Here's a bizarre trait a friend of mine likes to point out about America's privileged class: The accusations too many of its denizens hurl down at poorer, usually darker people say more about themselves than anything else. Those raging against the entitlement programs that form our social safety net are some of the most entitled, underserving people in our society. People obsessed with perversion are among the most morally depraved you'll meet. And those who see crime and fraud lurking around every corner rarely have much respect for the rule of law. Which brings us to James O'Keefe.
O'Keefe, you'll recall, was the "investigative journalist" who posed as a pimp, alongside his faux-hooker friend, to make a celebrated gotcha video revealing ACORN's purported crimes. Now comes this news: The FBI arrested O'Keefe and three co-conspirators on Monday for posing as telephone workers, seemingly in order to bug the New Orleans office of Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. An FBI agent's affidavit charges all four with entering federal property under false pretense for the purpose of interfering with the phone system -- a felony. If convicted, they face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the Washington Post.
In sum, O'Keefe's a perp. My respect for law forces me to stop short of calling him a criminal until he's convicted.
But we already knew O'Keefe -- and the movement of which he's part -- was a fraud. His "journalism" targeting ACORN was wrapped in demonstrable falsehoods about how much federal money the group received. Despite his claims to have been welcomed by all the ACORN offices he targeted, at least one called the police on him. And as I've written previously, his choice to pose as a pimp and a ho revealed the dark, racist fantasies about poor people that folks like O'Keefe indulge.
The conservative movement that has celebrated O'Keefe is also a fraud. As Art Levine has reported, the right's ACORN smear campaign began after John Aschroft lost the 2000 Missouri Senate race to a dead man, deceased Gov. Mel Carnahan. Missouri Republicans charged that Democrats had drummed up fraudulent voters; a Justice Department investigation found no such fraud, but did discover tens of thousands of St. Louis voters had been illegally purged. So Karl Rove got the Missouri U.S. attorney fired and replaced him with a movement stooge who launched a high-profile campaign charging ACORN with facilitating voter fraud.
Throughout the Bush era, in fact, movement activists turned the Justice Department's voting rights division into a lawless operation dedicated to undermining voting rights. While hurling unsubstantiated voter-fraud charges, operatives posing as law enforcement harassed local election officials to illegally purge rolls and create poll tests that hark back to Jim Crow.
These are the corrupt roots of O'Keefe's journalism -- a lawless, take-no-prisoners campaign to make the world live in opposite day. It was only a matter of time before he revealed his own disrespect for the law he claims to be defending. He'd already shown his disdain for the fact-based journalism he professes to practice. As he left jail Tuesday, O'Keefe told reporters "the truth will set me free." That's true, actually. Too bad he doesn't actually believe it.