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. 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

  3. 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.

    • 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.

  4. 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.

    • 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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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