Democracy Soup

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James O’Keefe never was a journalist; MSM should apologize for saying otherwise

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James O’Keefe is not a journalist. What some people who should know better haven’t realized that O’Keefe never was a journalist.

There are journalism standards that O’Keefe never qualified for in his videos on ACORN. The sad part is that real journalists didn’t understand this.

Now that O’Keefe and three others have been charged in the latest escapade of allegedly trying to disrupt the phones of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), perhaps people are finally understanding this.

The ACORN work always seemed suspicious, even from the start. No one in the mainstream talked about this guy’s background, whether he came in with a bias. Given the current charges, suddenly we are getting a closer look, something that would have been helpful at the time.

Not that Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post was the only one, but Kurtz worked hard to say that the MSM was slow on investigating ACORN, thanks to O’Keefe’s work. Except that the “story” wasn’t so much a story.

Undercover journalism — real undercover journalism — is a lost art that hasn’t been done as much lately. The cost of investigative journalism versus the lack of pizzazz and over-paranoid executives who worry about possible retailiation leads to fewer investigations in an era where we need more, not less.

But what O’Keefe did at ACORN or allegedly at Sen. Landrieu’s office isn’t journalism, even if it looks like it was undercover.

Journalists go into such investigations without a sense of bias. O’Keefe clearly had a bias. When you have a bias, your goal is to catch someone at something, whether there is something there or not.

Then there’s the footage itself. Someone without journalism training or ethics are likely to show selectively edited footage out of context. And we haven’t seen any outtakes from O’Keefe’s video.

This isn’t to say that real journalists don’t also commit ethical violations, and don’t get too many questions about it either. But they do get the benefit of the doubt. When Katie Couric and the CBS Evening News substituted a John McCain answer during the 2008 campaign, she committed an ethical violation that received no punishment for her or anyone at CBS News.

James O’Keefe got the benefit of the doubt as a right-wing operative with no journalism training. He didn’t deserve it. And based on what we’ve heard so far in the Sen. Landrieu phone scenario, including confessions, those who gave O’Keefe credence on ACORN owe us a giant apology. The Fox “News” Channel’s backpedaling on O’Keefe in this latest incident, versus the love they showed him (including having him on the air), speaks volumes.

Journalists are supposed to be cynical by nature. The fact that too many of them took O’Keefe at face value proves embarrassing, but it was always embarrassing from the start, not just because of getting caught in the latest incident involving Sen. Landrieu.


Written by democracysoup

February 1, 2010 at 7:33 am

2 Responses

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  1. You are saying that if one is biased he/she is not a journalist. That eliminates most of MSNBC, NYT staff. Quite a double standard you have there.


    February 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    • Commentary is a different beast than investigative news. Actual investigative journalism relies on a cynical approach to those in power but not necessarily toward a party or political philosophy. Commentary has a bias, but you know that going into it.

      O’Keefe doesn’t have the training, though as I pointed out and you might agree, some with training still have a bias. This is a problem the MSM won’t address.


      February 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm

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