Conservative activist James O'Keefe - who gained fame when he posed as a pimp and surreptiously filmed ACORN workers giving him advice on how to facilitate his business - is at it again, this time filming a New Jersey teachers' union convention during which attendees dissed Gov. Chris Christie in colorful language and joked about how hard it is to fire a tenured teacher. The action took place at a hotel bar, and they seemed a bit inebriated. According to the union, O'Keefe and the so-called "citizen journalists" who used hidden cameras to film the teachers contributed to that inebriation by buying drinks and trying to pick them up. The tapes, NJEA contends, were heavily edited.
I sympathize with the NJEA on this one - especially the union reps who were taped without their knowledge. And I can't help remembering a column just a few weeks back by Leonard Pitts Jr. about O'Keefe and the whole idea of "citizen journalism":
"This is journalism? No. ... Journalism is obsessing over nit-picky questions of fairness and context. Journalism is trying to get the story and get it right."
Not, in other words, tricking people, secretly recording them and possibly taking statements out of context to make a political point.
The story of O'Keefe and the NJEA tape has been getting a lot of media play. Frankly, I looked at it, and it doesn't contain any startling revelations as far as I can see. Yes, union reps from various school districts don't like Christie and - after a few drinks, when they may have been egged on and don't think they're being taped - they can get pretty mean and crude about it. The governor, in fact, has fostered that kind of personal animosity with his own comments.
And yes, it's very hard to fire a tenured teacher. Who doesn't know that?
If you view the tape - and some of the language is raw - read Pitts' column too.