Matt C. Abbott
O'Keefe arrest: conservatives' 'love affair' with Alinsky?
By Matt C. Abbott
February 10, 2010

Catholic writers Dawn Eden and William Doino Jr. have penned an interesting commentary that appears on (excerpted below; click here for the full article):

    'Conservatives have long criticized the lingering effects of the 1960s, and not without reason... Among the era's gifts to posterity is the continued popularity of the in-your-face tactics that Saul Alinsky promoted in his cult classic Rules for Radicals, which begins with an 'acknowledgment' giving props to 'the very first radical... Lucifer.'

    'When purported revelations emerged during the 2008 campaign which were held to show that Barack Obama was in some way influenced by the Chicago organizer (and which were somewhat verified, oddly, by Alinsky's son), opponents of The One fell over themselves to denounce Rules for Radicals.

    'But a curious thing happened along the way of exposing the alleged Alinsky-like tactics of the modern Left: Some conservatives became Alinskyites themselves.

    'Case in point: the recent arrest of James O'Keefe, who shot to fame last September after he and a female undergrad, Hannah Giles, dressed as a pimp and prostitute to secretly videotape ACORN employees who seemed eager to aid their purported illegal activities. As the 25-year-old self-described 'investigative journalist' began to make national news (in stories featuring photos and video of the barely legal Giles in her 'hooker' garb), he boasted to the New York Post that he was using Alinsky's tactics against the Left to beat them at their own game. When posting his ACORN videos on the Big Government blog, he often pointed out which of Alinsky's rules he used to make the clips.

    'O'Keefe's contention that his adaptation of radical tactics was 'the future of activism' found an approving audience among numerous conservatives and libertarians...

    'O'Keefe's follow-up act has not been nearly as successful. On January 26, he and three male associates were arrested for allegedly plotting to tamper with the telephone system of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's New Orleans office. All four were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony....

    'The mainstream media — already hostile toward the young upstart for scooping them on ACORN — misreported the story, falsely reporting the accused were charged with wiretapping, and both O'Keefe and his supporters have justifiably criticized liberal journalists for their bias. Still, upon reflection, his much-heralded exposé of ACORN should have set off warning bells for his conservative supporters. Was it really necessary to have an undergrad disguised as a scantily clad prostitute to expose the organization? Might this lurid sexual angle be a reason for the story's popularity? And did not his helping a young woman exploit herself on national television belie his supposed concern that ACORN might be enabling the exploitation of real-life prostitutes? Or was he simply following Alinsky's third rule of ethics — that 'in war the end justifies almost any means'?

    'In fairness to O'Keefe, he does not describe himself as a conservative, but rather, a 'progressive radical.' At the same time, he calls G.K. Chesterton his 'intellectual backbone'....

    'If this is meant to imply some kind of common ground between Chestertonian and Alinsky-style tactics, O'Keefe needs a healthy reality check. Chesterton was not a progressive, much less radical, but a Catholic with an intensely Christian vision. His writings and novels attack just the kind of anarchy, relativism and subversion Alinsky embraced. Whereas Alinsky promoted rumormongering and, in the words of Time magazine, 'something that comes very close to blackmail,' Chesterton followed St. Paul's dictum that we cannot do evil that good may come. Alinsky believed in the politics of personal destruction ('pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it'). Chesterton embraced all people, however misguided, and tried to lead them to God, with good will and reason. Chesterton served Christ. Alinsky — who boasted he would one day organize hell — served, well, Lucifer....'

Upon seeing the above commentary, I almost immediately thought of Lila Rose and Live Action Films. Could Rose, whose work I support, be placed in the same moral category as O'Keefe and Giles? I asked Dawn Eden: What are your thoughts about what Rose has been doing with regard to Planned Parenthood?

Eden responded (via e-mail):

    'Having met Lila Rose, and having followed Live Action Films from its first videos, I view its work in a different light than I do James O'Keefe's ACORN exposés.

    'Both O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, the 20-year-old undergrad who plays the prostitute in the ACORN videos, made Giles' 'hooker' persona a major selling point of the videos. In one video from their San Diego exposé, an ACORN employee inquires about Giles' fee and O'Keefe responds with a suitably lecherous tone that she's 'special.' At the end of the video, after they leave the ACORN office, apparently to show the viewing audience just how 'special' she is, O'Keefe's camera follows Giles to a spot where she looks across from a hillside to a valley. As dance music plays, O'Keefe's camera sweeps across her back, catching her rear end in short-shorts as she moves it from side to side. O'Keefe may think he's Mike Wallace, but his treatment of Giles is pure Hugh Hefner.

    'Conversely, in the Live Action videos, no public effort is made to tart up Lila Rose or her fellow actresses. Neither are Rose or the other actresses seen to joke about their purported sex lives or trying to tell tall tales to the Planned Parenthood counselors about how 'special' they are in bed. Rose and her actresses are not 'stars,' and they do not exploit themselves. Rather, they try to make themselves as invisible as possible, in order to show the crimes that take place behind Planned Parenthood's closed doors.

    'Also, whereas William and I take O'Keefe to task for his open admiration of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, I have not read any quotes from Lila Rose about modeling her activism on that of Alinsky. O'Keefe did tell the Los Angeles Times that he and Rose followed a certain Alinsky maxim — 'Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules' — but Rose herself does not appear to have taken Alinsky's tactics to heart in the manner that O'Keefe has. As William Doino and I point out, O'Keefe, in posting ACORN videos to the Big Government blog, often pointed out which Alinsky rules he used to make each video.

    'Whether or not Rose is following Alinsky's playbook is important, because, if she were, then she would believe that 'in war, the end justifies almost any means.' I see that mentality in O'Keefe's misguided bravado — thinking he could walk into Sen. Landrieu's office, in a federal building, and pull off whatever he was trying to pull off. But I don't see it in Rose's work.

    'Having said that, one point that underlies William's and my op-ed is that doing media exposés in which one is the star, especially on blogs, can easily put one into a sort of 'thrill cycle.' With the immediate feedback one receives, one feels one has to keep doing bigger, better, more outrageous work to keep the readers coming back for more. I know this myself, as a former blogger — the thrill of instant, widespread attention is addictive. And one feels that whatever one is doing right now is so terribly important.

    'But the truth is that the biggest overnight media sensations, as William and I note, often have the smallest impact on people's opinions and behaviors in the long term. Conversely, the slow, slogging, day-in-day-out work of people like those in 40 Days for Life, who do prayer and fasting in hope of ending abortion, may well ultimately have the greatest impact in creating a truly pro-life America.

    'So I think that the O'Keefe arrest marks an opportunity for all of us in the pro-life media to do some soul-searching on how we can best use our gifts to positively affect generations to come. And I think that, ultimately, the most lasting good work that any of us will do, will not be 'activism' per se, but rather, building up and protecting the family — both our own family, and our spiritual family, which is the Church.'


© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media, and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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