The latest James O’Keefe Candid Camera stunt is supposed to show corruption in the Medicaid system. As in his earlier video hit-jobs on ACORN and NPR, O’Keefe’s colorful crew of community theater rejects pose as outrageous and unsavory stereotypes—this time, drug-smuggling Russians with the worst accents since “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” who are pimping out their “sisters” for sex. The O’Keefe Players manage to find a jolly, badly-trained, none-too-swift Ohio Medicaid worker who giggles away their confessions of wanting to defraud Medicaid and dealing illegal drugs. The video of the dumb encounter—dumb charade, dumber government employee—has been posted on YouTube. More of the same, presumably, is on the way.
If you’re as bored with this as I am, please tell O’Keefe to stop. Of course his act is as unethical as his “Russians'” accents are embarrassing:
- O’Keefe claims to be a journalist. He isn’t. He’s an ideological political activist, and only sets out to “prove” what he already believes, and wants to believe.
- If he was a journalist, his methods would be a clear violation of ethical standards. A journalist is supposed avoid such misrepresentations except in cases where there is no other way to uncover important information that the public needs to know. O’Keefe uses this last resort as his first and only resort.
- O’Keefe is not a law enforcement official. The police and federal authorities can set up and film such stings, because they are seeking evidence admissible in court, and require a reasonable suspicion, approved as such by a judge, in order to use similar tactics. O’Keefe is a vigilante, which is a problem all by itself. Freelancing crime-stoppers are irresponsible (sorry, Batman!), unregulated, and likely to do more harm than good, such as making genuine investigations more difficult.
- Hidden cameras, surreptitious taping, and eavesdropping are all dishonest and unethical per se. If they are going to be ethically acceptable, it can only be through ethical balancing: the ends must justify the means. O’Keefe’s objectives–his ends—are personal notoriety and political point-scoring, not truth (as if he were a journalist), and not law-enforcement (as if he were a law enforcement official).
- O’Keefe has no credibility. He has edited his past videos so elaborately that even the most egregious results are subject to question. How many Medicaid offices did his Russians visit before someone gave him juicy footage? Would he post videos of Medicaid employees throwing his actors out of their offices or calling the police? How do we know that the incident on the video wasn’t an anomaly?
- All his elaborate gag proves is that one sadly incompetent and miserably trained woman behaved outrageously. She has been nationally humiliated, and will lose her job. Is she typical? Who knows? Was Ohio’s Medicaid preparing to fire her already? Maybe. What procedures already exist in Ohio to uncover such incompetence? We don’t know.
I was going to post the video, but decided that I’m not going to enable O’Keefe any more than I have to; you can watch it here. Creating fake situations to entice people into acting badly, filming the most embarrassing encounters and posting them on the web is such a despicable, unfair, mean-spirited act that we must reject it, unless the good it achieves is clear and overwhelming, the architects of the sting are responsible, unbiased and credible, and their motives are selfless and public-spirited.
O’Keefe fails on all of these.