Lefty journalism professor tries to discredit the Tea Party by passing along sensational footage to his buddies at the Times!!!

Yesterday I was the target of a "sting" operation by right wing trickster James O'Keefe. I will tell you what happened.

28 Oct 2011 4:48 am 79 Comments

But first, here is the product of that sting, a real culture war artifact: To Catch a Journalist: New York Times, Jay Rosen, Clay Shirky.

It started with a request from a staff person at NYU to allow a prospective graduate student named “Lucas” to sit in on my class on October 17. This is something that happens 8-10 times a semester. Students want to know what they can expect if they come to study at NYU. I said yes because I always say yes. The class he wanted to observe is called “Digital Thinking.” That day I had scheduled a guest speaker: my colleague Clay Shirky. The students had read all of Shirky’s major writings about the transformation of journalism in the digital age and they were eager to ask him questions.

When I got to class, Lucas was already there. I welcomed him, introduced him to the class, and asked my students to be nice to him because he was thinking of coming to study at NYU. About 30 minutes later Clay showed up and we did what college professors do thousands of times a day at universities everywhere.  We tell stories with ideas inside them and share how we think. We answer students’ questions and get them to share how they think. We try to complicate their picture of the world and inspire them to inquire further. This is the work of education. And this is what Clay and I did.

The next day I got a note from “Lucas.”  It said:

Dear Professor Rosen,

Thank you very much for the opportunity to sit in on your class. It was a treat to learn from Clay Shirky. I am leaving town on Friday. I was wondering if we could meet this week to discuss NYU, concentrations and a piece I am working on about Occupy Wall Street. Let me know what days and times work for you. I am pretty flexible.


I met with him two days later in my office. I will tell you what happened there in a moment.

Six days after that, on Oct. 26, the phone rang in my office. It was James O’Keefe. He said he wanted me to comment on something or other. I said there must be a context to this call, so what’s the context? And he began to read me quotes from the class session with Clay Shirky. It took me a few minutes to recognize that, yes, these were things that were said in class, so he obviously had a recording. Once I realized what he was up to I laughed at the absurdity of it and told him, “James, do whatever you want to do.”

At first I was confused about how the tape got made. I asked each of my students if he or she had taped the class. They each said no. I believed them. Then one student remembered we had a guest that day and it all fell into place.

“Lucas” had taped us, surreptitiously. Then he asked to meet with me. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was part of the sting. He said he wanted to become a political journalist: did I have any advice? I gave him several career paths he could follow. He asked me if being a politics major and a journalism minor would be a handicap. I said no. Then he let me in on something.

He said he had a tape of a Tea Party gathering in which some ugly and extreme (the implication was racist) things were said. He said it was gruesome stuff. He wanted to know how he could get it to the media. To the New York Times. I said the New York Times wouldn’t be interested in something like that, and that he might try to contact Max Blumenthal of the Nation. He asked if I had any other advice for him. I said find a niche and start a blog. I gave him the examples of Ezra Klein, Dave Weigel and Nate Silver to show him that it was possible. I was trying to inspire him! “Lucas” thanked me and left. He had a strange smile on his face.

I now realize he was scamming me and almost certainly taping me. The intended story line, worked out in advance, was lefty journalism professor jumps at the chance to assist with the discrediting of the Tea Party by passing along sensational footage to his buddies at the Times. “Lucas” was there to get me to say the words that, when diced and spliced, would sound like that. But it didn’t work. I told him the Times wouldn’t be interested. So no portion of that tape appears in O’Keefe’s video.

You can see the similarity between this plot and the sting O’Keefe ran on NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller. Schiller was invited to compare notes with O’Keefe’s seemingly sympathetic operatives on how racist the Tea Party was.

About the tape O’Keefe mashed together from Clay Shirky’s words, and a few of my own, there’s not much to say because it’s so incoherent, context-less and, frankly, boring. As Erik Wemple of the Washington Post put it: “Just a couple of professors prattling on in not-so-fascinating ways about media and politics.” (For a different view, see Human Events: “exactly the sort of conversation that the most aggressive conservative critics of liberal media bias have nightmares about.”)

A student asked Shirky why the early coverage of Occupy Wall Street was meager and condescending. His answer was to the student and in a way to the protestors themselves: “If you want Occupy Wall Street to succeed, you want them not to get press coverage in the beginning.” O’Keefe turns that into Shirky revealing “the New York Times‘ strategy to support Occupy Wall Street.” The way the tape is edited, the “you” in “you want them” sounds like it refers to Times journalists, and so not covering Occupy Wall Street is really a secret plan at the Times to support the protests.

When Shirky says “we are the most elite…” and I follow it up with “we’re the one percent!” the discussion was about news consumption: journalism professors and students are at the extreme end in attention to news and willingness to pay for it. But you can feel O’Keefe salivating over those words as he splices them in. The implication he wants: we are your overlords!

Those are two examples, but why go on? If you see some scandal in the tape… good luck to you. What reasonable people will see is a lurid mess, which has meaning only within the taken-for-granted world of right wing culture war.

Occasionally I will hear someone exasperated at his tactics describe O’Keefe as a kind of terrorist. This is not wise and it’s not true. He doesn’t use violence; he’s an “entrapment journalist,” as Steve Myers of Poynter put it. But having been targeted, I can see one thing in his methods that is akin to terrorism.

