Very few people actually know what happened last week in Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office. That didn’t stop multiple news outlets of dropping the phrase “wiretapping” around liberally (no pun intended) when reporting that James O’Keefe, Stan Dai, Joe Basel, and Robert Flanagan were arrested. Of course, that meant echoes of Watergate coloring the commentary – even though the official documents make no such accusation.
Watergate makes for an interesting comparison here – not in any crimes perpetrated, obviously, but in reporting. Anyone who has read All the President’s Men – or, like me, simply seen the movie – knows that Watergate was exposed by tireless investigative journalism by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They spent months digging, to prove their case. They did not print half-truths and echo reports from the AP.
Beyond the statement made by O’Keefe, I know nothing about this case. I am a fan of O’Keefe’s and Dai’s work from their days at Rutgers and George Washington, respectively, which I got to witness when I was working at the Leadership Institute. I have a strong suspicion that whatever information they were looking for probably would have been politically – but not personally – damaging to Sen. Landrieu.
But to make any allegations beyond that would be wrong for me and certainly wrong for anyone who considers themselves an actual journalist. MSNBC and other outlets showed no such restraint.
In fact, one might argue that these arrests – like the Watergate arrests – are the beginning, rather than the end, of the questions. These guys were looking for something – O’Keefe says that Landrieu’s constituents were calling the office but couldn’t get through, and he thought they were ignoring calls.
If citizens are trying to participate but can’t, isn’t that a pretty big story?