Tulane Law Dean And Former U.S. Attorney Faces Questions Over Confrontation With Filmmaker On Campus

200px-Jim_Letten_US_Attorney391392_10150673300727910_1485282147_nThere is a controversy brewing at Tulane Law School where I began my academic career. The law school was the scene of a confrontation between controversial conservative filmmaker and activist James O’Keefe and former U.S. Attorney James Letten whose office handled the prosecution of O’Keefe for his entry in the office of Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu under false pretenses. Letten is now an Assistant Dean at the law school. Letten never explained why he recused himself from the case but O’Keefe suggests that he was responsible for leaking confidential information to the media. In the video below posted and edited by O’Keefe, Letten confronted O’Keefe and accuses him of “terrorizing” his wife and violating state and federal law by appearing at the law school. Letten calls O’Keefe and his crew a bunch of “hobbits” and berates the filmmaker. While I am no fan of O’Keefe, I am afraid that I do not see the basis for the alleged crimes by O’Keefe or the basis for his being held by law enforcement outside of the law school. The school has banned O’Keefe from the campus after the confrontation with Letten.


Letten confronts the man he calls a “nasty little cowardly spud” outside of the law school. He says that O’Keefe has committed federal and state crimes and was particularly upset with the appearance of O’Keefe at his home in an attempt to give Letten his book. I do not blame him. However, Letten says that such an attempt constitutes some form of crime of “harassing a former U.S. Attorney.” Absent some restraining order or threat, I fail to see how such a visit would constitute a federal crime. Regardless of the provocation however Letten response is not befitting an academic. While filming can be limited on private property, the claim of state and federal violations was never explained by Tulane in its public statement. The University is only claiming that O’Keefe committed “the provocation of these unannounced and uninvited visits.”  There has been no mention of criminal conduct by the University in any of its subsequent statements on either the state or federal level.

My greater concern is the holding of O’Keefe and the conduct of Letten. We have previously discussed such tirades from faculty (here and here) Letten unleashes a tirade of abuse on the crew and throw a book handed to him back at Letten. (O’Keefe calls this assault, but once again I fail to that that crime any more than Letten. It is a technical offensive touching but it is pretty trivial to constitute a crime). Letten is unwilling to discuss any issue and instead tells the crew “Listen to me,. Listen to me, hobbits, okay? Listen to me. Listen to me. Pay attention to me. Listen to me. You went to my house. You terrorized my wife. You are violating federal law. You are violating state law. You’re trespassing. You’re a nasty little cowardly spud. All of you. You’re hobbits. You are less than I could ever tell you. You are scum.”

The part of the video that I find interesting is where O’Keefe begins to leave and he is stopped by security and what appears to be a New Orleans police officer. Letten and the officer say that O’Keefe is trespassing. However, that does not appear to be the case. The public is allowed to use public sidewalks and access on such campuses. I certainly fail to see the basis for the officer telling O’Keefe that he is in custody. He is entitled to express his opinion just as Letten is entitled to express his opinion to O’Keefe that “You spend your life as a snail. You do weird little political things, you’re a horses a–. Stay away from my family, stay away from me, stay away from this institution. If you want to be a political, you know, extremist nut job, that’s fine, don’t break the law.”

I certainly understand Letten’s frustration and anger, particularly when someone goes to your home. However, he is now part of an academic not a prosecutorial enterprise. Universities are traditionally zones of protected speech and the actions taken against O’Keefe in preventing him to leave, if only briefly. The officer says that he is indeed in custody and that the University is private property. The university can exclude people from its facilities, but it is not clear what precisely was the grounds for the detaining of O’Keefe.

The University is standing with Letten in the following statement: “This exchange, arising from an issue related to his previous position as U.S. attorney, followed visits to Jim Letten’s home and campus office by James O’Keefe and his film crew that were intimidating and harassing to both his wife and staff. Despite the provocation of these unannounced and uninvited visits, Mr. Letten regrets losing his temper in addressing the impropriety of Mr. O’Keefe’s conduct.”

The film of the home visit does not appear to have any threats. It is the visit itself that appears to be the basis for the intimidating conduct. However, people are allowed to go to homes absent threats or a court order. There is no mention of a specific threat or threatening act other than the appearance at the home or the campus.

Here is the video:

82 thoughts on “Tulane Law Dean And Former U.S. Attorney Faces Questions Over Confrontation With Filmmaker On Campus

  1. It’s a terrible thing to say about Hobbits, but he was much more complimentary of O’Keefe than I’d have been.

  2. Previous commentators (Kraaken & Gene H.) appear to be letting their dislike of O’Keefe interfere with their support of the law.

    Guys, the law applies equally to everyone – both constraining and protecting.

  3. I wonder what qualifies Letten to be dean of a law school?

    I would think he would know (being a lawyer) that he could get a restraining order against O’Keefe. It must be pretty easy for prosecutors to get such orders against person’s they have indicted who show up at their homes. Maybe he’s not that good of a lawyer.

    And maligning the word ‘hobbit’ is well out of order.

  4. Steve, I don’t like or dislike O’Keefe. He uses the same tactics as Michael Moore. I knew nothing of Letten, other than this videotape. He was the a-hole here.

