I'm not really a fan of conservative provocateur James O'Keefe. I've mentioned before that I find him creepifying. Though I've questioned the legal merits of at least one of ACORN's lawsuits against him, I'm not fond of his skit-based Michael-Moore-style approach. Eh. Each to his own, I suppose.
But please keep this in mind: if you are confronted with someone like James O'Keefe, whose schtick is getting you to act like an ass on camera, it behooves you not to act like an ass, unless you wish to put money in his purse.
That point seems to elude James B. Letten, a former U.S. Attorney who is now Tulane's "Assistant Dean of Experiential Learning," possibly because the position "Dean of Self-Parodying Academic Jargon" was already filled.
O'Keefe set out to interview Letten and hand him a copy of O'Keefe's new book, "Breakthrough: Our Guerilla War to Expose Fraud and Save Democracy," which is currently number on on Amazon's "pathological self-regard" list. As near as I can tell from the coverage O'Keefe wanted to ask Letten whether the Obama Administration had pressured Letten, back when he was the local U.S. Attorney, into prosecuting O'Keefe for entering a Democratic Senator's office under false pretenses during a prior skit. Some might argue that responsible journalists don't investigate stories in which they themselves are the subject, but people who argue that probably don't get a lot of hits on their YouTube videos.
O'Keefe first knocked on Letten's door, asked Letten's wife if Letten was there, offered her a book, and then left when she refused. Then O'Keefe sought out Letton on the Tulane campus. Havoc ensued. Letten confronted O'Keefe in a thoroughly unbalanced, unprofessional, and embarrassing way, all — predictably — caught on camera. Letten said things like "[y]ou are a nasty cowardly little spud, all of you, you're hobbits," and “[y]ou are scum. Do you understand?” Letten repeated the "hobbit" insult multiple times. Letten apparently doesn't like hobbits. Is it the feet? The eating disorders? Is he a secret Sauron fan? Not clear.
Watch the tape. It's difficult to exaggerate Letten's dipshittery. He accuses O'Keefe of "harassing a former U.S. Attorney" and "terrorizing" his wife. But unless O'Keefe's tape omits some very extensive footage of bad conduct — possible, I suppose — nothing O'Keefe was doing can rationally be called "terrorizing" or "harassing." O'Keefe tried to get an ambush interview with Letten to make him look like a fool on camera in order to push O'Keefe's partisan narrative. He succeeded. Unless he went to Letten's house or office multiple times after being asked to leave, that's not harassing or terrorizing. Letten's bluster otherwise suggests a lack of regard for the rights of critics.
I don't think O'Keefe adds much of substance to the debate over policy. But if people like Letten keep reacting like that, he'll keep doing it.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Free Speech Triumphant Or Free Speech In Retreat? - June 21st, 2017
- The Power To Generate Crimes Rather Than Merely Investigate Them - June 19th, 2017
- Free Speech, The Goose, And The Gander - June 17th, 2017
- Free Speech Tropes In The LA Times - June 8th, 2017
- I write letters - June 1st, 2017