Fox "friend" O'Keefe vanquished by CNN

The right-wing prankster got caught in his own trap -- not that you'll ever hear about it on Fox News

Published October 7, 2010 12:32AM (EDT)

It gets curiouser and curiouser, this buzzing electronic cacophony that's supposed to represent the national conversation. Consider the rapid rise and meteoric fall of one James O'Keefe, the right-wing prankster whose "Candid Camera" stunts made him a "journalist" hero to the Fox News crowd.

The difference between O'Keefe and the late Allen Funt, understand, being that Funt played it strictly for laughs. Letting the victim in on the joke was a big part of the show. "Smile," he'd say to some guy tricked into arguing with a talking mailbox, "you're on 'Candid Camera.'"

O'Keefe's stunts, however, have been aimed at humiliating his targets and exposing them to ridicule and even legal peril, which is what makes his takedown by CNN reporter Abbie Boudreau so satisfying. Poor baby, O'Keefe got caught in his own trap, which is no doubt why readers who get their information from Fox News probably have no idea what I'm talking about.

He used to be their hero. Sean Hannity once hailed O'Keefe as a "pioneer in journalism," and Bill O'Reilly wanted to nominate him for a congressional medal. There were mentions of the Pulitzer Prize. Even Glenn Beck took time out from his busy schedule of likening Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler to call O'Keefe "courageous."

All this for dressing up in a ludicrous pimp costume O'Keefe pretended to wear into ACORN offices to make the anti-poverty organization's employees look like fools and criminals. It was all an elaborate hoax. Real people, however, lost their jobs; the organization lost its funding and disbanded.

Alas, it appears that O'Keefe's admirers have now forgotten his name. According to, Fox News has scarcely mentioned how CNN's Boudreau, cautioned by an O'Keefe aide with a guilty conscience, frustrated his bizarre scheme to lure her aboard a boat tricked out like Hugh Hefner's boudoir for the purpose of sexual humiliation.

"For months," Boudreau explained in recent broadcast, "I had been working on a documentary about the young conservative movement. James had called me about concerns he had regarding an upcoming shoot. He asked me to meet him to talk about the shoot ... When I showed up, there was no office, as promised. Instead, he wanted to get me on a boat, which we later learned, was staged as a 'pleasure palace.' One of his colleagues ... told me he had 'strawberries and champagne' waiting for me on the boat, and that he planned to 'hit on me' the entire time. She said it would all be captured on hidden cameras that had been set up on the boat and in the back yard. She said the sole purpose of the 'punk' was to embarrass me, and to make CNN look bad."

A written scenario obtained by CNN boasted that, "(t)his 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."

Another part of the plan was supposedly to trick Boudreau into broadcasting a false, derogatory story about Sarah Palin. O'Keefe would then expose her poor reporting through the "friendlies" at Fox News.

Sounds like somebody's watched too many porn movies. The misbegotten fantasy that a geek like O'Keefe could seduce an accomplished 32-year-old professional like Boudreau is an insult to working women everywhere -- presumably why his assistant balked at her role.

O'Keefe now claims he had no intention of going through with the scam. While admitting that "I liked the basic absurdity," he says, "I was repulsed by the over-the-top language and symbolism that was suggested in the memo that was sent to me."

Yeah, sure he was.

Remember, this is the same "journalist" who presented what he billed as a "nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation." The Newark Star-Ledger's John Atlas describes what actually happened:

"In fact, O'Keefe never posed as a pimp when he talked to ACORN staffers. He presented himself as a friend, or boyfriend, or a colleague of Giles, who was posing as the prostitute. O'Keefe wore a dress shirt and Khakis when he entered ACORN offices, and later spliced in shots of himself wearing the pimp outfit in the final videos to make it appear that he had worn them in the meetings with ACORN. To sensationalize the tape, O'Keefe dressed up in cartoonish pimp garb for ... television. The outlandish costume aimed to make ACORN's African-American intake staff look like buffoons."

Indeed, three separate investigations determined that ACORN employees shown making seemingly incriminating remarks were actually responding to overdubbed questions -- less journalism than crude propaganda. Alas, in today's ethically bankrupt media culture, once tricked or intimidated into giving credence to a fraud like O'Keefe, even "mainstream" outlets rarely and grudgingly correct the record. In effect, they make themselves accomplices.

It's been going on at least since Gennifer Flowers' January 1992 press conference, and, if anything, the trend is straight downhill.

By Gene Lyons

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at

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