By Duke Staff
This upcoming weekend is the first National Conference on the First Amendment, an event that Duquesne is co hosting with The Pittsburgh Foundation. While the list of luminaries participating is extensive and impressive, there’s one name on the list that troubles us as students and journalists – James O’Keefe.
O’Keefe is recently known for his laughably terrible attempts to “expose” the Washington Post by planting a fake story about then-U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore impregnating a teenager. The Washington Post didn’t fall for the poor bait, instead recording the encounters with O’Keefe’s Project Veritas employee and wrote a story on O’Keefe and his company’s duplicitous methods.
O’Keefe had previously gained notoriety for his other sting job attempts to target NPR, CNN correspondent Abbie Boudreau and others. His biggest story to date was in 2009, when he and other Project Veritas members maliciously edited videos of their interactions with employees that led to the federal defunding and closure of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a low-income advocacy group.
What O’Keefe has gained fame for is not even remotely close to journalism; it is essentially lies and propaganda which push his right-wing agenda. Look at some of the other conference speakers: Dean Baquet of the New York Times, Martin Baron of the Washington Post, Tom Ridge, Gen. Michael Hayden, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Nancy Gibbs. These are standout citizens whose voices on First Amendment issues most definitely deserve to be heard. Yet, they share a billing with a figure who Newsweek described in a 2018 headline as “the man who makes the fake news.”
Journalism is already facing enough attacks. In Turkey, Saudi Arabia may just get away without punishment for murdering Jamal Khashoggi, of the Washington Post, who had long lived in America. Over the summer, the newsroom of The Capital Gazette in Maryland was attacked and shot up by a disgruntled reader. It’s a serious task, one that is demeaned if O’Keefe is included in the same discussion. As Marty Kaplan, director of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, said “There is no responsible definition of journalism that includes what he does or how he does it.”
Lies are not journalism. Baited questions and edited videos aren’t journalism. What O’Keefe does is dirty, plain and simple. While he is appearing on a panel titled “First Amendment on the Edge: New, Controversial and Outlier Approaches,” we feel it would have been appropriate to include some kind of real boundary-pushing journalist, like Ronan Farrow or David Fahrenthold. A journalist who, you know, doesn’t regularly flagrantly violate long-held ethical standards and had to pay $100,000 to a man who lost his job over O’Keefe’s edited videos.
We shouldn’t accept O’Keefe and his dirty, no-standards approach to the First Amendment. Treating him as a serious journalist is what he wants, and giving him this stage at a national event is disappointing. It’s a serious discussion, it should focus on serious people.