Campus Right Unbowed by O’Keefe Scandal

By
Wednesday, February 03, 2010 at 6:00 am
James O'Keefe and the cover of a recent issue of his old college magazine

James O'Keefe and the cover of a recent issue of his old college magazine (YouTube, The Centurion)

When James O’Keefe applied for a grant to fund a conservative newspaper at Rutgers University, he appealed to people like Sarah Longwell. As the senior program officer at the Collegiate Network, she toured campuses across America to help conservative and libertarian students start newspapers or keep their publications running. She “read basically every conservative college paper,” and got to know the sort of people attracted to the unpaid work of right-leaning campus muckraking.

“You always knew when you met a James O’Keefe,” Longwell told TWI. “When I watch the television, and watch him say things like ‘the truth will set you free,’ I think: there’s a certain type of person who’s so obsessed with being in-your-face contrarian, and being famous for it, that he does it without thinking of the consequences. I certainly met people like him in other places.”

[GOP1]Few conservative activists went on to achieve the fame O’Keefe did for the 2009 sting he pulled with fellow activist Hannah Giles, posing as a pimp and prostitute inside ACORN offices, and secretly taping the advice they received. In the week since O’Keefe and three colleagues were arrested for apparently tampering with phones in the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), national reporters have trained their eyes on organizations like the Collegiate Network and the Leadership Institute. The CN also gave a grant to the Patriot (George Washington University) and The Counterweight (University of Minnesota-Morris), where O’Keefe’s accomplices Stan Dai and Joseph Basel, respectively, had worked in college. The Leadership Institute employed O’Keefe for a year to train conservative activists; while there, he formed a friendship with Ben Wetmore, another veteran campus conservative who put up the four activists at his home before the Landrieu escapade. But any attempt to make them the faces of conservative college journalism, argued Longwell, would be off-base.

“From what he’s said and what he’s doing, O’Keefe strikes me as an ideologue,” said Longwell. “To use him to define conservative campus journalism is silly.”

Longwell has gained some perspective on this. In 2005, she left the Intercollegiate Studies Institute–the umbrella organization that runs CN–for Berman and Company, a free-market public relations firm in Washington that aggravates liberals with dogged, smart-alecky campaigns against their causes. Also joining Berman was Justin Wilson, once the editor of CN’s paper at the University of Michigan, then another program director at CN. Both later worked with Bret Jacobson, formerly the editor of the CN’s paper at the University of Oregon. (Before she came to CN, Longwell worked at a CN paper at Kenyon College.) In the years since, all three of them helped out with a punchy campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act–legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions–at Berman’s Center on Union Facts. That campaign included ads that portrayed union organizers as thugs and undercover videos–conducted with more subtlety than O’Keefe, who would pose in costume–that captured union strategists shifting their strategy. One measure of how successful Berman and Company was at frustrating Democrats came when the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) angrily ripped up one of the firm’s anti-EFCA newspaper ads in front of a cheering crowd of union workers.

According to activists who spoke with TWI, the experience of campus conservatives who went on to Berman is more representative of the movement’s investment in college journalism than the trials of James O’Keefe, Stan Dai, Joseph Basel and Ben Wetmore. It’s the sort of work that the three latter activists were doing until last week, using their training and connections to become players in the intelligence industry or in conservative activism. For the Leadership Institute, the Collegiate Network, and the National Journalism Center run by Young Americans for Freedom–just three of the conservative training organizations that have operated for more than a generation–the Landrieu debacle was a distraction from a project that had been going quite well. Conservative activists and journalists who’ve come out of those training programs have had a larger, but quieter, impact than O’Keefe. (Disclosure: I edited a CN paper, The Northwestern Chronicle, from 2002 to 2004, and I held a CN fellowship at USA Today from 2004 through 2005.) They’re well-funded–ISI, CN’s parent organization received, $8.3 million in contributions in 2009–and while they don’t release the names of donors, their trustees include American Spectator publisher Al Regnery (ISI), Heritage Foundation president Ed Fuelner (ISI), and GOP strategist Frank Donatelli (LI).

“Every two years or so, somebody writes a story about how conservatives on college campuses have suddenly discovered journalism,” said John J. Miller, an editor at National Review who came there from the same conservative UM paper as Berman’s Justin Wilson, and who hires summer interns from the CN roster. “Still, if you took people under the age of 40 or 45, right-of-center journalists–however you want to categorize them–a lot of them came from these conservative campus newspapers.”

