The Corner

Re: Undercover or Entrapment?

Michael: I’m not sure I agree with you (and by extension Ira Stoll) in finding O’Keefe’s techniques unethical for a journalist. This is what the FBI does to nail corrupt politicians — they pose as bona fide campaign contributors, and film meetings with politicians trying to make the campaign contribution a direct quid pro quo for sponsoring legislation, etc. It has been used in several states to convict legislators.

I watched this up close in California in the late 1980s in what was known as “shrimp scam” — the FBI posed as a shrimp company that wanted legal changes to do business in California. The irony, as I noted at the time, is that had the shrimp company been a real company, they’d have been quite satisfied with the service they received from the legislators they contributed to (mostly Republicans — rumor had it that their real target, Speaker Willie Brown, was too smart to get caught up in the net), all of whom said they supported the legislation on the merits.

Moreover, much of the method of 60 Minutes over the years has been based on deception. The old pros like Mike Wallace work you over to make you feel like he is your best buddy, thereby getting you to say incautious things that, when properly edited, make you look bad. This seems to me as questionable as anything O’Keefe does.

Anyone remember when Mike Wallace got stung for saying in an interview that “Blacks and Hispanics were too busy eating watermelons and tacos to read the fine print on their insurance policies”? That came about because the person who was the target of Wallace’s story secretly videotaped the whole interview himself, and released the whole thing to the press before the 60 Minutes story aired. Wallace was going to edit out that part, which, like O’Keefe’s fake Muslim Brotherhood folks, was intended to elicit embarrassing comments from the target. (I got to know the fellow back in the 1980s.) 60 Minutes actually tried to bargain with the guy to keep the tape from being released by suggesting they’d go easier on him in the story. But the target wouldn’t deal.

One difference between O’Keefe and 60 Minutes is that O’Keefe releases the entire, un-edited tapes. Seems to me he is more ethical than 60 Minutes and the other networks in this regard.

By the way, people should follow the example of the fellow who nailed Mike Wallace: Always run your own videotape of a media interview. Might come in handy.

Steven F. Hayward — Stephen F. Hayward is a senior resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and the author of a two-volume political history, The Age of Reagan.

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