  5. Not Letten’s nor Tulane’s finest hour. However, let it go on the record that this is Pimp O”Keefe and Moore NEVER dressed as a pimp.or presented himself as anybody other than Michael Moore. To most people, that would be a very notable difference.

  6. pdm, I was a PI. So, I know going undercover is often the only way to get the truth. That said, you’re correct, Moore does not himself go undercover, he’s to well known and well..distinctive. Mostly, I was talking about this type of interview of Letten. This is Moore’s bread and butter…as it were.

  7. Apparently O’Keefe earlier had tried to contact Letten’s wife which would seem to be way beyond what would be permissible for a former defendant or complainant?

  8. You know if 60 minutes showed up at your door… You’re going to have a bad day…. If O’Keefe shows up…. Ask the mofo to leave and be done with it…. If he persists, get a restraining order…. Or as raff threaded on Sunday…. File a civil lien against him… He is a professor now…. He does not enjoy the immunity and privacy and/orforce of the federal Marshall’s to do his bidding for him…. It’s time for him to either find a new home, new job, new lie of work and change his authoritarian complex…..

  9. It’s funny to me that the likely reason that anyone is talking about this video is that the Tulane guy called him a “hobbit.” That was slightly weird and funny. If he had just stuck with calling him an a@@hole, then this would not have gone viral. Just an observation about the oddity of what captures attention and what does not.

  10. It would appear as if former U.S. Attorney James Letten has had his feelings hurt and apparently that is sufficient grounds for Mr. Letten to attempt to use the coercive power of the state/University of Tulane to make himself feel better at Mr. O’keefe’s expense.

  11. Totally on O’Keefe’s side on this one. The campus police were violating O’Keefe’s civil rights by detaining him when he said he was leaving. The disrespectful language by Letten was totally uncalled for, as well as trying to throw in a racial slur in respect to O’Keefe’s Irish heritage. These guys (Letten & Campus Police) are whiney and unprofessional and abusing the power of their authority. Nothing but exercising free speech rights by O’Keefe.

  12. The cop did the proper thing and arrested okeefe for trespassing. He had been informed before hand that he was not to be on campus, was asked to leave, did not, and so was arrested. The law refers to ordinary passerby and visitors to campus, not persons who are engaged in harassing specific people. That is where I have to agree with the cop.

  13. Arthur Randolph Erb wrote: “The law refers to ordinary passerby and visitors to campus, not persons who are engaged in harassing specific people. That is where I have to agree with the cop.”

    No, the law does not refer to ordinary passerby and visitors. If you want to go on campus with a large sign and start screaming to save the whales, you are entitled to do that as long as you do not interfere with classes or the normal operation of the campus. O’Keefe attempting to speak with someone or deliver a free book to him is not harassment. It seems like nobody understands free speech anymore.

    And what did the cops charge him with? You don’t accuse someone of trespassing and then not let them leave. The cop said, “It’s not going to be that easy…” What? You don’t want somebody on your property, so when they say they are leaving, you say, “no, it is not going to be that easy?” How much you want to bet no charges were ever filed against O’Keefe for trespassing? The only harassment going on was from the cops and Letten. They harassed O’Keefe who was acting within his Constitutionally protected rights.

  14. Ok David, I agreed with you until you made your last statement…. It’s not a public university…. You wanna try the same logic with your alma matter which I presume is Regents or its ilk…. If it was a state university I’m in your corner… But you also have to take in to account the different types of folk… Invitees, Guests and Trespassers….

  15. Excellent point, Anon. I was thinking it was a public university. My mistake. Being private complicates the matter.

    I’m not sure what “Regents” is. My alma matters include public universities: degrees from University of Southern Mississippi and University of South Florida.

  16. Although a private university, it is open to the public. There are no requirements that a person be a student or employee to be on a private university campus. I wandered through the greens and buildings of Yale as a youngster growing up nearby. I went to a Catholic college and folks roamed freely. If O’Keefe were told to leave by a person w/ the authority to say that, and he did not, then he would be trespassing. However, whether public or private, college campuses are expected to be the bastion of openness. Hell, last Spring I roamed the campus of Brigham Young, a Catholic, a sinner, and someone who also just recently LMAO @ the Book of Mormons play.

    Let’s be honest. Many folks here don’t like O’Keefe or what he stands for. But, there’s been little discussion of his larger point. That being folks like Diane “Big Nanny” Feinstein are trying to regulate journalism and the First Amendment by arbitrarily deciding who is a journalist and who is not! I think most, if not all of us, agree w/ O’Keefe on this.