As I said, when someone asks to sit it on my class, I say “come on in.” But my students are now shocked and angry that their learning environment has been invaded by a trickster like O’Keefe. I need to prevent that from happening again. But the only way I can do so is by closing my classroom to all outsiders, or by looking into the background, motivations and character of potential visitors, which is creepy and offensive. O’Keefe has struck at a pedagogical strength–the openness of my classroom–and changed it into a weakness. In that precise sense, and no other, he is like a terrorist.

You want to know what goes on in my classroom? Meet the real Clay Shirky. The one I had my students read. Here was their assignment.

We do not have class October 10. It’s a holiday: Columbus Day. It is alleged that he discovered America. Our next meeting will therefore be October 17. This I have designated Shirky Day. You are to absorb what Clay Shirky has to teach journalism and journalists. And so the readings are…

Keynote speech: A Group is its Own Worst Enemy (2003)
Interview with Columbia Journalism Review, Part One and Part Two. (2008)
Blog post: Rescuing the Reporters: (2009)
Talk at Nieman Foundation: (watch the video, please.) (2009)
YouTube: Interview with Jay Rosen (2009)
Ted Talk: The Cognitive Surplus (2010)
Now that I think of it: I gave these links to “Lucas,” so he would get the most out of his visit. I doubt he read them.

Post-script, Dec, 2011:
Actual hate mail, one of hundreds I have received in the same vein, showing the effects of the video’s editing to produce fake outrage.

John Hazelwood, [email protected]
to: [me] date: Mon, Dec 19, 2011 at 1:09 AM

I’ve just listened to a recording of you as an elitist journalist, a one percent-er if you will. What you are Rosen, is a poor excuse of a journalist and a prime example of why journalism has sunk to the pit most of you now occupy. Your comments on the tape remind me of a “jerk” who has no good explanation for themselves and can only rely on “smart ass” remarks.

Oh for the days of Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Walter Cronkite. You know, those journalist who the American people could trust. Not some snotty nose little boy who is just too full of himself.

Oh, and, Merry Christmas!!


Your reference to “diced and spliced” is not entirely fair, as O’Keefe typically releases edited versions of his stories (as does ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, WaPo, NY Times, etc.) But then, unlike these MSM entities, he then releases the entire underlying video & transcript. The later typically substantiates the facts revealed in the former. (When has, e.g., 60 minutes, a predecessor in gotcha journalism, ever done this?)

That said, O’Keefe has hits & misses, and the NYU sting looks like a miss. If the edited video just released is the best O’Keefe has, he doesn’t have much. The real scandal is that kids are expending years of time & gathering a gargantuan student loan debt to hear rather dumb narcissistic droning lectures, and then to read blog posts as a homework assignment.

Morally, it verges on fraud. Journalism does not require formal training; any somewhat literate, somewhat intelligent person can do it.

Would you classify altering footage to portray an acorn employee offering help to a get a “prostitute” out of the biz to seem like she’s offering the pimp help, or making a man who collected information about supposed human trafficking and then forwarded it to his brother in the police seem to be abetting that trafficking, would you classify that as a “miss”.

I wouldn’t. Those are hits. He did exactly what he meant to, and achieved the effect he intended.

Hissyspit says:

Nonsense. The latter DOES NOT typically substantiate, but usually reveals the unprincipled nature of the editing. I would also like to know exactly WHAT “hits” (meaning actual good investigative exposes O’Keefe has had, as opposed to slanderous “hits” on people’s reputations and livelihoods) O’Keefe has had. Getting arrested and having a felony charge pled down for wiretapping a Congressperson is a “hit?” Was that one No. 1 on your chart? And your comments about journalism education and what goes on in classrooms are naive and uniformed and reveal a pedestrian stereotyped anti-intellectual bias.(Yes, student loan debt is a real concern. I don’t think Jay Rosen is a loan officer.)

“I don’t think Jay Rosen is a loan officer”

No, but he is a loan profiteer.

How do you think professors’ six-classroom-hours per week lifestyle is really financed?

1) Federal student-loan fueled tuition bubbles

2) Tax exempt endowment payouts justified by the presence of the suckers/students paying for #1.

There are a *lot* of places the indentured students of OWS could be picketing/defecating on.

In the case of financial-fraud-fueled colleges…pooping students would only be belatedly returning the favor.

sovereignjohn says:

Are you really serious? Six hours of class time is all a teacher devotes to their job? And who are you to say how many hours a teacher teaches a class even if only six hours a week were all a teacher gave to teaching a class. I guess you don’t consider the time spent with a potential student part of a teacher’s job.

I was working on the shop floor at the factory when a visitor commented to me that my job looked easy. I said, “Of course my job looks easy, I’m the one doing it!”

I guess you think news anchors just do the news for the hour they’re on TV. Or a fireman has a easy job as there are few fires. TV Actors who get the summer off.

A Reader says:

So O’Keefe sends out a fraudulent tape to the world media, a tape that he hacked together from word fragments, intended to put words into his target’s mouth. Then he releases the full tape in a place where no one will every look at it, long after his original lies have permanently damaged his target’s career. This is monstrous, and it is intentionally evil. If you can’t see this, then you have serious problems with your ethics. If you can see this, then you’re deliberately lying.

