What exactly is an investigative journalist?
Is a journalist someone who does the tedious work of digging through records, analyzing data, and finding good human sources to ferret out the truth?
Or is a journalist someone who dresses up like a pimp, straps on a hidden camera, and tricks workers at ACORN to say really dumb things?
Filmmaker James O’Keefe went the easy pimp route. Last summer, O’Keefe shamed ACORN workers in an undercover video, and O’Keefe’s conservative supporters praised his tactics as real shoe-leather reporting that has been neglected by the mainstream media.
But investigative journalism is not a publicity stunt. It’s not a gimmick. It’s actually tedious, time-consuming work. And more people are beginning to understand that — thanks to one of O’Keefe’s recent stunts.
O’Keefe and his pals were recently arrested for dressing like phone repairmen and infiltrating the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu in a federal building. After the arrest, even conservatives started raising questions about O’Keefe’s methods. John Hood at National Review Online put it this way:
Whatever you think of these kinds of publicity stunts, they do not constitute investigative journalism. The earlier ACORN videos weren’t pieces of investigative journalism, either. It does the growing ranks of investigative journalists at conservative organizations a great disservice to invite a comparison of such publicity stunts with the hard, meticulous, and often boring work of exposing government waste and corruption.
The New York Times published a Sunday story pointing out O’Keefe “is just one of a group of young conservatives who use political pranks and embarrassing recordings to upend what they view as overwhelming liberal biases on college campuses and in the culture at large.” Jon Stewart at the Daily Show said it seems like O’Keefe gets all his story ideas from porn movies.
Instead of dressing up like a pimp to make a splash, why not dig up records to find out what’s really going on? That kind of work might seem boring to people like O’Keefe. But to the reporters who actually do this kind of work, sifting through documents, putting together the pieces of a puzzle, and discovering something no one else knows is rewarding and worthwhile.
Give it a try, James. You might be surprised at the real stories that are out there.
Update: It turns out O’Keefe wasn’t even wearing pimp threads when he went undercover at ACORN offices.