  17. Jonathan, it is clear you did not do any investigative work here. You simply watched the video, which I should mention was edited and produced by O’Keefe’s people, and then wrote your assumptions. Here are some key phrases from your own writing that substantiate this:
    “I am afraid that I do not see the basis for…”
    ” I fail to see how such a visit would constitute…”
    “The part of the video that I find interesting…”
    “…but it is not clear what precisely was the grounds for the detaining of O’Keefe…”
    “The film of the home visit does not appear to have any threats…”
    Journalism best practices would dictate that before you write about this you would try your best to interview both O’Keefe and Letten, and maybe Letten’s wife. You would contact the Tulane Police Department to find out why O’Keefe was detained, rather than assuming you already know that he should not have been detained. You would somehow find out if the home visit you saw on the video was the entire home visit. Were there any interactions with Letten’s wife before or after what you saw on the video? If so, did O’Keefe’s behavior rise to the standards of the alleged harassment?
    Jonathan, if you’re going to blog, you should keep in mind that some people who read your blog will view you as a journalist, and since that is the case, you should at least try to “do” some journalism before posting something like this. I’m not here to defend O’Keefe or Letten, but I am here to say that this piece that you wrote is lazy commentary.

  18. Most people don’t do confrontation well. There are some rules:

    1. Don’t lose your cool.
    2. Don’t be a smart alec
    3. Don’t use big words or bad language.
    4. End it as soon as possible.
    5. Don’t try to make philosophical points.
    6. When in doubt just leave.

    If you have something to say, use the interrogative form: “Why are you stopping to confront me here today? Can’t we handle this by telephone or by a scheduled appointment instead of jumping me on the street? What can I possibly do to satisfy your issues off camera where we can talk person to person? Why do you feel it necessary to bring my wife/kids/family into our situation?” These are hard to answer even for folks like Okeefe. And if you get him answering questions you’ve won the confrontation.

    By the way, using these techniques makes you the reasonable one and gets the viewer on your side even if you are blind-sided. Again, a win for you in the confrontation.

    There are times when aggressive behavior is acceptable. This isn’t one of those times. Gaze at Mr. Letten to see how not to do confrontation.

  19. Nick,

    Does this make a difference to you?

    Where can I exercise my speech rights?

    “On any private property where the owner gives permission (the owner always decides) and in any area open to the public, such as streets, sidewalks, town squares or parks. If you plan to or actually block passage on a street or sidewalk, you must apply for a permit.”

    Did the owner give permission for O’Keefee and his crew to be present? When they were asked to leave they should have scooted…

  20. Anon wrote: “When they were asked to leave they should have scooted…”

    It looked like they tried to leave, but the police said no, it’s not going to be that easy.

  21. Nick makes an interesting point: best way (only way?) to get to the truth is to deceive. I wonder what others here think about that. Seems pretty creepy to me.

    Wasn’t there a big discussion a while back on what constitutes a journalist. Does O’Keefe qualify (as journalist) even though his main objective seems to be the promotion of his book?

    Great comments addressed to the Prof. by Paul Greenberg. It’s a good idea to carefully examine any tape made available for publishing from Pimp O’Keefe.

  22. What was left on the cutting room floor? If it was as he said why did he edit it before publicizing it? (I am on neither side since I am not sure if there was more happening then what was alleged in words)

  23. pdm, I am not, nor ever was, a journalist. I can assure you, knowing some investigative journalists, they use pretexts and deception to get information. That’s just on background. This guy used deception to gather information for a production. This is an interesting question if that is a disqualifier vis a vis being a journalist. However, in this context, few would disagree that O’Keefe was doing what journalists do, try to interview people. However, what Feinstein is proposing is that people like Assange, Greenwald, etc. be considered outside the journalism field, and not afforded those fundamental rights of journalists.

    Letten, as other have also noted, played into the hands of O’Keefe. I reckon the transition from US Attorney, w/ all of that power, to law prof, has been rocky so far. Hopefully, he’s learned something from this. While professor Greenberg is nobly having the back of a colleague, he failed to address the behavior of Mr. Letten. Well, what is there to say? Letten was not only profane, he used the words of someone who expects to be in control. As a US Attorney, he indeed had power and control. He obviously needs to learn to control himself as a professor of Tulane, a great school.

  24. Both O’Keefe and Letten just need to chill out and watch The Flintstones for a while. Lighten up fellas.

  25. I refuse to make any judgment on this film because O’Keefe is notorious for doctoring his films. Until an unedited version is made avaliable, I see no reason to even discuss it.

  26. To expand on mespo’s suggestions. O’Keefe and people like him are not looking for information or answers. They are looking for a reaction, preferably an emotional reaction. As was said earlier, rule number one is to keep cool. Rule number two is, see rule number one. O’Keefe wanted a reaction he could edit and piece together to tell a story about Letten. Unfortunately, Letten handed O’Keefe what he came for, on a platter.

    O’Keefe is not a journalist or investigator, he is a propagandist (Gene, here is red meat for another story). Also, if confronted with anyone of his ilk, there are a few things to keep in mind. The more you talk and engage him the more video he has. This guy is representative of a new breed of propagandist that is not above putting words in your mouth through the magic of digital technology. Ever see one of those “Bad Lip Reading” YouTube videos? Second, he can edit anything you do say to put you in the worst possible light. If you must speak, do the broken record. Ask the same question over and over again until you get an answer.

    All of us have had to deal with professional irritants who are probing for a reaction at one time or another. Simply don’t engage. And as mespo said, keep control of the situation by asking affirmative, leading questions. If there is anything a lawyer ought to be good at, is asking affirmative questions. Don’t answer any of his.

    Another rule is to NEVER use ad hominems in confrontations. That is junior high stuff.

