Friday, January 29, 2010

O'Keefe On The Loose

On January 25, four young men- one of them James O'Keefe, who himself and his right-wing allies claim is an "independent filmaker," were arrested trying to tamper with the phones at the New Orleans office of Senator Mary Landrieu (D.-La.).

In a statement posted on Andrew Breitbart's right-wing website, O'Keefe, who with his alleged co-conspirators had posed as telephone workers, claimed in part

I learned from a number of sources that many of Senator Landrieu’s constituents were having trouble getting through to her office to tell her that they didn’t want her taking millions of federal dollars in exchange for her vote on the healthcare bill. When asked about this, Senator Landrieu’s explanation was that, “Our lines have been jammed for weeks.” I decided to investigate why a representative of the people would be out of touch with her constituents for “weeks” because her phones were broken. In investigating this matter, we decided to visit Senator Landrieu’s district office – the people’s office – to ask the staff if their phones were working.

You can believe this explanation if you wish. But reached by The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Senator Landrieu denied a malfunction with the phones, indicating the voice mailbox was full, and stated "Our lines have been jammed for weeks, and I apologize."

O'Keefe issued a standard non-apology apology: "On reflection, I could have used a different approach to this investigation, particularly given the sensitivities that people understandably have about security in a federal building."

Aside from using a different approach because the one he took probably was illegal (charged with entering a federal property under false pretenses with the intent to commit a felony, he faces a possible ten years in prison), O'Keefe's sincerity is suspect. You remember him from his videotaped visits to various Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now offices with blogger Hannah Giles of, posing as a prostitute and a pimp. That scam appeared from doctored tapes to implicate ACORN in unethical and illegal activity. However, an analysis now reveals:

1- Transcripts reveal that O’Keefe and Giles said they needed ACORN’s help to protect Giles from a violent pimp—but they carefully edited this out of their videos.

2- While their press releases claim they were posing as a “prostitute and a pimp,” the transcripts show that O’Keefe consistently introduced himself as Giles’ boyfriend trying to protect her.

3- In each of the cases, the ACORN staff advised the prostitute to pay taxes, not to evade them.

In San Diego and Philadelphia, ACORN workers called police. In all the videos, O'Keefe appears in ACORN offices in normal business attire- not in the "pimp" outfit in which he has appeared as the outdoor scenes are televised ad nauseum.

A former state attorney general, who analyzed the tapes for ACORN, reached a similar conclusion, observing

The videos that have been released appear to have been edited, in some cases substantially, including the insertion of a substitute voiceover for significant portions of Mr. O'Keefe's and Ms. Giles's comments, which makes it difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding. A comparison of the publicly available transcripts to the released videos confirms that large portions of the original video have been omitted from the released versions.

By then, of course, opportunistic Republicans and timorous Democrats in Congress had jumped to conclusions and voted to cut off funding for ACORN. It was a response almost (almost) as predictable as it was irresponsible, given the never-ending shots of the pimp and the prostitute and exploitation by the mainstream media, including by one Jon Stewart.

Now we find that O'Keefe shockingly- shockingly! is not quite so independent. In September, the Village Voice reported it

has learned that O'Keefe, in fact, has had heavyweight conservative backers who funded the young filmmaker as recently as a few months before his ACORN films were made.

The ACORN videos are actually just the latest of several films O'Keefe has produced and uploaded to YouTube. An earlier film posted in February, "Taxpayers Clearing House" featured nonwhite, working class people being duped by O'Keefe, who led them to believe they had won money in a sweepstakes.

That video was produced with the help of a grant -- said to be about $30,000 [Thiel's spokesman says closer to $10,000 -- see update] -- from Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook -- an investment which made him a billionaire. Thiel is one of Silicon Valley's more interesting figures: a gay man (according to Gawker's "Valleywag") who has railed against the evils of "multiculturalism." He lives in San Francisco and today runs a hedge fund.....

O'Keefe is a former member of the Leadership Institute, the conservative think tank that has turned out such graduates as Bush strategist Karl Rove, Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, and "Talon News" fake White House blogger Jeff Gannon (real name: James Dale Guckert). The Institute has been involved in setting up conservative newspapers at colleges across the country, and gave O'Keefe a $500 "Balance in Media" grant to begin the Rutgers Centurion in 2005.

O'Keefe, who recently addressed in New Orleans the Libertarian Pelican Institute for Public Policy, was celebrated following the ACORN sham by Republican legislators in Texas. That state, however, features a GOP gubernatorial primary in which arch-conservative Kay Bailey Hutchison is the more liberal candidate, so it's not quite representative of The Party of No. Still, this ought to be a cautionary tale about videotape, the right wing, and the passivity of the Democratic Party. Ought to, but won't.

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