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James O’Keefe: Journalist or prankster?

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?

James O'KeefeOr 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.

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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.

2 thoughts on “James O’Keefe: Journalist or prankster?

  1. Well, I suppose the reason O’K did what he did and how he did it is because no–which is to say not a single–reporter of the legitimate kind you describe has ever gone near ACORN.
    Some may have wanted to, but they also wanted to remain employed.
    You probably didn’t know this.

  2. Richard, thanks for commenting. But I don’t think journalists are beholden to liberal causes like ACORN. I’ve covered all kinds of stories, some of which probably didn’t please some Democrats. One story that comes to mind is our coverage in 2004 of a local Head Start organization that paid its top executive a six-figure salary, but underpaid teachers. Here’s a link to a Congressional press release about Head Start that mentioned the story:

    http://republicans.edlabor.house.gov/archive/press/press108/second/02feb/headstart021904.htm

    I wrote other stories that probably angered some conservatives. And I’ve written other stories that are essentially apolitical. The main thing I care about is whether it’s a good story — an article based on new facts that I dug up and that tell people something new about the world.

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