    One of my graduate school professors was a master at deflection. You could tell him the sky is falling, and his response would typically be, “Really? I guess I might look into that sometime.” His response to salesmen was more on the order of, “I can’t afford that right now. I’m saving up for a wart transplant.” In other words, think of statements that have no possible follow-up, and have them ready for use at a moment’s notice.

  27. Oh, and off the cuff, other options for in addition to leading questions are tangential questioning (take a minor element from their spiel and turn your counter interrogation on it) and “the confusion ray” (formally you’d call it argument by non-sequitur, essentially turning a propaganda technique against them, in its mild form its directed distraction, in its severe advanced form you’ll illicit the response of “What?” leaving them no place else to go – see Groucho Marx).

  28. Nick, see OS @ 7:55 regarding Pimp O’Keefe’s journalistic credentials.

    And I had earlier addressed my opinion of the confrontation with Letten. I was more concerned with the “truthiness” of the encounter at the house and the entire encounter at Tulane.

    Deception is not a great way to seek the truth. But maybe it is if you are a PI.

  29. Gene,
    It just occurred to me that one might watch Bad Lip Reading videos just to get some ideas for responses. Like this one.

  30. NIck Spinelli, I really was not trying to “have the back of a colleague,” as you said in your post. I do work for Tulane, yes, but I don’t know Mr. Letten. My comments were really about Jonathan Turley’s post. I think before you can really pass a full judgment about this situation, you need all the facts and you need to know what happened before and after the video. As I said in my earlier post, I’m not here to defend O’Keefe or Letten. I will say this about O’Keefe, though: He has taken Mike Wallace’s brand of ambush journalism to an extreme that is more cloak and dagger caper than it is news gathering. . He engenders negative feelings wherever he turns up.

  31. Mr. Greenberg. My apologies assuming your knowing Mr. Letten. I can tell you, Mr. Turley is an honorable man. I am quite certain he will take your critique seriously. I concur the interview was in the mold of a YOUNG Mike Wallace. I would give a more recent comparison to Brian Ross. And, I know my comparison to Michael Moore would be controversial, but the “ambush” interview is also his forte. Moore does it w/ a “golly gee” demeanor which is smart. You see, I have no problem w/ a no warning interview. If I need to interview someone who I know doesn’t want to talk w/ me, I always hit them cold. If they’re going to refuse to answer questions, they’re going to have to do it to my face.

    What seemed to bother Mr. Letten the most in this video was the contact w/ his wife. The video shown from that venue was obviously edited. And, there was a sloppy jump cut edit. I believe O’Keefe only had one camera. In the first shots @ the residence, the camera angle and location is different from the “let’s go” take. That is the aforementioned jump cut. Combine that w/ what Mr. Letten said, and now you, I think there is more to learn. I specialized in video surveillance and have edited thousand of hours of footage. There is legit editing and there is deceptive editing. My edited footage would be presented in court. I would testify no exculpatory evidence was cut, and that the “footage clearly and accurately represented what I saw.” Journalists do not have to testify under oath. Allegedly esteemed journalists have deceptively edited footage. I have little doubt O’Keefe would do that also. All that said, this is a blog. The people who make posts aren’t doing a news article. They use other news sources and expand or opine on it. That’s blogging!

    Mr. Greenberg, I understand and admire you standing up for someone you don’t know. You are obviously passionate about this, and I hope the truth is found. You seem to me to be an excellent source to keep up abreast of this situation. We can maybe turn a negative into a positive and have a new regular commenter. Ciao.

  32. AY, Thanks for the reference. I’m not an attorney. However, in reading that ACLU interpretation, although Tulane is a private university, the spot where this interview occurred is a public area. Anyone can walk through, take pictures, converse w/ people, etc. That’s my take. When doing surveillance I would constantly have to decide what was in public and where someone had no reasonable expectation of privacy. That’s somewhat different than this but generally the same. No one would have any reason to not believe they could walk through the university and I’m sure thousands of folks do so daily. However, if O’Keefe was told to leave by a campus or NO cop, and he didn’t, then he would be trespassing.

  33. pdm, As I said to Mr. Greenberg, I am suspicious of that edit @ the house. However, the footage of Mr. Letten is not a question of editing.

  34. Nick,
    I think you are spot-on about O’Keefe and Mrs. Letten. For me, that is one of the few things where I might lose my cool. I have an idea that O’Keefe meant to light the fuse to the dynamite, but one of these days he is going to pick the wrong person.

    As for Michael Moore, I don’t think he has ever presented himself as anything but who he really is. Moore always seems to look like an unmade bed instead of like this:

    Or like this:

    Additionally, Michael. Moore has not tried to entice a female news anchor onto a boat filled with sex toys.

  35. Nick: “Steve, I don’t like or dislike O’Keefe. He uses the same tactics as Michael Moore.”
    ***

    I don’t recall Michael Moore dressing up as a phone repairman, bringing his posse to Senator Mary Landrieu’s office, attempting to tap her phones and being convicted of a misdemeanor in the case.

    Michael Moore is an in-your-face, face to face journalist and investigator. With a point of view. James O’keefe is a sneaky propagandist that makes his bones in a post-processing studio, constructing fantasies.