While O’Keefe’s experience with the Leadership Institute has received more attention than his CN grant–and more than the internship Hannah Giles had at the National Journalism Center–the path from campus conservative journalism to D.C. influence is reliable. Before Marc Thiessen wrote speeches for George W. Bush, he was editor-in-chief of the Vassar Spectator. Before the Chamber of Commerce’s James Gelfand was tripped up for an email asking if it was possible to fund a study that would discredit health care reform, he was an editor at the Northwestern Chronicle. They place yearlong fellows at Roll Call, The Hill, The Weekly Standard, The American Spectator, and USA Today. Last year, the CN’s program expanded to the Raleigh News & Observer in North Carolina. John McCormack scored a Collegiate Network internship with Miller on the strength of his work with the GW Patriot–the same paper that produced Stan Dai. From there he got the CN fellowship at The Weekly Standard, and was hired full-time after his fellowship ended. In October 2009 and January 2010, he shifted the momentum of elections in New York’s 23rd congressional district and in Massachusetts by hounding candidates who were blowing off his questions, prompting them to overreact–and suffer from the ugly headlines that resulted.

This doesn’t take much money. The Leadership Institute’s contribution to college papers consists of Balance in Media Grants–once $500, recently raised to $750–to offset the cost of the first issue of a new publication. The Collegiate Network gives out annual grants up to several thousand dollars based on a number of factors, including frequency and quality of publications, and pays stipends for its media fellowships. Media organizations who hire CN fellows are pleased by the results, and not bothered by the O’Keefe story.

“We’ve been quite happy with our CN fellows over the years,” said John Siniff, executive forum editor at USA Today. “Does the O’Keefe story change the way I think about interns from the CN? No.”

In the months after O’Keefe’s ACORN story, he was embraced by the conservative journalism network. He gave a short, well-received speech to the annual Collegiate Network conference, held last year in San Antonio. The Leadership Institute trumpeted O’Keefe’s experience with the group. Since the Landrieu debacle, the praise has mellowed but not disappeared.

“There was a fairly universal celebration that he gave ACORN a black eye,” said Steven Sutton, who manages the college journalism program for LI. “I don’t think it marks a milestone or launch date — we’re not going to be having James O’Keefe Day dinners to mark the day that he busted ACORN.”

“This kind of ‘stunt’ journalism requires skill, like an acrobat,” said Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative author whose work at the Dartmouth Review in the early 1980s set the tone for decades of conservative campus journalism. “It’s pretty easy to fall off the ropes if you’re stupid about it. The ACORN story ‘worked,’ because the masquerade proved a point about ACORN, but trying to tap a senator’s phones–well, there’s a point where you are breaking the law, and no one is above the law.”
Among conservatives, there’s a consensus that the work of campus journalists, and the connections that the network can give them, won’t be touched by O’Keefe’s scandal. Berman’s David Martosko–who attended Dartmouth with D’Souza, but did not work for the Review–told TWI that campus conservative papers continue to produce smart “contrarians” with exactly the reporting skills and sense of humor that Berman needs.

“For every James O’Keefe,” said Sarah Longwell, “there are 50 serious journalists coming out of these programs.”

Follow David Weigel on Twitter


Comments

37 Comments

uberVU - social comments
Trackback posted February 3, 2010 @ 9:30 am

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by TWI_news: Campus Right Unbowed by O’Keefe Scandal http://bit.ly/91nLoo...


TomDegan
Comment posted February 3, 2010 @ 10:24 am

Aw, c’mon! These are just a bunch of kids! This is just a harmless prank! You know what they say, don’cha? Boys will be boys!

No doubt about it. It’ll be amusing to watch the right wing media trying to spin this latest debacle. Yesterday O’Keefe was the newest Fascist poster boy. Today he is a man looking at a nice stint in federal prison. The Republicans are once again experiencing the kind of OOPS moment for which they have become famous for in recent years. It really is quite touching when you think about it.

What I love more than anything is the “harmless school boy prank” angle that the right wing is trying to spin! I did a little bit of research, folks. Little Jimmy O'Keefe is almost two years older than Lee Harvey Oswald was when he assassinated President Kennedy. So much for that argument – you would think.

Is this merely the tip of a nasty iceberg? Will O’Keefe “cooperate” with federal investigators in order to reduce his sentence? Are there bigger fish that are due some serious frying?

To be continued….

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

Tom Degan


benwetmore
Comment posted February 3, 2010 @ 11:04 am

who gives two shits what Sarah Longwell thinks about this situation? was it really worth anchoring the entire story around her ruminations?


