higher standard for itself on some kinds of moral righteousness. The Left (me included, a little bit) gleefully calls people like Vitter and Sanford or Bill Bennett when they engage in what seems to be not such righteous behavior--so turnabout is fair play, and I can understand why right would see hypocrisy in any kind of liberal rush to judgment.

    On the other hand...

  7. On the other hand, how much of a rush to judgement is there, really?

    The presumption of innocence is a vital legal standard, but that doesn't meant that private individuals can't say that they think someone is guilty of something. Even the defense attorney of at least one of these guys seems to have more or less admitted that they were up to a "prank." Under the circumstances, a casual observer (as opposed to a judge or juror) doesn't have to make a big leap to believe that that they probably were guilty of something.

    A big leap, in my opinion, is what you make in your first reaction:

    "Who is this senator, and why were James and his friends interested in her? What's going on in that office? A question I still find inadequately addressed by the press."

    Um...really? I mean, a first reaction is a first reaction, but did you want to publicly suggest that the press should be investigating Landrieu just because O'Keefe and company were investigating her?

    This is like saying "MoveOn might have been wrong to call an honored military man General BetrayUs. But who is this General Petraeus, exactly, and why is MoveOn so interested in him? Betray us? A general betrayed us? Why isn't the press looking into that."

    You might say that the press should follow O'Keefe now because he was ahead of them on ACORN. But since you mention that this is the guy who busted ACORN, i think it's only fair to note that there were questions about O'Keefe's reporting even before this story came out; it has been credibly alleged that he unfairly edited his ACORN videos, that he was quiet about the fact that the Philadephia ACORN people reported him, or that he may have violated federal laws by secretly making those videos or by disseminating them. These allegations may or may not be true, but this isn't someone whose journalistic integrity had never been questioned before.

    You might say that it's not fair to hold boys to standards of journalistic integrity--but these guys are (chronologically, at least) grown men. Believe me, I get that "kids" in their twenties seem younger every year, but that's just a matter of perspective; our society gives them the rights and responsibilities of adults. The right often wants to try 14 year olds as adults.

    And do you have evidence that the FBI was illegally targeting these people? IF there is evidence, I'll be the first to condemn But you seem to be insinuating that the existence of an investigation is, by itself, an indication of government misconduct. (I know that this can't be what you mean, because you're obviously a reasonable and good-hearted person who is genuinely upset with the press. I'm just saying that your words could be interpreted, by someone not giving you to benefit of the doubt, as presuming bad intent on the part of the nation's agents.)

    You're right that replacing O'Keefe as a speaker at an event that he cannot now legally attend isn't very good evidence that the Right is backing away from him. But the evidence that I've seen of that consists of tepid statement from conservatives who have been asked about this matter, including a statement of non-involvement from a conservative who used to be a financial patron to the alleged tresspassers.

  8. I do think that you're right that this doesn't llke a wiretapping case. But one of the reasons that i agree with is that I heard David Schuster say very clearly on MSNBC that this does not look like a wiretapping case. MSNBC has clearly been going over the top in calling this "Phone Gate," etc., but even they aren't jumping to the conclusion that you say "the liberal press" is jumping to. (Granted, Schuster had to hold Olbermann back a little bit. Again, I'm not trying to say that the Left has no schadenfreude or desire for this to turn into a big scandal.)

    I like your Chestertonian ambition ot walk the line and criticize both sides even-handedly. It's pretty hard to do, though; i think we can both agree on that!

  9. Chesterton said, I believe in getting into hot water, I think it keeps you clean.

    So, if someone needs checking out, why not? The General, of course! He's held to a high standard. A senator, yes! She's a representative of the people. Anyone who is acting not just as an individual, but as an elected official, a leader of some sort, a representative should be held to a high standard. That doesnt mean they are perfect and will always act the way we want them to. I'm the first to admit my imperfections. But, we do expect certain behavior from our leaders, certain morals, certain values. That's why it's so hard on us when they fall. Although there is usually a note of glee as well. Witness Tiger Woods downfall. There was a certain, "Oh, not Tiger! He's our hero! quality to the "see, even hero's fall" rhetoric, wasn't there? The ideal is still there, even if someone can't ascend to it.

    I do believe, if I were press, I'd be checking into the Senator's office and asking around to find out why the four young men (see how I changed that ;-)) were even there in the first place. Maybe it was nothing. BUT....maybe it was something. If I were a newspaper editor, I'd put someone on it and tell them to find out.