  36. OS, I agree Moore is always upfront. But, he does the ambush interview, that’s his specialty. That’s what I’m saying. This was an ambush interview w/ Letten, and Letten screwed the pooch. Maybe the interview of Ms. Letten was just a pretext to rile Mr. Letten. But, I’ll need more evidence on that.

  37. LOL, I should read all the comments before I get all het-up and post, yes OS, O’keefe is just a propagandist.

    Mespo: excellent pointers on dealing with confrontational situations. I wish I had had those pointers written down on a business card, like a Miranda warning. On a couple of past occasions I sure could have used them, but alas didn’t. :-)

  38. “Ambush” interview? Back in the day when 60 Minutes was confronting the bad guys we just called it “journalism”.

  39. i’m going to agree at least partially with Paul Greenberg@4:26 pm. you are only seeing what o’keefe wants you to see. misdirection, careful editing, and being a total little $hit are his stock in trade.

    until i see an unedited version i wouldn’t believe a word of it. he has already ruined to many reputations to give him any benefit of doubt.

  40. Truth be told you don’t like O’Keefe’s politics. Liberal media is full of bomb throwers. O’Keefe is truly calling a spud a spud or a lumper a lumper – when he sees one. This dean is a lumper and he is fast heading to extinction.

  41. Was it a private street? I can be on a Campus but be on a public street. The guy was not occupying Wall Street for Dog’s sake. I can not respect this law school for hiring a schmuck like this prosecutor. What was the offense officer? Trespassing on a public thoroughfare?

    One more comment. The article is not all that coherent.

  42. this

    davidm2575 1, August 27, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Arthur Randolph Erb wrote: “The law refers to ordinary passerby and visitors to campus, not persons who are engaged in harassing specific people. That is where I have to agree with the cop.”

    No, the law does not refer to ordinary passerby and visitors. If you want to go on campus with a large sign and start screaming to save the whales, you are entitled to do that as long as you do not interfere with classes or the normal operation of the campus. O’Keefe attempting to speak with someone or deliver a free book to him is not harassment. It seems like nobody understands free speech anymore.

    And what did the cops charge him with? You don’t accuse someone of trespassing and then not let them leave. The cop said, “It’s not going to be that easy…” What? You don’t want somebody on your property, so when they say they are leaving, you say, “no, it is not going to be that easy?” How much you want to bet no charges were ever filed against O’Keefe for trespassing? The only harassment going on was from the cops and Letten. They harassed O’Keefe who was acting within his Constitutionally protected rights.

  43. Anon, I do not know the specific property law or rights of Tulane in Louisiana, so I have to take the word of the cop, and the lawyer on scene at the time. I will always defer to those who have more knowledge than myself in specific areas. TSU in Houston had a problem with a main street that ran through the middle of their campus, so they simply placed concrete barriers across the street and closed it, and thus it became a clear part of TSU’s campus, NOT a public thoroughfare.

    As for your contention it is a free speech issue, that does not hold water either since you do not have the right to come onto my property against my wishes, and have a speech or a rally. I also assume that given the response of the former US attorney, okeefe had been told before to stay away from him and especially his family. It is not an infringement of anybody’s right to make this demand and enforce it at ones workplace. Once he had been warned, and told he was trespassing, if he did not leave at that point, the cop has every right to arrest him. Just because you want to leave when you see a cop does not mean that you did not trespass. Okeefe had his chance to leave and refused to do so. Now if the DA had held him down after telling him to leave, THEN you would have a point.

  44. Nick spinelli wrote: “This was an ambush interview w/ Letten, and Letten screwed the pooch. Maybe the interview of Ms. Letten was just a pretext to rile Mr. Letten. But, I’ll need more evidence on that.”

    It seems reasonable to me that O’Keefe hoped to find Mr. Letten at home. Until I see evidence to the contrary, I assume that O’Keefe’s intentions were simply to deliver his book to his nemesis and to ask him on camera whether he leaked evidence. Sometimes people reveal truth when they are not prepared for the question.

    While everybody else is focused on the reaction strategy for situations like this, I think the whole event comes down to the character of Mr. Letten. O’Keefe has revealed the character of this man, and that character is not very good. No self control. No respect for a fellow human being. A penchant for harassment of others. He let his emotions rule him rather than his intelligence. Mr. Letten also videotaped the event. Why don’t we see his video? I assume there is no way for Mr. Letten to edit it in a way that would make him look good.

    Concerning the comments about this style of journalism, I think people like James O’Keefe and Michael Moore serve an important function in a democracy. We are all free to criticize the presentation of both, but we should be careful to criticize based upon what we actually know rather than just stick our head in the sand and remain skeptical only because we don’t like the message being conveyed.

  45. DavidM2575, what you forgot (or decided not to) mention in your last post is that O’Keefe also further revealed his OWN character deficiencies. Journalism is not at all about accosting indviduals on streetcorners and videotaping them without their permission. It’s not about that. Journalism is about diligent research, news gathering and the conveying of information. Because you and others have seen the O’Keefe style of ambush interviewing now for so many years, you may believe that this meets the standards of the profession, but it does not. I’ve been a journalist for many years, and believe me, it would not occur to me to do what O’Keefe did here. It would not occur to me to react like Letten did either, but for the purposes of this post, I’m responding to you about O’Keefe.