Gene_G
Comment posted February 3, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

A correction, David: you wrote, “… the 2009 sting he pulled with fellow activist Hannah Giles, posing as a pimp and prostitute inside ACORN offices,…”

An examination of the transcripts at breitbart.com shows two things:

– O'Keefe was posing as the boyfriend of an ex-hooker who was supposedly trying to escape from a violent pimp; and
– a comparison of the transcripts to the videos demonstrates that the videos were unmistakeably edited and doctored.


chrisjay
Comment posted February 3, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

Wow, so comforting to learn about the direct link between these CN thugs & goons—who are out to subvert the political landscape in America—and the US intel community


chrisjay
Comment posted February 3, 2010 @ 2:37 pm

Has the corporate media gotten the ACORN/O'Keefe story so wrong thru incompetence or something else? People who are ostensibly conversant with it invariably prove unaware that O'Keefe freely admits that the footage showing him in his 'pimp' regalia was edited in later, for just one example of the sleaziness involved here. O'Keefe fans: blissfully ignorant or slimy & complicit?


Web Feet Integrated Marketing » Blog Archive » The Right Wing’s Journalist Pipeline and the Downfall of James O’Keefe
Pingback posted February 3, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

[...] Washington Independent took a deeper look this morning at O’Keefe’s origins as a perpetrator of publicity stunts, and as a young [...]


David Weigel
Comment posted February 3, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

Gene, I'll cop to truncating the story to write that sentence. I don't disagree with your description.


Brad Friedman
Comment posted February 3, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

David – You write, about O'Keefe and Giles that their videos showed them as “posing as a pimp and prostitute inside ACORN offices”.

However, according to the independent report on those videos from former MA Attorney General Scott Harshbarger:

“Although Mr. O'Keefe appeared in all videos dressed as a pimp, in fact, when he appeared at each and every office, he was dressed like a college student – in slacks and a button down shirt.”

That's no small point. If O'Keefe was willing to misrepresent what happened in those ACORN offices (Harsharbarger's report, and another from the Congressional Research Service both described deceptions, such as the heavy-edited, overdubbing of questions asked to the ACORN workers, etc.) then imagine what he'd be willing to say or do, at this point, to avoid problems from the federal felony charges he's now facing.

Your article should point out that matter, and correct the point I quoted above. Beyond that, thanks for the smart work in the rest of the piece.


Brad Friedman
Comment posted February 3, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

My apologies, meant to include the supporting links for my assertion below, that O'Keefe wasn't dressed as a pimp in those ACORN offices, as he's misrepresented in the media (and as the story above repeats). The Harshbarger report is at:
http://www.proskauer.com/files/uploads/report2.pdf

And my coverage of same, and the various lies at the center of this Fox/Breitbart-fueled nonsense is at:
http://www.bradblog.com/?p=7675


tom
Comment posted February 4, 2010 @ 1:02 am

What you call “subverting the political landscape”..I call merely engaging in the battle of ideas and trying to influence public opinion in favor of your own point of view.

Those on the Left have been doing this for decades..so to complain when those on the Right do it..and do it effectively …sounds like little but envious whining by the losing side to me.


chrisjay
Comment posted February 4, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

The left & the right have been engaged on the battlefield of ideas since day one. You are right about one thing: I am envious that the far right has links to the intel community as well as the unlimited funds that the corporatist state (which they soldier for) pours in their coffers. Not exactly a level playing field.


hello01589
Comment posted February 6, 2010 @ 9:15 am

Welcome to our website: http://www.wowhotsale.com
The website wholesale for many kinds of fashion shoes, like the nike,jordan,prada,adidas, also including the jeans,shirts,bags,hat and the decorations. All the products are free shipping, and the the price is competitive, and also can accept paypal payment.,after the payment, can ship within short time.

free shipping
competitive price
any size available
We do wholesale and retail! All are extremely CHEAP, please visit: http://www.wowhotsale.com
hvbmddfb


Softballuver13
Comment posted July 1, 2010 @ 9:16 pm

Correction to the article. The comment where you addressed the National Journalism Center is incorrect. The foundation is titled “Young America's Foundation.” Not the “Young Americans for Freedom.”


louis vuitton
Comment posted July 26, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

Correction to the article. The comment where you addressed the National Journalism Center is incorrect. The foundation is titled “Young America's Foundation.” Not the “Young Americans for Freedom.


lv
Comment posted August 8, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

The comment where you addressed the National Journalism Center is incorrect. The foundation is titled “Young America's Foundation.” Not the “Young Americans for Freedom.”


