Zev Chafets and the New York Times Magazine have already gotten hammered for their profile of video provocateur James O’Keefe. Mediaite’s Frances Martel notes that Chafets’s indulgent treatment turns O’Keefe into “an action hero.”
Perhaps the fawning coverage was Chafets’s way of appreciating the access that O’Keefe had given him. Pillars of the mainstream media, after all, don’t often get ride-alongs with O’Keefe, as Chafets did. Yet even if you don’t like the way Chafets spun the Acorn or NPR video stings, or O’Keefe’s latest stuff on Medicaid, the access did yield one moment that justifies the price of admission. In one passage, Chafets narrates a brainstorming session involving O’Keefe and two others — Vanessa Jean-Louis and Shaun Adeleye. Here’s the text:
“There has always been a sense of family in the African-American community, and it is being chipped away,” Adeleye said.
O’Keefe sat on the couch, a computer on his lap, typing. Adeleye said, “We should expose the incentives that the system gives for fatherless families.”
“What agencies do this?” O’Keefe asked.
“Welfare,” Jean-Louis said.
“We need to find out the specifics,” O’Keefe said. He didn’t challenge Jean-Louis’s assumption; it is standard conservative doctrine. But there is a difference between a topic and a story.
“A couple could approach a caseworker and say they’re thinking of getting married, but they can’t decide if they should because it might be a loss in benefits,” Adeleye offered.
“A mom and a baby daddy, and the caseworker telling them not to get married,” Jean-Louis added.
“Even if they love each other,” O’Keefe said, giving the story an emotional center. “If the caseworker still says not to get married, that would be really powerful. Of course the headline will say, ‘O’Keefe Goes After Welfare,’ but some people actually need welfare. We’re looking to expose people who don’t. Maybe we should give the couple good jobs. That way there would be no economic justification for telling them to stay on welfare.”
“Right,” Jean-Louis. “A caseworker telling a black man not to marry.”
“A white caseworker,” Adeleye said.
Jean-Louis laughed. “A white male caseworker telling a black male.”
“You won’t find a white male caseworker,” Adeleye said.
“O.K., a white woman caseworker telling a black man not to marry a black woman. You know sisters are going to be outraged at that!”
“Maybe we should do a comparison video,” O’Keefe said, “with a white couple or a white man.”
“Oh, wow!” Jean-Louis said. “If there is no racial aspect to this, if it is just policy, it’s bigger than just race!”
“Exactly,” O’Keefe said. “Marriage is being challenged, made extinct.”
One of the common slams against traditional news outlets is that they make up their minds about a story before making even the first phone call. If so, they’ve got company.