And, as another poster has mentioned, O’Keefe was arrested and convicted for wiretapping a US Congressperson by breaking into an office. He’s a felon. He’s a liar. He’s a wetwork operative for the GOP, the moral equivalent of the thieves who broke into the Watergate for Nixon.

met·a·phor   [met-uh-fawr, -fer] Show IPA
a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in “A mighty fortress is our God.” Compare mixed metaphor, simile (def. 1).
something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol.


Laptops, Cell Phones, Smartphones, Recorders, & Other Electronic Devices May not be used in class.

Sue Him. Blacklist His ass.

Wait a second- you say: “Morally, it verges on fraud. Journalism does not require formal training; any somewhat literate, somewhat intelligent person can do it.”, but also contend that “The real scandal is that kids are expending years of time & gathering a gargantuan student loan debt to hear rather dumb narcissistic droning lectures, and then to read blog posts as a homework assignment.”

So.. anyone can be a journalist, but an assignment to read some blog posts in a class about digital journalism is a scandal? Apparently you think anyone can be a journalist *unless* they write a blog.

Journalism does not require formal training; any somewhat literate, somewhat intelligent person can do it.

James O’Keefe apparently can’t do it. Then again, nobody sane would ever call O’Keefe a journalist.

The commenter claiming O’Keefe releases full, unedited tapes is wrong. In the case of the ACORN tapes, he refused to do so until he was forced to give up the tapes. There’s nothing legitimate about O’Keefe. He’s playing to an audience that wants their values affirmed.

Amused that reading blog posts by Clay Shirky count as an academic assignment…

Mark Coddington says:

If you’re arguing that blog posts are inherently lacking in academic or intellectual content, you’re probably not going to gain much traction commenting on a blog that a professor uses as his primary medium for publishing his intellectual arguments.

It’s not the words, or the ideas, it’s the format.


What format? Text and words?

Sorry. I think I need to recalibrate my irony broadcaster.

There are classes in which looking at monkey poop is an academic assignment. There are classes in which counting trees is an academic assignment. There are classes in which reading O’Keefe is an academic assignment.

Lots of assignments, taken out of context, sound like ridiculous things to have students do. It’s the professor’s job to make assignments that further the goals of his/her class, and I see no reason to argue that reading blog posts can’t further the goals of a journalism class focusing on the changing role of digital media in the field.

Anonymous Coward says:

You’re amused that a course entitled “Digital Thinking” involves reading blogs …because you expect the students to read USENET?

Consider it a free read.

Bureuacromancer says:

Since when does a reading list amount to an assignment?

Don’t close your classroom Jay. This is the very problem with trying to “prevent” terrorism. You make people go through metal dectors and they put bombs in shoes. You make people take off their shoes to fly and they put bombs in underwear.

Closing your classroom won’t stop a future O’Keefe and I’m sure will keep many lovely potential students from seeing your class. Plus, while I understand the sense of violation of trust, no real harm has come from this taping. In fact now you can experience what it’s like. It’s an experience that will inform you about the culture war and its adherants. A teachable moment. But don’t close your classroom. That’s what the “terrorists” want. O’Keefe wants you and I guess all NYU professors to be “afraid.” Afraid that if their classes were open to the world, everyone would learn…what? maybe some media analysis?

O’Keefe is also like a terrorist because he wants to provoke an over-reaction by the target, which he did when NPR fired Schiller.

It’s not every day you get the blair witch camera treatment. Suspense is always a good trigger to watch but I hope you do not let it effect your open mentality.

Rob Paterson says:

“Publish and be Dammed” – worked for the Duke of Wellington and you too Jay – what a swine he is

Ken Smith says:

A minor point, but Clay Shirky is like other public speakers in that he at times tries out or takes on the perspective of the people he is talking about. In a heavily edited tape, you can easily distort any speaker who employs this common technique. You can give the impression that a sentence represents his view when in fact he is representing someone else’s view, not his own. The full tape would help an interested viewer see when this is being done here, as I believe it is (because I know Shirky’s work). The “sting” video at the end promises the full tape at the organization’s website, but as of this morning I can’t find it there.

I have yet to find an unedited version of the tape. I contacted O’Keefe’s press person yesterday. No answer.

To me, it looks like James was the victim here. A victim of his own over-eagerness. He puts together a piece, and it doesn’t work out like he wishes. But he publishes anyway, and heightens the drama to make it look like it’s something substantial. Poor dude doesn’t know what every journalist in America knows. When a story doesn’t pan out, you kill it and move on to the next one. NYT says Clay doesn’t consult with them anyway. So this is all based on a falsehood. So what happens next? JK is headed for a fall. Universe works in strange ways. One day a boulder will drop out of the sky and break James’ silly little stupid camera. What a time waster for all of us.

Eric Wemple remarked the other day that O’Keeffe really needs an editor, and I think that criticism is not far off the mark.

In principle, there’s nothing wrong with conservative-oriented gotcha journalism (as opposed to liberal-oriented gotcha journalism), but O’Keeffe needs an editor to 1) help him identify stories vs. non-stories; 2) amass achievements other than nailing a few scalps to the wall; 3) better articulate his goals with these stings; 4) put on the brakes when an idea shouldn’t be executed (i.e. the aborted CNN “sting”); and 5) teach O’Keeffe investigative journalism techniques beyond the hidden camera sting.