    OK, now some other stuff. Yes, individuals will rush to judge. I do regularly. BUT, our press CLAIMS to be unbiased and reports "just the facts" (or maybe that is the ideal). They aren't speaking as an individual if they are press or tv journalists. Unless it's an opinion column. Which maybe everything is these days.

    And prank is a far cry from a 10 year jail sentence with huge monetary fines for trespassing on federal property. A prank sounds like community service. So someone is blowing this thing out of proportion. There's another article I'd assign as an editor. WHY does ANYONE care about Jame O'Keefe? Why did they make such a HUGE story out of this? Come on! Something's going on.

    And yes, maybe the methods O'Keefe and his friends are using aren't perfectly smooth or even legal. They're attempting to make us do something that people don't want to do: WAKE UP. Most of this country is lulled to sleep and lets the press and hollywood do its thinking for them. There are some people who think the USA is going downhill because everyone is just letting it. I believe it is that complacency that O'Keefe and others like him are trying to shake up. And that's the kind of hot water I like.

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  11. "WHY does ANYONE care about James O'Keefe?"

    I'll risk getting myself into hot water by asking the obvious question in return: Why did ACS care enough about James O'Keefe to ask him to be a featured speaker?

    Isn't it, at least in part, because he is an activist who made himself newsworthy, and made an impact on national affairs, though his investigation of ACORN?

    Now, IF his reporting on ACORN was above board, then he deserves the positive attention he got. But newsworthiness sticks to a person, and someone famous for doing "good" things is going to also get attention for doing "bad" things.

    In this case, though, even if O'Keefe hadn't already somewhat famous, this would be a pretty big story. Do you think there wouldn't be headlines if activists had been accused of similar actions in Senator David Vitter's office? In part, actions like these get attention because they remind people of the "third-rate burglary" that brought out the Watergate scandal, and they make us wonder whether there are powerful interests behind the participants. That may not be entirely fair, but it's a nonpartisan unfairness. And O'Keefe was reportedly drawing a salary from a prominent conservative activist, which makes it all the more understandable that people wonder if there were powerful interests behind this event (though I no of not actual evidence that there were).

    Of course, I agree that people should ask question about the powerful. People were responsibly asking questions about Geneal Petraeus' decision-making even before the MoveOn ad aired; but it would have been wrong to think that the ad itself, without any evidence behind it, was evidence to be suspicious of him. If there's any evidence that Landrieu neglects her constituents, of course the pres should investigate that. And I'm pretty sure they're asking those questions now, evidence or not, just as part of investigating the alleged trespassers' motives and rationalization. But it would be wrong to insinuate that we should suspect the Senator's office of wrongdoing just because these four "young men" suspected them.

    When you say that activists sometimes need to shake people out of their complacency, you sound just like Saul Alinsky, Al Sharpton, ACORN and any number of leftist organizers and community organizers. And i agree with them and you. But when someone uses illegal tactics, in any kind of civic society, they have to be held responsible--and they should willingly take responsibility, in the great tradition of civil disobedience.

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  13. All that being the case, let me say that, even though I generally worry that Chesterton may come to be grossly misunderstood as the right-wing patron saint of tea partiers, I'm mostly glad that James O'Keefe hasn't been disinvited as conference speaker. It should be very interesting. I might even come and try to ask him a question.

  14. The ACS was interested in James because of his connection to Chesterton. He said Chesterton was his hero or his motivation or something like that. Very few people say stuff like that in public. We tend to jump on things like that.

    Yes, the videos were edited. Most news media won't sit through what they recorded (I watched it, most of it was boring.) The media...I know this might shock you (I'm teasing)...edits their videos, too.

    Like Father Brown says (in The Invisible Man) people don't answer what you say, they answer what you mean. Only in this case, you answered what I said. What I meant was, why is the press now interested in James O'Keefe? If he hadn't done the ACORN expose, this little incident would have been a local piece on the third page of the fourth section. It wouldn't have received national media attention. Not without guns or explosives.

