The Corner

Journalist or Filmmaker?

In a post yesterday about the arrest of James O’Keefe, I angered a few NRO readers by writing that his previous ACORN videos — as well as whatever parody video he was trying to make in Senator Landrieu’s office — did not constitute investigative journalism. I stand by the distinction, but my wording may have led some to believe I was dismissing the value of such work.

I wasn’t. I think parody videos and gotcha exposes and such can be very effective. Some of O’Keefe’s past videos are quite funny. But the distinction is important.

In his videos O’Keefe often stages events and conflicts, sometimes to great effect, but I don’t think we should call that investigative journalism. This isn’t even the same thing as Mike Wallace ambushing a crook with a camera. It’s like someone dressing up like Mike Wallace in order to get a public figure to react in a comical and telling fashion. It’s Borat, not Woodward & Bernstein.

Andrew Breitbart calls O’Keefe an independent filmmaker, not an investigative journalist. I think that is an apt description. I’ve seen O’Keefe lavish praise on Michael Moore and aspire to be like him. We wouldn’t call Moore an investigative journalist. On the other hand, if in one of his films Moore was able to trick, say, an NRA official into explaining how to evade gun laws, that would become a legitimate news story for journalists to cover. So this kind of filmmaking can feed journalism, but it isn’t itself journalism.

By the way, the latest Associated Press story on the arrest bears out my theory: O’Keefe was likely shooting footage for a piece making fun of Landrieu’s claims of phone problems in the wake of public disaffection about Obamacare, not bugging the senator’s phone. The Watergate comparisons by the Left were foolish — as was, it seems, O’Keefe’s caper here. You don’t play such games in a federal office complex.

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