I think that last one is really important. O’Keeffe has a thirty-ton chip on his shoulder about liberals in general and the media in particular. He runs around pulling outlandish and/or ludicrous stings that make little sense to those outside his own circles.

But so far, he’s not a journalist. He’s a prankster and a propagandist.

But real investigative journalism isn’t just dressing up as a pimp and pointing a camera at somebody. Real investigative journalism sometimes involves trickery. But it also involves interviewing sources, FOIA requests, developing personal relationships, and spending late hours staring at nearly inpenetrable spreadsheets.

And I have yet to see O’Keeffe do anything remotely akin to this kind of basic shoe-leather reporting.

Good points. It appears to me that O’Keefe’s brand of journalism is informed more from an episode of “Cheaters” than Mike Wallace.

I need to remind myself not to dismiss the ilk as infotainment because it comes with real repercussions–whether justified or not.

I really wish that in the NPR incident, management had just responded with a “meh. He’s a salesman doing his job to be polite to a potential customer. Btw, we hear that the food was just okay, but the veal was fantastic”

Pat season says:

In California (where I live) its illegal to tape phone calls without both parties’ consent. Maybe not in NY but I still feel that call was an invasion of your privacy Jay.

In regards to students sitting in on classrooms, good idea of course but I would get a little background on person before inviting anyone in, for everyone’s safety. Who was staff person who suggested this to you.

O’Keefe is a joke. And I think the difference between getting a good journalism education vs. trying to do it with junior high tricks is that you come out of the first option with professionalism (like Conor F. at The Atlantic or like Jay Rosen) or you come out with videos like this. And reading someone’s writing, blog or newsprint, and listening to their lectures is part of an enriching environment.

A central axiom of the “taken-for-granted world of right wing culture war” is that the liberal bias of the mainstream media — in this case of The New York Times — is hidden from us, the general public, which does not belong to the media elite.

The thing that is puzzling about the Gotcha! tone of this Project Veritas video is that Shirky happens to be validating and explaining this very axiom.

O’Keefe acts as if he has caught Shirky, in an unguarded moment, acknowledging a liberal bias that he would otherwise have denied. In fact, Shirky was explicating how it works: demonstrating the institutional, non-partisan, journalistic procedures that allow a partisan liberal worldview (that Obama is a viable candidate…that Occupy Wall Street is a political player…that Michele Bachmann is unelectable) to acquire standing, to become newsworthy enough to be “fit to print.”

Furthermore, it is odd that both Shirky and O’Keefe share the view that the Times’ ideology is irredeemably liberal. Of course, for O’Keefe, almost every thing in the known universe is more liberal than he is, so for him to find liberalism at the Times (or at New York University’s journalism department) is utterly unremarkable.

I dare say that the majority of New Yorkers, on the other hand, would find The New York Times to be much more closely aligned with the city’s finance-capital-real-estate powers-that-be than with the OWS crowd. No left-leaning institutional bias there; in fact, a pro-corporate one. For that matter, it would be a rare resident of the East Village who would not put NYU in the same boat.

I think it would help James O’Keefe and his minion Lucas if he actually HAD taken Rosen’s class. Then he might better understand media criticism and the forces that shape institutions like The New York Times and NPR. It’s not the “movementism” that shapes O’Keefe’s world-wide. Reporters and editors don’t wake up every day and think “how can I further my liberal beliefs doing my job.” They have a different mentality and different forces effect coverage. This is a complex system with many moving parts that takes time to understand. O’Keefe and other culture warriors like him I think would come to a greater understanding of HOW THIS SYSTEM WORKS if they took time to study it like a scientist and an anthropologist. Instead they are like the Mormon Missionaries in that play “Book of Mormon.” They know EXACTLY what to expect in the DEEPEST PART OF AFRICA. They will not change their beliefs from observation. They are more like Missionaries imposing their beliefs on reality than scientists trying to dissect it and figure out why this animal behaves the way it does. To the Missionaries everyone acts the way they do because they are immoral. End of Story. They refuse to learn otherwise.

agua fruta says:

Some commenters are puzzled by O’Keefe’s lack of journalistic standards here – wondering why he went with this obvious non-story, saying he needs an editor, etc. You are mistakenly presuming his goal is to be a responsible journalist, and that he is failing at it. His goal is to produce and release strategic memes – stories that validate right-wing prejudices in order to solidify right-wing support, dictate the news cycle, and prevent the efficacy of actual fact-based journalism. He succeeds in this goal! It is neither puzzling nor mysterious – it seems, in fact, to be the dominant media strategy of today’s right wing. The “truthfulness” or “integrity” of their reports or methods are utterly irrelevant to what they do. And because of the current state of the media – which is no longer antagonistic toward power, no longer emphasizes investigative journalism or fact-checking and corrections, and now covers politics and policy as if they were sporting events, that same lack of “truthfulness” or “integrity” does not affect the outcome for them. Some of the most frequent commentators in the media are ones whose ideas and predictions have been utterly dis-credited over and over again, or even ones who are guilty of egregious, well-known falsehoods. These things do nothing to prevent their standing in the media, which cares more about who can influence the public than who is “getting it right”. O’Keefe couldn’t care less about us discrediting this video – it is a successful strategy for him. The people who watch Fox News instead of reading this blog will hear his conclusions without context, and his mission will be achieved.

