On the heels of his “To Catch A Journalist” sting video, conservative activist James O’Keefe sat for a nearly 30-minute interview for Mediaite on Monday, discussing his attacks on Huffington Post’s Sam Stein, and his discrediting of Rutgers Professor Jeff Keefe. Toward the end of our interview, I asked O’Keefe if he would mind answering a few nagging questions about his previous work, specifically the CNN sex boat “caper,” and the racial subtext of his ACORN pimp costume.
For the uninitiated, then-CNN correspondent Abbie Boudreau (now with ABC News) reported, last September, that, based on documents and eyewitness accounts, James O’Keefe had planned to lure her onto a boat filled with sex toys and hidden cameras. The plan called for the boat to set sail with O’Keefe and Boudreau aboard, so that the reporter would be unable to escape, at which point O’Keefe would try to “seduce” her. The plan called for the “prank” to end with Boudreau in tears, begging to be let off of the boat.
The plot was foiled when conscience-stricken O’Keefe associate Izzy Santa warned Boudreau, minutes before the “caper” was to take place. Even conservatives were quick to denounce O’Keefe, whose antics were already wearing thin with them.
O’Keefe later said that he had rejected some elements of the plan, but Boudreau stood by her reporting, and O’Keefe offered no evidence to support his claim. In our interview, I asked O’Keefe why he hadn’t released emails or other evidence that would show he rejected the plan. O’Keefe told me that such emails do exist, but that he doesn’t plan on releasing them. Despite having agreed to discuss it, O’Keefe then refused to comment when pressed on the issue.
I also asked O’Keefe about the racial subtext of his pimp costume, the same question that caused Andrew Breitbart to blow up at CPAC in 2010, but which he calmly answered a year later. The choice of the pimp costume served multiple purposes in the ACORN videos, one of which was to bait a trap for liberal defenders of ACORN, who would surely point out the symbolism of coupling such a stereotype with a primarily black organization. O’Keefe could then turn the tables and accuse them of being racist (as his friend Christian Hartsock did with me) for equating “pimp” with black man. Unfortunately for O’Keefe, he exposed his own pimp equation when he told Fox & Friends that he couldn’t believe anyone would think he was a pimp because “I’m the whitest guy I know.”
That quote, by the way, doesn’t occur in a vacuum, but rather, within O’Keefe’s history of racial antagonism. While in college, O’Keefe famously held an “affirmative action bake sale,” selling baked goods to minorities at low prices, while charging whites exorbitantly. Abstract object lesson, or expression of racial resentment?
Then, there was his satirical objection to Lucky the Leprechaun, a hideous equation of a character from Irish folklore with dehumanizing Sambo stereotypes. The fundamental problem with this sort of mockery of “political correctness” is that it trivializes very real, very reasonable grievances.
There are other hints at O’Keefe’s racial issues, such as his removal from a college dorm after he was accused of using racial slurs. O’Keefe said the accusation was a lie, but his writing about the subject contains some illuminating inconsistencies. He says he “volunteered” to move out of a room with a gay roommate, and was transferred to an “all-black floor,” yet he describes his two roommates on that floor (in strictly racial terms) as “an Indian who smelled like shit,” and a “Greek kid” named Paul. Finally, he bemoans the fact that he must defend himself to the dean, saying he was “forced to go in front of a black man,” the implication being that a black man couldn’t possibly act impartially in such a situation.
None of this is conclusive proof of what’s in James O’Keefe’s heart, but it does provide reasonable people with a means to judge statements like O’Keefe’s “I’m the whitest guy I know,” and decide whether it’s being taken “the wrong way.”
I asked James to explain that quote. He chalked it up to “naivete´…it was one of my first times on TV and it wasn’t meant in that sense. It was maybe trying to be cute.”
Fair enough. It seems as though O’Keefe is expecting some benefit of the doubt here, and as he’s fond of saying, the viewers can decide for themselves.
Here’s part three of our interview, followed by a transcript. Tomorrow: James O’Keefe On Mainstream Journalism.
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