    ..."broken into Senator David Vitter's office"

    Please. No one BROKE into anyone's office. If you want apples to apples, then say, "If someone had dressed up like a computer geek squad and came into Senator David Vitter's office asking about their computer equipment..." I know it doesn't sound as impressive. Because it isn't. ;-)

    Other than touching the phone and asking where the telephone equipment closet was, and pretending (without harm to anyone) to be telephone company employees, it doesn't exactly sound like all that much illegal was going on. Really. Seriously. I'm seriously of the belief that this has been blown way out of proportion because of James' past activities. Someone wants to nip this whistle-blower in the bud. And come on, admit it. You want them to.

    I'm not condoning this. I think dressing up as telephone workers was wrong. I'm just saying, it's not a federal case.

  15. Brian--I hope you do come. I'd like to meet you. I'll buy you a cup of coffee (that goes for everyone else reading this who hasn't joined in the conversation yet, too!)

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  17. You're right about the phrase "broken into," of course. If you look above, you'll see that I deleted my message, corrected that line and reposted three minutes after my original posting, and before your response went up. I was hoping that I managed to fix the error before anyone saw it--but, drats, not so. I apologize for the misstatement.

    Technically, though, I think that it is a "federal case" when someone enters a federal facility under false pretenses, especially if they show interest in the phone lines. I don't mean that it's necessarily a reason to go to federal prison--just that it's a reason for federal officials to investigate. It's "federal" not necessarily because it's terribly serious, but as a matter of jurisdiction under the statutes.

    And I still think that this kind of apparent "dirty trick" reminds people of Watergate, makes people suspect that there may be powerful figures in the background, and would be a big deal in the media even if one of the participants hadn't made himself famous.

    But, sure, O'Keefe is getting more attention because people have heard of him before. I'm not sure we'd be talking about him, otherwise. I realize that he has praised Chesterton, and that makes him a good speaker for you--but surely he's an even more prominent speaker because he gained notoriety over his ACORN reporting? There's nothing wrong with being interested in him for that reason; I'm just point out that it as also one reason why the media are interested in him.

    I do realize that everything on TV gets edited, and that this is a practical necessity. The question is whether or not it was edited fairly. I don't know the answer; since you've actually seen the tapes (all of them?) you are in a much better position to know.

    You said

    "Someone wants to nip this whistle-blower in the bud. And come on, admit it. You want them to."

    Honestly, I'm not sure whether I want them to or not. When I saw the ACORN videos, I was sad, because I think that the declared goals of the organization are good, and I would like them to be a well-run, ethical organization. But if they're not--and it certainly appeared form the videos that they were not, in these instances--then it's good that the bad facts about them were being aired. I'm sure you don't think that most liberals don't want our tax money to be used to advise people on how to run child prostitution rings. I was being sincere, above, when I said that, if his ACORN reporting was above board, O'Keefe deserves the praise and notoriety he has won. If this is proven to be the case, I will respect his work, however grudgingly, and even if i don't also find him likable. I don't want him nipped in the bud if he is doing good journalism; I just want people who share my perspective to answer him with equally hard-hitting journalism from our side.

    But IF a reporter is using unfair, dishonest, illegal tactics, then sure, someone should "nip that in the bud" by exposing it, just like he purportedly exposed ACORN. And I'm not Blind Justice: sure, seeing an activist I politically disagree with get stopped and exposed for wrongdoing would make me happier than seeing the same thing happen to my allies, even if they were equally guilty.

    But I actually feel bad for these guys; they seem like they might have gotten in over their heads. If they did something illegal, I hope they are able to strike good plea bargains.

    I'll try to make it to the conference and would look forwarding to meeting you and others who post here--including the Anonymous who posted above. It's nice to know that there there's someone else around here with what sound like liberal-leaning reactions.

  18. Brian, you do yourself a disservice by associating yourself with the remarks made by anonymous. Also, I was just reading the well and the shallows again and he writes about his demagoguery! Fantastic. Was it you who made the point that the guy who wrote the article was a demagogue or someone else?

    Happy sunday!

  19. It was me. I just looked and couldn't find most of Chesterton's discussion of demagoguery in The Wall and the Shallows (there are pages omitted from the online version I looked at), but, from what he says in "Demagogues and Mystagogues" in All Things Considered, I think I can understand why he would associate himself with "demagoguery."