The students in your “Digital Thinking” course should not be angry about O’Keefe’s deception and the dishonesty in his reporting. He’s just given them a front-row seat to one of the emerging trends in the media: the appropriation of some practices of journalism by cynical partisan manipulators trying to drive the news agenda and attract attention to themselves.

A fascinating case study in new media just violated your class. You should turn the tables on him and study the methods, editing practices and publicity seeking techniques of the woefully misnamed Project Veritas. And if O’Keefe can get the OK from his probation officer, invite him to speak to your class.

This is the best comment of the bunch. O’Keefe has presented a vivid opportunity to learn about a current trend from the inside. Thoughtful exploration may help pull its fangs, reinforce the understanding of a need for the full journalistic process, and restore rational journalism.

Oh, we are certainly taking that opportunity.

Glad to hear it. I’ve been watching the trend for activists to masquerade as “citizen journalists” lately. It has some disturbing implications, but it can’t be avoided these days.

The fascinating part for me is that many of O’Keefe and Brietbart’s fans have actually said that they believe videos can’t be deceptively edited. Amazing.

Veritas means “truth”. In Roman mythology, Veritas, was the goddess of truth and the mother of Virtue. It was believed that she hid in the bottom of a holy well because she was so elusive.

Elusive hardly describes O’Keefe’s relationship to the truth or to virtue. Could it be that O’Keefe has a sense of the ironic? In his case, irony is hiding out with veritas and virtue.

The Russian newspaper was named Pravda, which translates to “truth” and we all know how that worked out. “Project Pravda” better describes O’Keefe’s mission and product.

Mark J. McPherson says:

Stop the presses! O’Keefe needs a clumsy undercover agent to unmask the great unkept secrets — that “journalists” have private opinions, that higher education lectures can be rambling forums for provocation (at least of a mild sort), that NYU is in, after all, New York City, and that, shudder, the mind of someone somehow affiliated with the New York Times has been boggled by the Michelle Bachman Overdrive?

In the midst of the Murdoch-Ailes-Fox Primary, in a world blanketed by ceaseless, multi-media, cross-platform, Conservative agitprop, I suppose watching and listening to a couple of guys standing up on their hind legs and speaking their minds and shooting the breeze must seem dangerous and wrong. UnAmerican in the bargain.

“Do whatever you want to do”. Just a wonderful sequence! The laugh, the repetition. . . . pitch flipping perfect! Well done Jay!

I have to agree. “Do whatever you want” was brilliant. They aren’t going to change their minds about anything, and they would only edit anything further to be favorable to their activism.

Michael Roberts says:

I doubt your students feel as betrayed as you think they do. My (entirely armchair) advice is to comment on how weird the world is that this would be done, and to study it as a tactic, quite dispassionately.

Laughing at things removes a lot of the sting.

My first clue that something was going on (despite knowing the source and having used some of his previous videos in media classes) was that O’Keefe or whoever did the actual editing of the video used B-roll of the exteriors of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to “contextualize” something that happened inside the NYU journalism program.

The problem for the Veritas people was that the reality of NYU’s campus, mostly tucked inside nondescript 19th-century industrial buildings didn’t fit the predetermined scenario that they wanted to portray. So they took video of the exterior of the Columbia J-school, which looks more “collegiate” and has the word “journalism” on its cornerstone. It’s a small matter of credibility in the big picture, but it’s like a newspaper misspelling a source’s name or misidentifying someone in a photo caption. You wonder, when you see that, what else the paper might have been sloppy about. But O’Keefe was more than sloppy in subbing Columbia for NYU: he was knowingly deceptive. And that makes you think that there is something else (everything else?) going on in the video that is deceptive.

Hey, this guy has found a mission in life, in his own little way.

I would imagine NYU has a policy against using video or recording of classroom lectures in a for profit venture. There’s probably a good case for illectual property theft against O’Keefe. And then there’s fraud. By lying his way into the classroom (seemingly) at O’Keefe’s direction, O’Keefe would be commiting fraud of some sort. I would think the judge in his current criminal case would be interested in that.

Criminal charges would just make O’Keefe a victim. Not what needs to happen now. He deserves as little attention as possible.

Phyllis Detrichson says:

Mr. O’Keefe is selling a product. Fear is currency and commodity in today’s vast media landscape. By utilizing strategies, tactics and technology to invade, gather material and misrepresent individuals and groups he suceeds in breaking down critical thinking and reasonable deduction. If one is unfamiliar with classroom discussion, editorial function at major press outlets and the flow of ideas, it’s very easy to be seduced by poorly executed video reporting. Without decent competition from other “conservative” journalists (young or old using similar strategies/tactics), he’s carved out a profile that will eventually land him employment outside his home grown universe. The question then becomes…who is funding Mr. O’Keefe’s work? He’s achieved his not-for-profit status. Has anyone asked to see a list of his donors?

“Fear is currency and commodity in today’s vast media landscape. Fear is currency and commodity in today’s vast media landscape.”


Here’s fear for you: “Imagine a world with no New York Times and President Rick Perry” oh wait, that’s Clay talking to the NYU students. That’s his fear.

