U. alumnus brings back muckraking
James O'Keefe is an American patriot and a hero. He is a muckraker of the highest regard, and he is a Rutgers grad. For those of you who have never heard of O'Keefe, he is the founder of The Centurion and one of the leading pioneers of the conservative movement at Rutgers. He has since graduated, entered law school and worked as a conservative journalist, frequently using hidden cameras to expose hypocrisy, silliness and more recently, a deeply-rooted perversion in a community organizing group called the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
O'Keefe has many YouTube gems, like the time he convinced the Brower Commons staff that Lucky Charms cereal discriminates against Irish-Americans. He also has exposed a Planned Parenthood operation, which was willing to accept money specifically earmarked for aborting black fetuses. He has made other videos, all of them worthy of praise — and perhaps some derision — but it is his latest videos that have made him a celebrity and a hero for conservatives everywhere.
O'Keefe, along with his 20-year-old friend Hannah Giles, has taken down the most powerful and influential community organizing group in the country. All it took was $1300, a hidden camera and a little creativity. ACORN describes itself as "the nation's largest grassroots community organization of low-and moderate-income people." It also has get-out-the-vote drives. This has conservatives crying foul over the possible voter fraud implications. No legal investigation ever taken place, because ACORN has powerful friends, including President Barack Obama himself. Since ACORN is closely allied with Democrats, everyone knew that it would take something drastic to shift the political winds.
O'Keefe did something drastic. He and Giles dressed up as a pimp and prostitute, and they traveled to ACORN headquarters all across the country, filming his attempts to obtain advice on setting up a house in which teenage girls from El Salvador would work as sex slaves. This is not a joke. He actually told countless ACORN employees that he planned on laundering the money his prostitutes earned to pay for a political campaign. One San Diego-based ACORN lawyer even made sexual advances toward Giles. Of course, such practices are illegal — let alone immoral — and as a firm that received billions of dollars from the federal government, ACORN should have immediately kicked the two pranksters out of their offices. But they did not. Comedian Jon Stewart even joked that such practices were probably so commonplace for ACORN that the group has special forms for aspiring prostitutes/money-launderers to fill out. It is funny to joke about, but it is scary that such a perverse organization carries (or at least carried) such political clout in America. It is also sad that a firm established to help lower-income people is so incompetent.
It is easy to dismiss these illegal activities as the result of a few bad apples — or bad nuts (sorry, I could not help myself). Doing so would ignore the facts, however. It is not just the "few bad apples" who have offered illegal counseling. The entire apparatus of ACORN has proved itself corrupt. ACORN's impropriety does not end with O'Keefe's investigation; the claims of voter fraud carry water, especially since the federal government, until recently, paid the group for census counting.
O'Keefe has filmed ACORN offices in New York, Washington D.C., Baltimore, San Diego, San Bernadino, Los Angeles and Philadelphia — though as of now, he has not released the tapes of the last two cities. This is not a one-time thing with a couple bad employees. This is a more profound, epidemic problem in ACORN; they believe themselves above the law, and their arrogance is astounding. At the very least, a non-partisan Congressional investigation should review all of ACORN's activities. In the meantime, the federal government should suspend all funding to the organization. ACORN cannot continue its improper practices. Allowing them to do so would be undemocratic and would violate the republican values upon which our country was founded.
There is a larger point to this entire drama. And at the very tip of the point, there is James O'Keefe. While conservatives have typically dominated talk-radio, progressives and liberals have mostly controlled news shows and newspapers. In other words, conservatives have been able to inject their opinions about the stories, but liberals have mostly controlled the reporting. This is not to say that there is no such thing as an unbiased liberal reporter. Quite the contrary, I think there are many excellent mainstream reporters, but they are most certainly not conservatives.
In presenting these videos, O'Keefe has not presented himself as a political commentator, but as a reporter. I prefer the term muckraker, because it conjures up the image of a whistleblower, of an undercover reporter breaking the big story, and that certainly applies to O'Keefe.
Yes, O'Keefe is a conservative, but his reporting is universal. This self-described "whitest kid you will ever meet" took a camera, recorded videos and posted them on a blog. But he did not record his rants or simply tell us his opinion. He broke a story that no news agency was reporting. This should teach us an important lesson about the future of journalism. Muckraking no longer belongs to the newspapers or magazines. In fact, it is the minority that now uses print journalism as its primary source of news. The future belongs to the Internet, and in that sense, the future also belongs to everyone with an opinion and a computer. But, O'Keefe has taught us that perhaps there can be depth to that reporting. Even for a fleeting moment, we were reminded what real journalism should look like. And for that, he has earned my respect and admiration.
Noah Glyn is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in economics. He is also the vice president of the Rutgers College Republicans.