Coco11
Comment posted August 11, 2010 @ 9:44 am

We need walk, exercise or jog every day, if wear a pair of mbt shoeswe may be a little on edge. So we must choose a kind of mbt shoes sale, the best choice is MBT shoes which will be helpful for your health. Womens mbt shoes is definitely comfortable and convenient. It is one of the best MBT Shoes online store on the market. It has a unique designed sole that is curved and multilayered. Because Anti Shoes has the special sole that it can mimic walking on the uneven ground. Discount MBT Shoes can be beneficial to your body by activating the ignored muscles in the feet. MBT shoes recreate the feeling of waking on the soft sandy beach or a mossy surface


Gucci hysteria
Comment posted August 21, 2010 @ 11:58 am

Wow.That's no small point. If O'Keefe was willing to misrepresent what happened in those ACORN offices (Harsharbarger's report, and another from the Congressional Research Service both described deceptions, such as the heavy-edited, overdubbing of questions asked to the ACORN workers, etc.)


Kaycees Blog
Trackback posted March 10, 2011 @ 10:41 am

really agreed with what they were saying and thought I would share it with you all…

was surprised by this so thought I would share it with my readers…


Short Term Loan
Trackback posted March 13, 2011 @ 5:10 am

Spend some time checking over this info…

what were these guys thinking…


Perth Dentist
Trackback posted March 13, 2011 @ 6:31 am

Spend some time checking over this info…

what were these guys thinking…


Buy Lingerie
Trackback posted March 16, 2011 @ 10:44 pm

Sometimes you come across someones info taht you just need to share…

Great blog entry, head over and check it out…


Boat Sales
Trackback posted March 17, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

Spend some time checking over this info…

what were these guys thinking…


Boats Online
Trackback posted March 17, 2011 @ 9:11 pm

Spend some time checking over this info…

what were these guys thinking…


Removals Perth
Trackback posted March 17, 2011 @ 10:09 pm

Sometimes you come across someones info taht you just need to share…

Great blog entry, head over and check it out…


data
Trackback posted March 19, 2011 @ 2:14 am

Spend some time checking over this info…

what were these guys thinking…


Mauritius Holidays
Trackback posted March 23, 2011 @ 10:39 pm

Sometimes you come across someones info taht you just need to share…

Great blog entry, head over and check it out…


SEO
Trackback posted March 30, 2011 @ 9:10 pm

Sometimes you come across someones info taht you just need to share…

Great blog entry, head over and check it out…


Sell Boats
Trackback posted April 15, 2011 @ 1:43 am

Spend some time checking over this info…

what were these guys thinking…


sell boat
Trackback posted April 23, 2011 @ 4:55 am

Sometimes you come across someones info taht you just need to share…

Great blog entry, head over and check it out…


vardresee
Comment posted September 3, 2011 @ 4:35 am

Want good backlinking and seo for your site? Than go here

[url=http://backlinkspartners.com]backlinks building[/url]


slippers
Comment posted September 3, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

Great atricle, thank you again for writing.


dieta un kg pe zi
Comment posted September 3, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

I have beeing searching the Internet for such info and just wanted to say thanks to u for this post. By the way, just off topic, where can i find a version of this theme? – 10x


Loareepinna
Comment posted September 4, 2011 @ 5:43 am

As Embarrassing as it is to have to go to the store and buy Hemorrhoids Relief Cream Why not just buy

it online? You can get it for what $10? And it goes right to your door! Try it out! You will not be upset at this service.

[url=http://besthelpforhemorrhoidsnow.com/]Help for Hemorrhoids?[/url]


lemePriburi
Comment posted September 5, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

Hi,

As a way of advertising our new cloud related services at cloudgeeks.net we will be providing free setup, configuration, optimization and migration services to new forum members. At this moment we support Amazon EC2, Rackspace cloud and Microsoft Azure services.
Here is what is included:
- Setting up of server instances, server software (such as apache, php , sql and so on), Data storage and related items
- Configuration of scaling, load balancing, data synchronization, data backup and monitoring
- Optimization of server software, number of instances and other features
- We will migrate your server data from your old server to the cloud. There is a limit on the data we can migrate for free.

If you are not sure about migrating to the cloud you can talk to one of our server admins about your requirements and expectations and receive a informed opinion.
If you have any other related questions or to request this free service you can contact us at contact (at)cloudgeeks.net or visit our website http://www.cloudgeeks.net to chat with a customer service rep. Since this is a free service the amount of time that can be spent on your project will be limited but we will ensure we have you setup and running.


addistano
Comment posted September 7, 2011 @ 5:11 am

Watch Hindi movies online for free only at [url=http://megaindianmovies.com]megaindianmovies.com[/url]

At [url=http://megaindianmovies.com] Hindi movies online[/url] you can attend to Hindi movies online for the benefit of unchain easily. The user interface is owner friendly and there is a search special attraction to find your favorite silver screen easily.


3859638
Comment posted September 7, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

3859638 beers on the wall. sck was here


RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.