We all have fears, and the Global Warming stories, Avian flu, or the latest Times editorials about their latest Republican bete-noir all are feared-based. Fear sells.

The liberal tribe is reacting with fury and is being attacked by the same techniques they praise when others use it. Apparently, the hidden camera schtick is to be used only by approved liberals on approved targets (e.g. ABC News can use it on ‘racist’ Americans).

fear reaction. Emotion not reason. Oh, and what does this admittedly lame story show? oh yeah, an open discussion of how New York Times shapes news through a lens of their own bias. Their own hopes and fears. This denigrating reaction is thus an example of the bias O’Keefe was trying to show.

This is not a lesson in journalism so much a lesson in societal tribalism … And right now, it’s the fear of an ‘other’ a brave New Journalist who not only doesn’t play by the rules, but is attempting journalism that undermines the liberal worldview.

Clay speaks about “the social environment” – the social environment of the Times is Manhattan liberalism. The social environment that thinks Obama’s not an extremist but Michele Bachmann is. A poster excused NYT as not really liberal because the power elites get served by the Times – yeah, Obama, Soros, Bloomberg, 1%ers all. But not liberal? The “Eastern elites” have been subject to vilification by western conservatives (e.g. Goldwater/Reagan). Do you rally think powers-that-be folks like Coumo and Bloomberg represents *them*?!?

Liberal media bias exists because the liberal tribe works hard to denigrate, denounce and vilify conservative journalism when it dares to pop up and stick its neck out. O’Keefe may be in need of what Journalism School has to say, to fix his technique … but Journalism Schools are in need of learning what O’Keefe has to say.

Either keep up the fear and loathing of the non-liberal or wake up and smell your real biases. See also:


“Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals. … “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.” … “

Phyllis Detrichson says:

PJ – please identify yourself with your full name. Many thanks.

Phyllis Detrichson says:

Unless PJ – you’re afraid.

And how, exactly, do we know your real name is PD, PD?

For all we know you could be Jay Rosen.

“On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.”

O’Keefe is NOT a journalist. He’s a conservative activist with a criminal record who is playing gotcha journalism. Fraudster would be a better description. But calling him a journalist is an insult to real journalists.

Journalists have a code of ethics that O’Keefe breaks every time he does one of his “stings”. Journalists attempt to accurately convey what is being said, and give the subject fair warning and a chance to respond, when possible. Journalists do not make choices specifically to maximize harm to the subject. These aren’t just specific items, these are broad principles behind journalism that O’Keefe has no interest in observing.


Even when journalists fail at this code of ethics, they generally don’t make it blatantly obvious they are breaking it.

O’Keefe is an activist who calls himself a “journalist” when convenient.

Funny Really says:

Why would you close your classroom unless you are embarrassed by the content of your class?

Arthur Cornwell says:

Because people like O’Keefe can still take something completely innocuous and innocent and manipulate it to mean something completely different from its original intent. If you know how to edit, it’s not hard to do.

Because what O’Keefe did is an attack on academic freedom (the second time, actually). Professors are supposed to examine provocative ideas at times, and they shouldn’t have to worry that a slimy activist is going to take their comments out of context in an attempt to cost them their jobs.

Then tape your *own* class in its entirety – every time.

That way we would have your *tape* and not just your *word*.

(Just who is more trustworthy here over the long haul is precisely what is being argued over.)

Because, the damage is done with the initial attack, even if the professors are eventually exonerated, as in the case of the UMSL Professors O’Keefe recently attacked. The University examined the uncut video and found that the quotes were almost completely out of context (in one case in particular, the prof was quoting someone else, but “He said” was cut to make it sound like it was his own views). However, that doesn’t exactly erase the death threats and other attacks they received.

O’Keefe’s followers don’t live in reality. They believe his videos are true, no matter how thoroughly discredited they are, as they were in the case of the UMSL professors.

Scientists have studied this kind of thing, and found that the first information on a topic a person believes tends to be retained, even when contrary information is given. This is true event if the original source issues a retraction (something O’Keefe has never done, anyway, to my knowledge).

I think O’Keefe knows this. He knows that attacking people with fewer resources than he has is more effective, as they don’t have the ability to counter what he’s done after the fact. Fortunately, people have started rallying against his videos, attempting to give them a well-deserved discrediting before they gain traction in wider media.

Mayson Lancaster says:

Looks like a clear case of copyright infringement and intellectual property theft. Perhaps a takedown notice should be sent to Mr. O’Keefe’s ISP?

Thank goodness for people like James O’Keefe, Wikileaks, Daniel Ellsberg, Carl Bernstein and the rest of the journalists who expose plain truth with plain talk. To those who don’t like O’Keefe, just ask yourself if you would feel the same if he was exposing someone on Fox. Of course you would praise such expose. Embrace the truth. Jay Rosen has a strong elitist leftist point of view — and you “don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Thank goodness? O’Keefe couldn’t shine Daniel Ellsberg’s shoes. Ellsberg put himself at great personal risk to expose what he felt was an injustice carried out by one of the most powerful institutions on the planet.
O’Keefe’s targets? ACORN, Planned Parenthood, university professors -Whoa! Real power brokers there. Please, that little puke is a politically vindictive Alan Fundt.

