O’Keefe & the “TeaBuggers” Do Not a Watergate Make
I’m not a fan of Andrew Breitbart, and I’m definitely not a fan of James O’Keefe, his paid “guerrilla journalist” lackey. Their allegations against anti-poverty group ACORN were outrageously deceitful and misleading: their contention that ACORN was a major player in a vast conspiracy to commit election fraud? Laughably fantastical.
But, frankly, let’s be serious for a second: the current allegations against O’Keefe and his friends, originally sold as “wiretapping” on the order of “Watergate,” look pretty weak.
At this point, all signs point to the entire incident being a hidden-camera sting to try and impeach Senator Landrieu’s claim that her phones couldn’t handle incoming calls from angry constituents. If so, then what O’Keefe and his friends were doing was, while certainly deceptive and aggressive, not particularly sinister. It also may or may not have been criminal, depending on what federal prosecutors can establish. Without any evidence of wiretapping, the charge of “tampering” with phones is far more vague, resting on interpretations of intent. Maybe they did intend to fool with the phone lines in some way. But, just as likely, maybe they only intended to see if staff would foolishly show them the phone closet, or to gather evidence that the phones were set to improperly divert constituent calls.
I get that many liberals are disgusted by Breitbart, quite legitimately. His “wait till all the facts are in” and “well, I’m paying him, but that doesn’t make me responsible for what he does” defenses are absurdly hypocritical. But that’s all the more reason for his critics not to overplay their hand and give Breitbart exactly the sort of easy red meat he craves. He’s already well on his way to painting O’Keefe as a martyr: a victim of “Big Government” that doesn’t want it’s corrupt ways exposed. If O’Keefe gets off with a misdemeanor after liberals promised 5-10years in prison, he’s going to look vindicated, not chastened. Rhetorical and factual sloppiness on the left is making it all too easy.
And you know what? If Landrieu was dissembling about the state of her phone lines, that IS wrong, and it’s a good thing that someone was trying to catch her at it. Questions of whether one should be able to deceive staff in constituent offices or film them (they are, after all, public employees, paid out of tax dollars, and rarely handling sensitive information) are legitimate issues for debate and criminal culpability. But at least in this case, I just don’t see grounds for the degree of outrage or gloating. O’Keefe getting wrong the particulars of what sort of sting recording is legitimate under what particular state statutes would be stupid, but I can’t see it as particularly evil, in and of itself (how he dishonestly uses and presents that footage is a very different matter). By and large, while I don’t think undercover sting reporting to be particularly nice, I also think it has its place. In fact, I’d lean towards it being legal in most cases to record someone without their knowledge unless there is a compelling reason or exception why one shouldn’t be able to.
Oh: and I’m also pretty disgusted by the people who think it’s hilarious to imagine O’Keefe and his friends getting raped in prison. The idea that ANY crime, let alone a crime as minor as this one, deserves a sexual & physical violation in return, is vile. Imagining it as a form of comeuppance to your political enemies is even more so. No decent Democrat would joke about the idea of a conservative woman getting raped. Essentially the same violent act done to a conservative man is no less disturbing or wrong.
Update: O’Keefe has released a statement that’s basically in line with everything I suspected. Concedes that security concerns in a federal building make his actions problematic (which is perhaps an understatement) but denies being there to “tap” or even “tamper” with the phone lines. And, well, I sort of believe him. Sorry.