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James O’Keefe On Mainstream Journalism

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, his discrediting of Rutgers Professor Jeff Keefe, and his infamous “CNN Caper.”

In the final portion of our interview, I asked O’Keefe for his thoughts on mainstream journalism, and he revealed that some of his journalistic heroes include Mike Wallace and Jake Tapper.

In the last part of our interview, O’Keefe talked about how he doesn’t play by the rules, and that’s where we picked up for part 4. We talked a bit more about the tactics he uses in his investigations, and the strategic way in which they’re released. Despite his contempt for the conventions of traditional journalism, he takes shelter in them when it’s convenient, comparing his work to things like Dateline NBC‘s hidden camera investigations, or Primetime Live‘s. That superficial similarity ignores the ethical considerations inherent in hidden camera journalism.

The one charge that seemed to hit home a bit was the idea of fixing your journalism around a foregone conclusion. O’Keefe said his investigation of EPI was the result of a tip, but when pressed, it seemed to be more of a general feeling about think tanks, rather than something specific to EPI.

I also asked O’Keefe to talk about mainstream journalists whom he admires, and he named Mike Wallace and Jake Tapper. After our interview, he emailed me to let me know that he’d also meant to mention a few others. He said he also admires “Tim Carney for his investigation of business/government relationship, and Chris Cuomo for his undercover work in Texas.”

Despite my consistent criticisms of James O’Keefe (criticisms that, for the most part, still stand), he deserves a lot of credit for not only agreeing to this interview, but for hanging in there for the full 30 minutes. There are few, if any, media figures (mainstream or otherwise) who would have made themselves available for that kind of questioning. I’ve had much bigger names get skittish on me over a lot less.


Transcript:

TC What about that? You talk about you don’t play by the rules. Do you have a problem with the rules of journalism or do you have a set of rules that are different?

JO I do have a problem with the rules of journalism. Specifically and I’ve said this before– i think that journalists — with this story I believe we have exposed something serious with Jeff Keefe, we’ve exposed his willingness to help us kill research if it doesn’t help his conclusion. That is a serious finding. Why does it take citizen journalists at nonprofits with very little money and resources to do this? Why is an organization as magnanimous as the Huffington Post with an award-winning and beloved journalist who covers this story and interviews all the players and can’t find this information out — that to me is poignant. That to me tells me something about the state of our journalistic affairs and also, why don’t I like the rules of journalism? Because journalists are mostly just pundits and stenographers — they write down what the people say and talk about what they think and we don’t do that Tommy — we dig. Christian dug when he was on the frontlines — there are good journalists, don’t get me wrong — there are definitely good reporters and i’m sure Sam Stein has been a good reporter too, but a lot of journalists miss out on the real information and that’s why i think we have to use these techniques to find out and discover the truth.

TC: But do you find a flaw in fixing your journalism around a foregone conclusion? you went into this, you’re calling up anybody you can think of from EPI and trying to entrap them into saying this thing that you want them to say and then when they do you report it and that’s fine but you don’t see the flaw in going into with that preordained conclusion — if everybody rebuffed you, we would put out a story that said EPI was honest?

JC: Let me put it to you this way. Did Woodward and Bernstein go into their investigation of Richard Nixon without a preordained conclusion? Can you name a lot of the magazine reporters that have successfully gotten people to resign from these organizations — did they not have preordained conclusions? If you’re an investigative reporter, you go in there not necessarily knowing what they’re going to say, but yeah, you’re kindof adversarial. You’re trying to expose…

TC: That’s a big difference, James, there’s a big difference between fixing your reporting around a given conclusion.

JC: Take a look at the Planned Parenthood investigation I did with Lila in 2007, Lila Rose…and the undercover footage there as you may know, you’ve seen it as with the vice president accepting money to abort black children, a lot of people on the left might say ‘Oh well, you know you kind of ensnared her into saying that, but that doesn’t mean that they’re racist or anything’ but the whole foregone conclusion in that investigation was — the premise that Planned Parenthood was founded by Margaret Sanger who was a eugenist, so we were just going to that sting with that premise and the premise here is that okay – someone tipped me off, our research is showing that there might be a willingness to kill a study, now someone gave me a tip about this type of activity and I went to investigate it. That’s what investigative journalism does. You can call that “foregone conclusion” but I think that’s disingenuous.

TC: I didn’t see anything about a tip in your video, is that somewhere else in your reporting?

JO: Well, a tip about this type of activity happens generally speaking, not that this particular guy does it but this particular activity, and I keep sources that send me tips anonymous just like any journalist.

TC: Fair enough, but that’s what I mean, saying you got a tip makes it kind of a horse of a different color.

JO: Every investigation I do, people either send me an idea and I work off it –someone did say to me that there have been professors doing this type of thing, so I decided to investigate it, is that a “foregone conclusion”? I mean, all journalists go off of tips and information and that helps them on the way to discovery, in my opinion.

TC: And so in connection with the EPI investigation, how many different people did you contact and record? Are there others in this story who also were willing to kill…

JO: There are others that did, DID, agree to ink a deal and potentially kill it, yes, and just like the ACORN — you know my work well enough to know how this works, you know, just like the ACORN investigation with Andrew Breitbart or just like the teachers union investigation in New Jersey where they all said it was doctored and a hoax, remember that? Teachers Unions Gone Wild With Christian Hartsock, one year ago to the day almost when the local New Jersey media said it’s doctored, she was taken out of (context) .. she was talking about her high school and then we released more tape. So you see what we do, Tommy? We catch the media, lying and covering up for what we expose. Why don’t you guys just take my word for it that there’s more of this stuff happening, okay? Because you guys embarrass yourselves. You get embarrassed. You get scooped. You get caught covering your tracks. Covering things up. That’s why we do it. If you just believe it, and then we’re going to release more tape showing more fraud. Okay? But yes, to answer your question, we have other individual agreeing to this thing.

TC: Okay, I guess I don’t really have anything else, unless there’s something else you want people to know about James O’Keefe.

JO: That’s it. We’re going to show the full tapes, we’re going to show you the recordings. And you can make your own decisions based on what you see, but I promise you that what I show is authentic.

TC: I do have another question for you, you mentioned before that there were some journalists who you thought were good, can you name some establishment journalists whom you admire?

JO: Well, what got me into this — I definitely admire someone like Mike Wallace. I admire the work that 60 minutes does. I admire the work that – I think that Jake Tapper is a very good reporter and has been pretty fair. There’s been some other individuals — I admire a lot of the people I work with and people who are putting their necks on the line for almost no money to do this type of thing. And I think that even if you’re a partisan journalist or if you’re one of my opponents, I admire the journalists overseas for instance in Europe and Africa, and the personal risks, anyone on the front lines. Here’s what I don’t admire as much, people who make a lot of money sitting in a Manhattan studio talking behind a microphone. I admire people in the front lines and I have to give my opponents credit for being on the front lines and risking themselves for a story.

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