  46. Arthur Randolph Erb wrote: “I do not know the specific property law or rights of Tulane in Louisiana, so I have to take the word of the cop, and the lawyer on scene at the time.”

    The university has a right to regulate what happens on their campus. Even public universities have this right. However, if this was a public university, it would tilt the situation a bit toward O’Keefe in that as a taxpayer, he has a kind of right of ownership of the property. Nevertheless, even when the university property is private, one must consider that it is open to the public. It would be like you going to a shopping mall uninvited. You have an expectation that you are welcome there as all members of the public are. Then suppose a store employee who knew you from another job and does not like you asks you to leave the mall. You try to talk to him, but he has called security and they show up and back up the employee. So then you say, “okay, I’m leaving now” but security says, “wait a minute, it’s not going to be that easy. Come back here.” Security now has in effect invited you through the authority of force to stay on the property.

    Another consideration is that universities have traditionally been about the free exchange of ideas and generally encourage interactions and dialogue rather than discourage them. Unless O’Keefe was causing a disruption to a classroom or other normal functioning of the university, the cops would not be acting properly to detain or arrest O’Keefe. From my perspective, Mr. Letten violated the university’s harassment policy, and the police were wrong to back up the bully Mr. Letten. The police should have instructed Mr. Letten to stop hurling epithets, reminding him that he was violating university policy. They should have asked him to be respectful or quiet or leave the area. They should have reinforced O’Keefe’s right to be on campus as long as he was not causing a disturbance. Instead, they did what most corrupt people do, they did not apply the law equally to everyone involved. They sided with an important employee of the university over someone not connected with the university. They violated the egalitarian principle of equality.

    From Tulane’s Staff Handbook August 2013:
    —–
    Tulane University is committed to creating and maintaining a campus environment where all individuals are treated with respect and dignity and where all are free to participate in a lively exchange of ideas.

    At Tulane University, harassment or discrimination, whether verbal, physical, written, or visual, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

    Anyone who engages in conduct prohibited by this policy shall be disciplined as provided by law, university policies, and applicable employment agreements.
    —–
    http://tulane.edu/wfmo/employee-support/upload/Staff-Handbook-Revised-August-2013-2.pdf

  47. Paul Greenberg wrote: “Journalism is not at all about accosting indviduals on streetcorners and videotaping them without their permission. It’s not about that. Journalism is about diligent research, news gathering and the conveying of information.”

    You sound like an artist complaining that Picasso’s abstract paintings do not constitute art. I think there is room for this type of reporting news. Just look how much thought it provoked among us here. Certainly I agree with you that it is a more lowly form of journalism with perhaps much less value than what you describe as real journalism, but it has a place.

    My biggest complaint about modern journalism is not the stuff O’Keefe or Moore does, but it concerns the way most journalists no longer try to be objective in their reporting. All their research is done in a way to spin a story, and if the research does not yield the facts for their story, they spin the story anyway.

  48. “My biggest complaint about modern journalism is not the stuff O’Keefe or Moore does, but it concerns the way most journalists no longer try to be objective in their reporting. All their research is done in a way to spin a story, and if the research does not yield the facts for their story, they spin the story anyway.”

    Again, I laughed so hard I nearly hurt myself.

  49. Jonathan – You say “Letten never explained why he recused himself from the case but O’Keefe suggests that he was responsible for leaking confidential information to the media.” Letten has said and it has been widely reported that he recused himself from the Landrieu case because the father of one of the men involved in the Landrieu caper was a federal prosecutor Letten knew.

    You also say “Letten and the officer say that O’Keefe is trespassing. However, that does not appear to be the case. The public is allowed to use public sidewalks and access on such campuses.” That is true as far as it goes, but it appears this confrontation took place in the interior part of the campus, away from public sidewalks which in Tulane’s case are pretty much only on Freret and Willow Streets as far as the interior part of the campus goes. Tulane clearly has the right to issue stay away orders, and does from time to time if a non-affiliated person appears to constitute a harassing or threatening presence. It seems to me they would have to detain someone briefly in order to formally issue such an order.

    Having said all that, it certainly seems to me that Letten would have been far better off to just do a no comment or stay away completely. But if he thought they were going overboard by going to his home and engaging his wife, mild though it may appear on here (and remember this is footage edited by Project Veritas so it certainly may not be the whole story) I can see how someone could lose their temper. If I thought my family was being treated badly I would be hard to calm down also.

  50. Nick Spinelli: Regarding Diane Feinstein’s proposal to protect only paid journalists from prosecution: It’s ridiculous, and very disappointing that it comes from such an experienced legislator. Whether one is paid or not paid does not determineif they are practicing journalism. Ridiculous.

  51. To even consider that O’Keefe is a journalist is laughable. It has been proven that he distorts and edits film to suit his desired result. And to discuss Michael Moore in the same breath is shocking. I know of no incident where Moore has been accused and proven to edit his documentaries to give a different meaning of what happened. O’Keefe cannot make that claim.