    His sense of the term seems to emphasize clarity; the demagogue is "popular" or populist in that he or she speaks the language of the people, while the mystagogue obfuscates. This seems to rely on a modern, English sense of "the people" as plain-spoken, decent, common-sensical, and in many ways superior to the overly intellectual elites. That's different from the classical sense of the demos as rabble to be captivated by rhetoric that appeals to the baser emotions, like fear and anger, more than to rational thought. I like Chesterton's sense of "the people" a lot better, of course--it' more respectful and democratic--but the classical sense of what's popular is till detectable in the way many people use the word demagogue, and that's how I was using it; I meant that the Canadian Free Press columnist was indulging in a rhetoric of fear (lock your doors; the big, bad government is out to get us) and anger (Let's board the tyrant's boat and show him who's boss! Let's refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants!), and not noticeably trying to be reasonable or empathetic. Your mileage may vary, but that's how I read it. Now that I know that Chesterton has his own definition of demagoguery, I would be inclined to find a different word for what the columnist was engaged in; the term "hate speech" comes to mind as a possibility--I'd use it, but i wouldn't want to be inflammatory. ;)

  20. These are just a bunch of kids! This is just a harmless school boy prank! You know what they say, don'cha? Boys will be boys!

    No doubt about it. It's amusing to watch the right wing media trying to spin this latest debacle. Yesterday O'Keefe was the newest Fascist poster boy. Today he is a man looking at some serious time in federal prison. The Republicans are once again experiencing the kind of OOPS moment for which they have become famous for in recent years. It really is quite touching when you think about it.

    Is this merely the tip of a nasty iceberg? Will O'Keefe "cooperate" with federal investigators in order to reduce his sentence? Are there bigger fish that are due some serious frying?

    To be continued....

    Tom Degan

  21. I liked the Smallville reference!


  22. Isn't "facist poster boy" a little strong, Tom? I think demagoguery--in the bad, non-Chestertonian sense--is to be avoided on the left as well as the right.

  23. this short rundown.

    I think my husband covered the broadcast news' response very well: "That idiot that shot a bunch of soldiers is a suspected shooter, but these guys have been 'arrested trying to bug a Senator's office'... and (bleep) the facts."

    Looks to me like a bit of legal bullying, unless actual attempts to damage the phone system are shown. Since it's been videotaped from two different cameras, this should be interesting!

  24. Hm, top part of my comment vanished. has been doing a very good job of covering what is actually known-- kinda exhaustively so, even. Or there's this short rundown.

  25. Sorry, but Chesterton would be horrified.

  26. At someone promoting a blog that brags about being gossip, let alone expecting it to be considered authoritarian?

    Yeah, he would be......

  27. Way to miss the point, Foxfier. By the way, the word you're looking for is "authoritative," not "authoritarian."

    Try sitting through the unedited tapes. Or just read O'Keefe's own admissions that he "never claimed he was a pimp" and "did not act as a journalist." Now that the unedited tapes are released, it's clear that O'Keefe's "expose" is mostly a matter of clever cutting.

    Here's a link that might better suit your delicate sensibilities. By the way, it's the Kings County, NY, District Attorney office and the California Attorney General who have reached this conclusion; is that "authoritative" enough for you?

    I repeat: Chesterton would be horrified. He should not be pressed into service as the patron saint of the unscrupulous part of the right wing.

  28. Anon: I know it is very difficult to discover the tone of one's messages on the internet, however, from the note above, it doesn't feel like a Chestertonian tone. Correcting someone's grammar is fine, if done kindly, and even better if ignored, lest one's own grammar become the subject of the next missive. A spirit of cheerful understanding of poor grammar or mistaken historical dates is quite Chestertonian.

    Chesterton was ever the champion of the common man, and even the underdog. Reporters have used hidden cameras and microphones and have dressed the part of someone other than themselves as a journalist since time began. Mr. O'Keefe, I doubt, is the first to do so. If he is a criminal, so then, is every investigative journalist who hasn't fully disclosed everything prior to investigating. His stating that he wasn't a pimp, nor acting like a journalist is only to state the obvious, and doesn't appear to prove anything like a point.

    I find it quite amusing, frankly, that people find fault with Mr. O'Keefe, when they fawn all over other journalists who do exactly the same thing, but the report feeds the fancy of that particular person. I could complain deeply about certain journalists, and what it would tell you is *my* point of view.

    Vociferous comments tell us about the writer more than about the situation at hand.

    What example from Chesterton's life or work can be cited to defend the argument that Chesterton would have a problem with Mr. O'Keefe?

  29. I'm busy being amused that our troll can't manage to link primary sources, when they're so easy to touch... Almost like he's trying to drum up blog hits, hm?


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