Since four men were arrested by the FBI for illegally entering U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office, many news media outlets have been quick to identify one of them, James O’Keefe, as a journalist – often an “investigative journalist.” They’ve also identified O’Keefe as a guy who dressed as a pimp and entered ACORN offices with a woman dressed as a prostitute to discuss scams for government funding.
Both are inaccurate descriptions. The journalist tag is tenuous at best, and we’ll get back to that. As for posing or dressing as a pimp, that is inarguably wrong. His partner in the videos, Hannah Giles, definitely was scantilly clad while discussing prostitution services with ACORN employees, but there’s no proof O’Keefe joined her in costume.
Last year, O’Keefe released a number of videos where he says in his narration that he introduced himself as a number of different characters.
In his Baltimore video, his voiceover references a scenario of “a man pretending to run for Congress one day,” which accompanies a back shot of him walking into an ACORN office dressed in a blue dress shirt with white khakis.
In San Bernadino, he says he’s “the up-and-coming local politician who wants to use illicit sex money from underage girls to fund my future Congressional campaign,” with no footage of how he is dressed.
In New York City, he says he’s Giles’ “pimp boyfriend banker with the intention of using illicit sex money to fund my future Congressional campaign.” This footage doesn’t show him, though presumably he’s disguised as a banker.
In D.C., he says he’s “playing the role of a pimp with the intention of running for Congress,” with no images of his attire, but the ACORN employee refers to him as a “Georgetown law student.”
In Philadelphia, he repeats the pimp boyfriend running for Congress statement, and this time gives us a frontal of himself in a blue shirt, white pants and a tie.
So why did virtually every reporter get this wrong? There are spliced shots of O’Keefe dressed outlandishly as a pimp (think Harvey Keitel in “Taxi Driver”) walking with Giles in an outfit straight out of “Leaving Las Vegas.” Those same pimp scenes are sprinkled throughout all of O’Keefe’s videos, leaving one with the impression that this is how he dressed when speaking with ACORN, but there’s no video of this happening. O’Keefe never turned his hidden camera on himself, so we don’t know.
Meanwhile, a quick roundup of this week’s media coverage:
- A Times-Picayune article has a photo caption that says “Filmmaker James O’Keefe dressed as a pimp before entering ACORN offices last year.”
- The accompanying Times-Picayune article reads O’Keefe “was hailed as a conservative hero for dressing as a pimp and taping ACORN employees offering advice on how he and a partner could get away with running an international underage prostitution scheme.”
- On WGNO.com, Web site of ABC Channel 26 news: “In the videos, O’Keefe and Giles, disguised as a pimp and prostitute, appear to receive advice on tax evasion and underage prostitution from ACORN employees.”
- On WDSU.com, Web site of NBC channel 6 news: “The most well-known of the suspects is O’Keefe, a 25-year-old whose hidden-camera expose posing as a pimp with his prostitute infuriated the liberal group ACORN.”
- AP: “O’Keefe, a 25-year-old who posed with an associate as a pimp and prostitute to film undercover videos at offices of the liberal community group ACORN…”
Stories that state O’Keefe was wearing pimp clothes when speaking to ACORN officials should be able to show images of this, but they haven’t. References to O’Keefe “posing” as a pimp isn’t fair either because viewers are led to believe that only due to what O’Keefe says in his voiceovers, not how he actually introduced himself to ACORN employees. Further, while O’Keefe and prostitute-garbed Giles discuss sex services and money, O’Keefe only refers to Giles as his “girlfriend.”
In the Landrieu office stunt, O’Keefe attempted to record his fake phone repairmen accomplices with his cellphone’s camera. Somehow, this is being construed as “journalism.”
O’Keefe told a media outlet after his ACORN stunts: “I happen to call what I do shoe leather journalism and not advocacy journalism, so, I would consider it just journalism.”
But holding a camera to record a stunt that you choreographed doesn’t make you a journalist anymore than walking into an office in business-casual attire with your “girlfriend” dressed as a sex worker makes you a pimp.