  52. Raft,

    I don’t like the O’Keefes of the world…. But, to deny him the title of journalist…. Is to buy into the DiFis of the world….. He may be an idiot…. But, I don’t want to start the enforcement with him… Or his urine soaked brain….

  53. Mr. Greenberg, I’m “Nick,” and we are in total agreement, And, your are sympatico w/ most everyone here. I have not seen any polling on this issue. I hope to hell we’re not in the minority on this.

  54. rafflaw wrote: “To even consider that O’Keefe is a journalist is laughable. It has been proven that he distorts and edits film to suit his desired result. And to discuss Michael Moore in the same breath is shocking. I know of no incident where Moore has been accused and proven to edit his documentaries to give a different meaning of what happened. O’Keefe cannot make that claim.”

    Apparently you restrict yourself to liberal commentary. Moore has been attacked a great deal for dishonest journalism, especially in his films Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine.

    In regards to O’Keefe, if you are talking about the NPR piece a few years back, it was actually conservative Glenn Beck’s group The Blaze that first addressed the problems and questioned the ethical nature of O’Keefe’s edits. There are still some who do not believe he misrepresented anyone, but I agree with Glenn Beck’s group and think some of the edits were indeed questionable and misleading to some people who would view it. Nevertheless, the journalistic value is still valuable and useful.

    To Mr. O’Keefe’s credit, he is the one who released the raw footage so that everyone could evaluate his credibility as a journalist. Apparently he did not believe he misled anyone with his edits. I kind of chalk it up to a journalistic learning lesson for the young man. It kind of reminds me of how invariably, every year, many high school students in writing class are informed that they are guilty of plagiarism by not crediting a source. Hopefully O’Keefe will have learned something from it.

    One thing we can agree upon is that lying and distortion is wrong in journalism. While editing is necessary to present media within a reasonable timeframe, conducting editing in a way that changes what is said or directly mischaracterizes a person’s position or character is wrong. The most classic recent case of this wrong type of editing is NBC’s edit of the Zimmerman call where questions from the dispatcher were removed to make Zimmerman appear to be a racial profiler.

  55. raff, Moore uses cross cut editing to manipulate and yes, sometimes distort. He is better than O’Keefe, but that is damning w/ faint praise.

  56. Journalist and propagandist are not mutually exclusive terms. However, the later does defeat the credibility of the former. I’ll grant O’Keefe is a journalist. He is, without question, a propagandist first and foremost. He distorts and outright lies. That simply means he is a bad journalist and as such his credibility as a journalist should be and is zero if you consider good journalism requires veracity and verification of the facts first.

  57. nick,

    I don’t consider Moore a journalist. I consider him a documentary filmmaker with an agenda. The difference is more than semantic and more than just a difference in medium. For a documentary to have a directed message other than presenting facts is normal. What O’Keefe does is something else altogether. Moore is trying to start conversations based on how he personally interprets events – it’s commentary – whereas O’Keefe makes shit up and tries to pass it off as fact. Apples and oranges. That’s not meant as a defense of Moore either. In general, even though I like some of his work, I find him to be a putz, but genuine even with an agenda. O’Keefe is simply a liar.

  58. Gene, I am speaking about editing for the most part. I think most of us agree they both do similar type, ambush interviews. Some folks seemed troubled w/ the term “ambush” but that’s part of the vernacular. And, I think Moore is better @ it, using humor and “golly gee” quite well. Regarding the editing, which interests me, they both use it to manipulate and distort, to varying degrees. I agree w/ you, Moore’s venue is documentaries, and that gives him wider berth..as it were. O’Keefe uses tactics that are questionable as a journalist. I would use the term “stages” instead of “makes things up,” It appears O’Keefe may have staged this interview of Letten. But we’re pretty close I think. Neither are saints although their respective supporters see them as such. I am a supporter of neither. I just see this as part of the First Amendment stew. It can sometimes be bitter.

  59. Gene H wrote: “Moore is trying to start conversations based on how he personally interprets events – it’s commentary…”

    This is what O’Keefe is doing too, but on a much more limited budget with less development of his commentary. He wants them to say it in their own words whereas Moore is more inclined to put his words into the mouth of his subjects. O’Keefe is more like the poor man’s propaganda. I don’t see as much difference between the two as you do. I think you are more inclined toward accepting Moore only because you interpret and arrange facts the same way that Moore does.

  60. No David, I actually look at what the documentary and films say and what the truth is. It seems that Mr. O’Keefe likes to play fast and loose with the facts. I guess you don’t care about factual information. I don’t care what O’Keefe opines about, but I do care when he intentionally edits film to show a different meaning to suit his political whims.

  61. Gene H – And yet again, you rely on your trusted sources of propaganda rather than going to primary sources and interpreting facts for yourself. MediaMatters is one of the least credible sources of information on the internet. They are hugely bigoted against conservatives.

