Making up lies that brought down ACORN … dressing as a pimp in fake videos … tampering with the phones in a U.S. Senator’s office, and targeting the Census Bureau … and now, a vulgar, sexist stunt aimed at CNN. Is this the end of the O’Keefe era in right wing journalism?
Lusby, Maryland (CNN) — A conservative activist known for making undercover videos plotted to embarrass a CNN correspondent by recording a meeting on hidden cameras aboard a floating “palace of pleasure” and making sexually suggestive comments, e-mails and a planning document show.
James O’Keefe, best known for hitting the community organizing group ACORN with an undercover video sting, hoped to get CNN Investigative Correspondent Abbie Boudreau onto a boat filled with sexually explicit props and then record the session, those documents show.
The plan apparently was thwarted after Boudreau was warned minutes before it was supposed to happen.
“I never intended to become part of the story,” Boudreau said. “But things suddenly took a very strange turn.”
Boudreau was shooting a documentary on young right wingers that airs this Saturday. The group allegedly planned to give Fox “News” a “heads up” about the sting, so they could use the video to embarrass CNN. Fox denies getting any advanced word, of course. The plot was pretty elaborate (read the whole CNN post for details) and was only thwarted when a woman associated with O’Keefe got cold feet, and tipped Boudreau off:
CNN was forwarded an e-mail, sent from O’Keefe’s e-mail address, to the executive director of Project Veritas, Izzy Santa; and two conservative activists, Ben Wetmore of New Orleans and Jonathon Burns of St. Louis, Missouri, dated after the call with Boudreau.
“Getting Closer,” the e-mail states. “Audio attached conversation with Abbie. What do you think of her reaction guys. She said she could do it Monday, Tuesday. Ben, you think I could get her on the boat?”
Boudreau flew to Baltimore, Maryland, on August 17, rented a car, and drove to suburban Lusby, where O’Keefe wanted to meet. O’Keefe sent a text message to Boudreau that morning, saying that Santa would meet her when she got there.
When Boudreau arrived at the address, a house located on a tributary of the Patuxent River, Santa approached her with a tape recorder in her hand and said she wanted to talk in the car, Boudreau said.
“I noticed she had a little bit of dirt on her face, her lip was shaking, she seemed really uncomfortable and I asked her if she was OK,” Boudreau said. “The first thing she basically said to me was, ‘I’m not recording you, I’m not recording you. Are you recording me?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not recording you,’ and she showed me her digital recorder and it was not recording.”
Santa told Boudreau that O’Keefe planned to “punk” her by getting on a boat where hidden cameras were set up. Boudreau said she would not get on the boat and asked Santa why O’Keefe wanted her there.
“Izzy told me that James was going to be dressed up and have strawberries and champagne on the boat, and he was going to hit on me the whole time,” Boudreau said.
A short time later, O’Keefe emerged from a boat docked behind the house. In that brief conversation, Boudreau told O’Keefe that he did not have permission to record her, and reminded him that the meeting was solely to discuss the upcoming music video shoot, and he had never mentioned that he wanted to tape their meeting.
Boudreau ended the meeting and left. After the incident, Santa gave CNN a series of e-mails she says shows O’Keefe intended to try to embarrass both the network and Boudreau through an elaborate plan.
There was also apparently a memo produced that discussed various options if O’Keefe and company got caught, and which made it clear they meant to go after not just CNN, but also to humiliate Boudreau:
CNN later obtained a copy of a 13-page document titled “CNN Caper,” which appears to describe O’Keefe’s detailed plans for that day.
“The plans appeared so outlandish and so juvenile in tone, I questioned whether it was part of a second attempted punk,” Boudreau said.
But in a phone conversation, Santa confirmed the document was authentic. Listed under “equipment needed,” is “hidden cams on the boat,” and a “tripod and overt recorder near the bed, an obvious sex tape machine.”
Among the props listed were a “condom jar, dildos, posters and paintings of naked women, fuzzy handcuffs” and a blindfold.
According to the document, O’Keefe was to record a video of the following script before Boudreau arrived: “My name is James. I work in video activism and journalism. I’ve been approached by CNN for an interview where I know what their angle is: they want to portray me and my friends as crazies, as non-journalists, as unprofessional and likely as homophobes, racists or bigots of some sort….
“Instead, I’ve decided to have a little fun. Instead of giving her a serious interview, I’m going to punk CNN. Abbie has been trying to seduce me to use me, in order to spin a lie about me. So, I’m going to seduce her, on camera, to use her for a video. This bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five will get a taste of her own medicine, she’ll get seduced on camera and you’ll get to see the awkwardness and the aftermath.
“Please sit back and enjoy the show.”
… The document states it was written by “Ben.” According to the e-mail chain obtained by CNN, Ben Wetmore sent the document to O’Keefe and Santa. In a statement e-mailed to CNN, O’Keefe wrote: “That is not my work product. When it was sent to me, I immediately found certain elements highly objectionable and inappropriate, and did not consider them for one minute following it.”
He did not respond to follow-up questions. Wetmore did not respond to our questions about the document. Instead, he posted a YouTube video criticizing CNN’s coverage of the ACORN story.
Burns did not respond to CNN. The “CNN Caper” document warned O’Keefe about how to handle potential problems.
“If CNN gets advance warning and you find this out, you should simply cancel the operation, period,” the document states. “You’re in a position of strength. Make her [Boudreau] come to you. To leave the boat kills the operation.”
The document discusses the potential fallout from the operation.
“If they pursue this as you are a creep, you should play it up with them initially only to reveal that the tape was made beforehand confirming this was a gag,” the document states. “If they [CNN] admit it was a gag, you should release the footage and focus on the fact they got punked, and make sure to emphasize Abbie’s name and overall status to help burden her career with this video, incident and her bad judgment in pursuing you so aggressively.”
Finally, “if they go on the attack, you should point out the hypocrisy in CNN using the inherent sexuality of these women to sell viewers and for ratings, passing up more esteemed and respectable journalists who aren’t bubble-headed bleach blondes and keep the focus on CNN.”
Conservative reaction to the stunt has been all over the place, with only one clear denunciation (from Brent Bozell of all people,) and not a word from O’Keefe’s mentor, Andrew Breitbart, other than to bitchily threaten to sue Oliver Willis for libel for associating O’Keefe with him. But at least they’re not looking to give the kid a Pullitzer, this time…