Daniel Ellsberg expected to be arrested and go to jail for the rest of his life. Bernstein knew he was risking the end of his career.

What outcome does O’Keefe expect? Certainly nothing that would result in the personal harm and life changing consequences that Ellsberg and Bernstein anticipated. O’Keefe is obviously in it for the glory, to be hailed as a hero to fellow conservatives. To compare him to truly great journalists who changed our world knowing there could be significant personal costs is ignorant and insulting.

Fallacy Tu Quoque. It doesn’t matter what others would hypothetically do. O’Keefe made a dishonest attack on professors who were simply doing their jobs by challenging their students.

Everything Shirky says in the video seems true enough – fairly self evident to me. There isn’t a media outlet out there that doesn’t slant political news one way or another. The idea of unbiased media is a myth.

The 1%/elite comments are also true. Educated people do read more and do seek out alternative points of view. The other 99% (left and right)just read things that confirm their points of view and prejudices.

Richard Aubrey says:

Prof Shirky is either explaining how the NYT ought to do it, or how the NYT does it. Or, speaking as if he’s the NYT, how they intend to do it. Or did it.
They are separate but parallel issues.
Others have hung their hats on the “tricksy editing” hook and found the entire product to be embarrassing. Not to mention further releases.

The betrayal of trust is horrifically corrosive. I’d say more, but I get the feeling that every response these entities manage to elicit becomes feedstock for a subsequent operation.

(and if I predict(?) what the video was really for, they’ll do something else.)

Richelieu says:

Dear Professor Rosen,

My very simple observation regarding the “conservative worldview,” if I may call it such, is that they seek not to engage in reasonable or rational dialogue. Rather, they consistently seek to delegitimize the terms of the conversation. Imagine you are a six year old in a math class. You make an error in solving a question, and your teacher indicates both your error and the correct method. Rather than engage your teacher in dialogue to work out 1) how and why you made the error and 2) how and why the correct solution is correct, you instead question your teacher’s legitimacy. Or even the legitimacy of the mathematics itself. This is the conservative approach, and it is not something unique to contemporary America. Pick -any- historical moment charged with the necessity for progress. Civil rights? Suffrage? LGBTQ consciousness? Apartheid? You will repeatedly find the conservative faction of society, in reactionary fashion, striving to undermine the legitimacy of the forces advocating progress.

James O’Keefe is no better and no worse than this manner of conservative I have just outlined. You are at NYU. NYU has long prided itself on being a bastion for clear and reasonable thought of the highest order. To close your doors to tricksters and petty fools would harm those of us who can discern reason from dogma. Please ignore conservative bile and continue doing what you do best. As you know very well, education, knowledge, and reason are all under attack from the forces of conservatism who cannot abide the very possibility that their entire worldview is one that is built upon fear – fear of progress. We need people like you to continue to hold down the fort.

The dogs bark, but the caravan passes on.

Richard Gay says:

Indeed. The conservative method seems to be to elicit a salivation response by uttering trigger words such as “socialst,” “communist,” “liberal,” “leftist,” and other such bell tones as will cause a knee-jerk reaction, a reach for the wallet, and a launch toward the polling place. Those of us who are the other stripe hope we weigh our inputs more sincerely. I personally add my hope that we exceed the conservatives in our activism and engagement.

Amusing. From the Libertarian side, I submit that the left engages in this sort of behavior as frequently, if not more so. (“You’e a Nazi. End of discussion.”) And, referring to one of the terms you find so hurtful, just how is the Agenda — the redistribution of wealth — NOT socialism? Furthermore, I wonder how much of the coursework at this particular university’s J program is devoted to the Big Think/What We Will Discuss When We Run the Editorial Board at the NYT. Now there’s a time (very little of it, ideally) and place that, but LOL. Better that these kids take J courses wherein they learn the difference between its and it’s, there and their. You would expect graduates to know the difference. Sadly, far too many of them do not.

silversurfer says:

Just an idea to protect yourself from these kinds of stings: Make your own recording of your class.

You don’t need to publish the recordings, or even keep them around for much longer than a month or two, but if you ever get “stung” again like this, you can release the tape to put the cut-n-paste cherry-pickings back into their proper context.

Even better if you do release them, of course. Doesn’t need to be high quality, just to put the data out there.

Eh. Leave the class open. Choosing to be a journalist is choosing to live and work in the public sphere. If we’re serious about the idea of transparency journalism as an upgrade to objectivity, we might as well start living that standard now.

About the standards issue: To argue that O’Keefe’s journalistic standards are poor is to miss the very point of culture war “journalism.” The reporting we value is supposed to add to our knowledge while (in the best of instances) adding value to information. The reporting that the culture warriors and the partisan press values is a commodity. Its value is that it’s a unit of content designed to support what its intended audience already believes, which can then be referenced in summary on television without examination for viewers who will never challenge it. Accuracy and substance don’t enter into it.

Open letter from Erik Wemple of the Washington Post to James O’Keefe.


