James O'Keefe's planned sexual harassment "prank" goes awry

The conservative activist planned to secretly film himself "seducing" a CNN reporter

Published September 29, 2010 5:01PM (EDT)


After his success destroying ACORN, a lobbying and community organizing group for poor people, James O'Keefe was hailed as a right-wing hero, a crusading muckraker for a new generation of conservative journalists. Except he is actually a dumb clown, as he proved when he was arrested for sneaking into Sen. Mary Landrieu's office while pretending to be with "the phone company." His latest backfiring stunt is even stupider, and makes even less sense: He attempted to lure a female CNN reporter onto a sex boat, of some kind... to embarrass her?

CNN is producing a documentary on young conservative activists. Reporter Abbie Boudreau wanted to cover a music video O'Keefe and some other guys are making. O'Keefe apparently refused to allow CNN access to the shoot, then formulated a "caper" to embarrass Bougreau. The subject, the setup, the planned payoff -- none of it made any sense.

According to the O'Keefe associate who blew the whistle on the dumb prank before it got started:

"I have a problem on my hands that I think has the potential for unnecessary backlash," Santa wrote. "Today, James is meeting with a CNN correspondent today on his boat. She is doing a piece on the movement of young conservative filmmakers.

"She doesn't know she is getting on a boat but rather James' office. James has staged the boat to be a palace of pleasure with all sorts of props, wants to have a bizarre sexual conversation with her. He wants to gag CNN."

She wrote that "the idea is incredibly bad" and "the more I think about it we should not be doing this."

O'Keefe had also instructed Santa to print a "pleasure palace graphic" on a large poster, according to an e-mail.

I can't believe the young genius who thought dressing in a Ricky's Halloween Superstore Pimp costume would be a great way to satirize low-income housing advocacy also came up with this dumb plan.

So they were going to trick reporter Abbie Boudreau into ... getting aggressively sexually harassed, on video, in order to prove something or other about CNN.

According to a document outlining the plan obtained by CNN, the "joke is that the tables have turned on CNN. Using hot blondes to seduce interviewees to get screwed on television, you are faux seducing her in order to screw her on television."

Sounds like someone might have some weird issues with women.

O'Keefe might be confused by the Fox News model, where the correspondents don't actually do anything, but CNN's reporters actually go out and report stories. Boudreau has a pretty impressive résumé including actual, real-life versions of the pretend investigations O'Keefe does. (Here, James: This is what a legitimate investigation of a government agency looks like.)

So O'Keefe was going to "turn the tables" on a responsible professional journalist by being a dumb creep. What could possibly go wrong?

What went wrong is that O'Keefe's co-conspirator Izzy Santa thought the whole thing was a stupid and bad idea, and she warned Boudreau not to get on the boat.

And thank god, because the finished video would've been horrible:

According to the document, O'Keefe was to record a video of the following script before Boudreau arrived: "My name is James. I work in video activism and journalism. I've been approached by CNN for an interview where I know what their angle is: they want to portray me and my friends as crazies, as non-journalists, as unprofessional and likely as homophobes, racists or bigots of some sort....

"Instead, I've decided to have a little fun. Instead of giving her a serious interview, I'm going to punk CNN. Abbie has been trying to seduce me to use me, in order to spin a lie about me. So, I'm going to seduce her, on camera, to use her for a video. This bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five will get a taste of her own medicine, she'll get seduced on camera and you'll get to see the awkwardness and the aftermath.

That's a pretty cool Don Henley quote (did a 40-year-old write this vile script?) but it doesn't really work as a media critique. I think they dreamed up a wacky "Candid Camera" scenario and then tried to shoehorn a "political message" into it. Poorly.

The truly idiotic thing is that CNN's entire ethos means that its documentary on the movement would've been scrupulously "fair." They're not out -- like O'Keefe is -- to score political points by embarrassing adversaries. They're allergic to opinion to the point of occasional incoherence. If something embarrassing to the movement had come out of this project, it would've been solely because of the actions of the conservatives themselves.

And, hey, look what happened.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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