There's no telling how many James O'Keefe wannabes are out there, carrying hidden cameras into progressive organizations and trying to trap staffers into saying something that can be heavily edited into a video implying that they advocate breaking the law. There are two ways we find out they're at work. Either they release a new video, probably even more deceptive than the ones before, or they get busted by the object of an attempted sting. Busting them is a beautiful thing, so thanks to two affiliates of the Industrial Areas Foundation and Michael Powell of the New York Times for puncturing the O'Keefe-style dreams of one John M. Howting this week.
Howting showed up at Manhattan Together and East Brooklyn Congregations, both affiliates of Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation, "lugging a heavy bag" and asking all kinds of questions. At Manhattan Together, he asked about how to form a union at the environmental company he claimed to work for, because:
He wanted to know how to get higher wages.As organizer Rhea Byer-Ettinger recounts, that sounded alarm bells, and "I said to him: 'Well, that’s not how we work. Tell me, why are you asking me about that?'" Grant Lindsay, an organizer at East Brooklyn Congregations, similarly tells Powell that "I will say I had a gut reaction: Is this some sort of weird sting? ... I figured I’m just naturally a little suspicious."
And, oh yes, he had another question: If he formed a union, could his fellow workers join with the employer to shake down politicians for more money?
Howting was being greedy. In addition to trying to pull off a sting that would involve the conservative-catnip name Saul Alinsky, however posthumously, he was simultaneously looking to get juicy quotes about union organizing and create a Solyndra-style story. But subtlety is clearly not his thing—this is someone who was accused of "slathering tanning oil on his face and trying to pass as a Latino liberal activist" while still in college. It makes sense. The lesson young conservatives have learned is that if you pick the right target, being wildly and transparently deceptive will make you a celebrity eligible for years of wingnut welfare on the lecture circuit.
Every progressive organization has to be alert to these attempts. The Economic Policy Institute has already blown the whistle on another such effort by O'Keefe's Project Veritas, and there's no telling how many hidden camera efforts have ended silently, without even enough material to distort into a scandal attempt but without the intended targets realizing or publicizing what had happened. And when they do get busted, we need to pay attention to what the attempt looked like—but also take a few minutes to point and laugh.