Zev Chafets caught up with James O'Keefe for The New York Times Magazine while he was doing court-ordered community service in New Jersey. The 27-year-old activist and undercover moviemaker is on probation for three years after he pleaded guilty to charges related to breaking into Senator Mary Landrieu's office in 2010, but he's still working on the sting operations that have made him famous. O'Keefe won national recognition for secretly taping ACORN offering financial advice to him and an actress while they were posing as a pimp and prostitute in 2009 and this year filmed comments that led to the resignations of top executives at NPR.
Now O'Keefe says his undercover journalism skills are in high demand, but Chafets seems to struggle with whether or not "journalism" is the best word to describe the young man. The profile inevitably offers a glimpse into the O'Keefe's odd process:
O’Keefe’s stings, marked by outlandish costumes and outrageous stories, are as much theater as political statement. But there is nothing of the merry prankster about him. He is a worrier, with the bitten-down fingernails to prove it. He has a keen eye for the absurdity and hypocrisy of others, but it is unmatched by self-deprecating humor or a discernible sense of fun. …
Gold and silver bars, a black Corvette, a mysterious shipment--I still had no idea what O’Keefe’s sting was going to be. But no matter what it exposed, I doubted it would be more frightening than the fact that two young guys, one in a kilt, the other equipped with a video camera, can film the Statue of Liberty, the New Jersey docks and a major international airport without attracting any attention.
The profile is further riddled with strange stories about O'Keefe's life on probation. If there's one crystalizing quote, though, it's this: "People can’t control me," O’Keefe says.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.