A letter from the Erik Wemple Blog to James O’Keefe:

Dear O’Keefe:

You posted some execrable video yesterday. Under the premise that you’d “catch a journalist,” you caught a pair of New York University professors doing their jobs. It’s not clear just what part of the video conveys some public scandal worthy of a surreptitious recording, so perhaps you could explain that part. What is clear is that the video has gotten quite a bit of attention. After it was posted, I and a number of other people commented on the video and took out our reportorial tools to fact-check it. Your record as a shooter of clandestine video seemed to justify the effort. Looking back a day later, it feels like a hollow hustle. ”To Catch a Journalist: Part II,” to judge from its merits, doesn’t even belong in the news cluttersphere. The next time you post something this weak, I’m not playing along. I’m not going to compete with the Poynters and the Politicos and the rest of the media-news industry to grind out some angle on your latest turd. So you gotta do something better than the Sam Stein -Jay Rosen-Clay Shirky model. Have at it. If you’re having trouble gaining traction, maybe you should consider an approach to journalism that doesn’t involve coaxing young people to lie to others as a matter of professional course. Because what you’re starting to demonstrate is that deception is no surer route to good journalism than is honesty. Thanks for reminding the public of that truth.

Joe Eagar says:

I thought I’d give my two cents. The reason this video has salience is it’s uncompromising portrayal of elite thinking. It isn’t simply two professors prattling on about boring things.

But I don’t think it will go anywhere. O’Keefe made the mistake of personalizing the story and demonizing Professor Clay. This is counterproductive; the meat of the story is it’s window into the elite journalist worldview, *as described by a university professor.* Demonizing the professor is like shooting the messenger; it delegitimizes the message.

Joe Eagar says:

Um, and a lot of of the left-leaning commentators here seem to be suffering from group think. Professor Clay really did say a lot of shocking things. But like I said before, James made the mistake of demonizing the professor (shooting the messenger); it was unfair for him to attack Clay personally.

And I can’t help pointing out that there are advantages to this sort of journalism, too; it makes you more disciplined. On the right, the constant crys of racism makes us more disciplined and less compromising on the issue (for example, right-leaning pundits do not argue that poor blacks shouldn’t be encouraged to attend college because they are incapable, an argument I’ve encountered multiple times on the left, including from a black education professor).

I think you on the left will come to appreciate the disciplining effect, as we have on the right. Isn’t it fun?

[…] Lefty journalism professor tries to discredit the Tea Party by passing along sensational footage to … […]

This seems to be another part of the disturbing trend of “entrapment journalism” so to speak. Patrick Howley infiltrates (his word) Occupy DC to become part of his story. Ian Murphy calls Scott Walker and poses as David Koch. James O’Keefe’s pretending to a pimp and “exposing” ACORN. I’m sure we could come up with more examples.

It seems to follow the same sort of method the FBI uses in apprehending most of its terrorism suspects; to pose as something other than what one is and entice others to create a sensation. Will the day come when we can stop pretending journalism is about anything other than creating narratives which suit our ideology?

[…] forty minutes to make that much. I'm not sure that's going to make anybody feel better.Jay Rosen: Lefty journalism professor tries to discredit the Tea Party by passing along sensational …Is there anybody left who takes James O'Keefe seriously? One can mix and match anybody's […]

UPDATE, Nov. 1, 2011. O’Keefe is out with a new video, focusing on a discrepancy between what I said when I was secretly taped by his operative, and what Clay Shirky and the New York Times said when asked if Clay had been a consultant to the New York Times. My reply is as follows:

The people who know whether Clay Shirky ever had a consulting contract with the New York Times are Clay Shirky and the New York Times. Any real journalist would understand that. I mistakenly thought he had done some consulting work with the business side of the Times, and so I told O’Keefe’s undercover operative as much when he asked me about it. I make many mistakes. This was one. Had I known I was in an interview situation, had I known I was speaking for publication, I would have said, “check with Clay,” because I have no direct knowledge of the situation myself.

It’s odd that O’Keefe claims me as his source. If I really was his source, he would have reported that Shirky was a consultant to the New York Times, but not to the news operation. Because that is what I actually told his operative (who was posing as a potential student.) Notice that O’Keefe didn’t report that Shirky was a consultant to the business side of the Times, even though that is what his “source” (me) said, because that information would be useless for whipping up culture war hysteria. He needed Shirky to consult with the Times newsroom, with the journalism part of the company. Problem: I wasn’t his source for that. I was his source for the information that Shirky was not a consultant to the newsroom. If he was relying on me for his information, why didn’t he pass that distinction along? Because it did not fit his purpose, which–to repeat myself–is whipping up culture war hysteria.

To sum up: I was mistaken and O’Keefe didn’t want to be accurate.

[…] He said he had a tape of a Tea Party gathering in which some ugly and extreme (the implication was racist) things were said. He said it was gruesome stuff. He wanted to know how he could get it to the media. To the New York Times. I said the New York Times wouldn’t be interested in something like that, and that he might try to contact Max Blumenthal of the Nation. He asked if I had any other advice for him. I said find a niche and start a blog. I gave him the examples of Ezra Klein, Dave Weigel and Nate Silver to show him that it was possible. I was trying to inspire him! “Lucas” thanked me and left. He had a strange smile on his face. # […]

“[D]o whatever you want to do.”

You’re basically telling him “Do what thou wilt”, you Crowley-ite!

On a more serious note, those bits and pieces seem to reflect a class I would have loved to sit in on, were I not an ocean away. I’ve saved most of the Shirky links for later reading, so thank you for those as well.