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James O’Keefe quickly became a household name in 2009 after going undercover to investigate the group ACORN, showing corruption in multiple offices, and eventually leading Congress to vote to cut ties with the organization. Since then, he has uncovered fraud and abuse at other tax-payer funded organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the New Jersey Education System, National Public Radio and Medicaid.
O’Keefe, president of Project Veritas, a non-profit organization dedicated to training citizen journalists, and author of the new book BREAKTHROUGH: Our Guerrilla War to Expose Fraud and Save Democracy, spoke with Watchdog Wire and answered our questions about the book before its official release date on June 18. Here is what he had to say:
WDW: Why did you write BREAKTHROUGH: Our Guerrilla War to Expose Fraud and Save Democracy? What do you hope readers will learn or take away from the book?
JO: There are scandals all around; IRS, DOJ, NSA…Americans are feeling as helpless as ever in the fight to maintain our existence as a free people. Yet we hear people say “someone should do something about it.” “If only someone would just do something.”
Well, that someone is you. This book is a field guide; a handbook for how to make a difference. Filled with rules and lessons, it is the story of how a bunch of citizens without resources or journalism degrees subverted the media, survived harrowing legal challenges, and shook up Washington. Just by exposing the truth, multiple laws were changed, organizations were defunded, elected officials were held accountable and a movement began. Journalism works when it is tried. The Democratic process works when people have more information, although our adversaries always wanted less.
What Saul Alinsky did for President Obama, this book does for the next generation. Anybody who wants to achieve social change needs to read BREAKTHROUGH to understand the physical and moral courage required to make a difference; to understand that it is in fact possible to restore truth to journalism.
WDW: In BREAKTHROUGH, you criticize the mainstream media pretty extensively. In your opinion, what does the MSM need to do differently? Are they properly serving the American public?
JO: Real journalism has been dead for a long time now. The media should be natural allies with the citizen journalist. Unfortunately, alleged news gatherers like, say, Politico are, in fact, statist-orientated operations read mostly by political insiders. The Government complex is the source of their revenue and readership. They’re cozy with this administration due to three factors; ambition, shared politics, and a pinch of fear.
WDW: Can you share one tip or trade secret revealed in BREAKTHROUGH? Our citizen journalists want to learn from the expert!
JO: There are 39 Veritas Rules in the book, formulated by trudging my way through legal and media swamps which few have ventured. One that is particularly timely is Rule #17: Never Let Your Guard Down. You are always behind enemy lines. A former CIA guy once told me that unlike some other professions, there is no “home” for the guerrilla journalist. Forces are working against you wherever you are – especially when you are investigating something like the New Jersey teachers unions and you live in New Jersey. All of this is particularly timely given the recent revelation of the extent of NSA surveillance. We must get used to the fact that this is a changed world and we must adapt accordingly.
WDW: In BREAKTHROUGH, you note that your journalism has led you to the disheartening conclusion that
Americans aren’t nearly as free a people as we may believe. Why aren’t we a free people? Can we reverse this?
JO: The book shows our vote is so disenfranchised that anybody can walk into a poll location and obtain your ballot. It has shown that the federal government can destroy evidence and charge you with bogus crimes and the media will not report it. BREAKTHROUGH gives so many examples of the type of power structure we are contending against, but it is hopeful because it shows that it is possible to do something about it.
WDW: You use the word “Our” in the book title when referring to the “War to Expose Fraud and Democracy.” Are you asking readers to join the cause of citizen journalism? Do you believe that ordinary citizens and independent journalists can still break through the media firewall to reshape public opinion and inspire political reform?
JO: At the end of the day, citizens are the ones on the front lines, not the media. The biggest stories have and currently are being broken by citizens. Scott Prouty, a bartender, not a seasoned journalist broke the 47% video that swayed the election. Anyone is capable of effecting change if they have the courage and desire to do so.
WDW: In BREAKTHROUGH, you reveal that there were many attempts to suppress and even silence you in your efforts to expose the truth. Do you believe that our First Amendment rights are at risk or under attack in America? If so, what does this mean for citizen journalists and watchdogs?
JO: The book is free of ideology. Unfortunately ideologues decry whistleblowers when the facts being exposed do not advance their particular policy view. This happens more on the Left. “Liberalism” often yields to fascism. BREAKTHROUGH tells the story about how Daily Kos sent 100,000 petitions to the New Hampshire Attorney General asking for my prosecution just because we revealed with facts that voter fraud was possible. So what you have is an effort to suppress information and the truth in order to advance a worldview that is not in line with a particular ideology.
I was sued by ACORN on “invasion of privacy” grounds, under the two-party consent statute in California. I argued the law was antithetical to the First Amendment because it protected public officials from being exposed. Many were happy to see me sued, but were unhappy at the thought David Corn at Mother Jones would ever be sued for violating the two-party consent statute in Florida because his 47% tape helped President Obama. It is the politicization of the First Amendment that sets a dangerous precedent for the citizen journalist moving forward.
WDW: In BREAKTHROUGH, you show how your success has come at a price. Has your experience hurt your resolve or discouraged you from continuing your style of investigative journalism? What would you say to other citizen journalists who may be scared or intimidated to report the truth?
JO: To be a muckraking journalist in 2013 is not for the faint of heart. You must either be a glutton for punishment, insane, or a true believer in the cause of transparency and accountability. So you must be a true believer. And if you’re a true believer you will know that it’s no surprise they will try to ruin the reputations of those who try and expose them. You have to be willing to put your reputation on the line. My advice is to just get out there and start working. The book details how to navigate those waters into a headwind. The important thing is never giving up and always having the will to continue.
Watchdog Wire thanks James O’Keefe for this interview, and all the work Project Veritas has done to continue the legacy and of citizen journalism. Watchdog Wire will be featuring James as our “Tweet-up” guest on Wednesday, June 19– the day after BREAKTHROUGH’s official release. You can ask him your own questions about BREAKTHROUGH and the how citizen journalists can play a role in exposing government corruption. Use the #WDWTU hash-tag to join the conversation and learn more about the tweet-up details here.
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