    Just look at the first entry they put about O’Keefe in your linke. “O’Keefe was caught…” Well, the truth is that O’Keefe put his video up and also posted his raw footage so people could see the context. The article, however, leads one to think that he was caught trying to be deceptive. They are guilty of the same thing for which they criticize O’Keefe. Then they continue with: “O’Keefe’s deception in this case was so blatant that it was criticized by Glenn Beck’s website.” Do they give credit to O’Keefe for providing the raw video footage? No. Do they provide commentary that such indicates honesty on the part of O’Keefe? No. They call him deceptive. Do they credit a conservative site of Glenn Beck for breaking the story? No. They make it sound like Glenn Beck’s site was kind of forced to agree with whoever caught O’Keefe. They take all the credit as if they alone caught O’Keefe are are exposing his deception. The truth is that O’Keefe did some misleading editing, but it was clearly an honest mistake on his part, being led down that road by his ideology and perhaps poor education about how to avoid those mistakes. MediaMatters is FAR MORE DECEPTIVE than O’Keefe ever was.

  62. rafflaw wrote: “… I do care when he intentionally edits film to show a different meaning to suit his political whims.”

    On this we agree, but you apparently fail to see it when someone of your political bent does the same thing. You seem to take the position of there not being any redeeming value in O’Keefe’s work once he has made some mistakes. If I had your standards, I would feel that way about 90% of the people on this blog and virtually all the media sources. I have the perspective that almost everyone falls into that trap, and we just have to deal with it when it appears. There is still some value in the underlying work.

  63. Thanks david for proving the validity of the arrest by citing the handbook. There is no question that okeefe was violating that policy since he had been stalking Letten and Letten in his workplace where he had every right to be asked him to leave. A shoplifter does not get a pass after walking out with the merchandise, he offers to give it back when approached by the police. His defense cannot be that he intended to return the item, but was prevented from doing so by the cop.

    I got a great laugh out of your assertion that both people had equal rights on that property. I suppose I can come to your workplace or home and demand equal rights with you. Let me know where you live or work, and I will be right over.

  64. Arthur Randolph Erb wrote: “There is no question that okeefe was violating that policy since he had been stalking Letten and Letten in his workplace where he had every right to be asked him to leave.”

    You must have information that I do not. Where is the evidence of stalking? I understood that O’Keefe tried to talk to him at home, and that he attempted to leave his book for him at the door, but his wife would not receive it. So he left. Then he found Mr. Letten on campus and tried to hand him the book there, only to have Mr. Letten throw it at him. Then he asked the question that he wanted, and after suffering harassing language from Mr. Letten, decided to leave, at which point he was harassed by the police.

    Do you have a video tape or reported information that is not being shared?

    Arthur Randolph Erb wrote: “A shoplifter does not get a pass after walking out with the merchandise… His defense cannot be that he intended to return the item, but was prevented from doing so by the cop.”

    Return the item? Are you of an understanding that Mr. O’Keefe was trying to return an item that he stole from from Mr. Letten? Again, you must know things about this situation that I do not know.

    Arthur Randolph Erb wrote: “I got a great laugh out of your assertion that both people had equal rights on that property.”

    I was speaking to the equality of respect, dignity and dialogue, not ownership rights of the property. Tulane University puts itself out there as a private non-sectarian university. Their goal is to foster education and dialogue. Tulane’s policy is: “Tulane University is committed to creating and maintaining a campus environment where all individuals are treated with respect and dignity and where all are free to participate in a lively exchange of ideas.” Both Letten and O’Keefe are expected to treat each other with respect and dignity. Because Mr. Letten is an employee of the university, he has an even greater responsibility to represent the university policy in this regard. From the video, it looks like Mr. O’Keefe was respectful but that Mr. Letten was not.

    Arthur Randolph Erb wrote: ” I suppose I can come to your workplace or home and demand equal rights with you.”

    Sure. You would be most welcome at my home. I would enjoy discussing your demand for equal rights.

  65. David,

    In case you haven’t figured it out yet?

    I’m not the usual sort of target propagandists like.

    Nor is Media Matters a website that propagandists like.

    But thanks for the laugh.

  66. O’Keefe has made “some” mistakes?

    Wow! Having to pay $100K to one of his victims and being convicted of false pretenses for trying to scam a US Senator. That escapade resulted in a fine and three years Federal probation .

    “Some mistakes” indeed.

  67. Inasmuch as I am aware of Louisiana and New Orleans law on the matter–the private security company which once employed me was exceedingly lax when it came to educating their employees–a private security officer may only detain an individual if a felony is in the process of being committed.

    Which is to say, even a rent-a-cop could’ve detained the little weasels as they attempted to tap into the official office phone lines of a sitting senator, disguised, albeit poorly, as “legitimate” maintenance technicians. For whatever reason, O’Keefe and his cronies got off lightly. As one such crony was the son of one of Letten’s professional acquaintances, Letten recused himself from the case. There’s a fascinating website called Google which will provide links to unbiased actual journalism on the incident.

    A police officer has more latitude when it comes to briefly detaining an individual on private or public property.

    Now, as for O’Keefe’s plan to detain a female reporter on a houseboat stocked with sex toys… That could’ve possibly resulted in charges, had not one of his own associates found his plan morally indefensible and called to warn the reporter beforehand.

  68. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video or even read any further once I saw the phrase “edited by O’Keefe” in the text. My stomach just isn’t strong enough anymore.

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