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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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….

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. “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.

  8. Mr. Greenberg, What is your take on the Feinstein attempt to define journalism?

  9. 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.

    1. 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.

  10. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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

        1. 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.

          1. 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.

  11. To me, Letten looks like a bully. I wonder how brave he is without security nearby.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

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

  16. 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. 🙂

  17. Lotta, Please read what I’ve said several times about the ambush interview similarity.

  18. 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.

    1. 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.

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