By The Gettysburgian Editorial Board
THE ISSUE: The Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) club at Gettysburg College is seeking $2,000 from the Student Senate to invite James O’Keefe to speak on campus. O’Keefe is known for his style of gotcha journalism. In 2009, O’Keefe made headlines by releasing misleading footage of workers at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and subsequently agreeing to pay a $100,000 settlement to a former employee of ACORN who had been fired due to the illegal recording. More recently, O’Keefe planted a fake Roy Moore accuser in an attempt to humiliate the Washington Post and discredit other accusers. In 2010, O’Keefe started Project Veritas, a nonprofit group whose mission is to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions in order to achieve a more ethical and transparent society.”
OUR OPINION: Less than a month ago, the Student Senate approved a statement of institutional philosophy on Freedom of Expression. By doing so, the Student Senate set a bar for discourse at Gettysburg College. Inviting James O’Keefe to campus does not reach this bar.
Within the philosophy is the statement: “Thus, the College may seek to restrict expression that… constitutes slander, threats, or harassment.” O’Keefe’s work is slanderous. Secret recordings, baiting interviewees, and misleading editing are hallmarks of his work.
As a registered 501(c)3, Project Veritas is a non-partisan organization. Likewise, The Gettysburgian’s view is not the result of partisan influences. Such dishonest and malicious practices should be condemned whether they stem from the political right or left.
In 2010, Abbie Boudreau, a CNN Investigative Correspondent, was conducting interviews for a piece on young conservative activists and was put into contact with O’Keefe. According to a CNN report, O’Keefe attempted to get Boudreau “onto a boat filled with sexually explicit props and then record the session.” After receiving a tip about the impending encounter, Boudreau walked away. Likewise, we advise the Student Senate to walk away.
The remedy we seek is simply that Senate not fund the speech by someone whose entire public persona is predicated upon — and rooted in — an unapologetic propensity for slander.
“You think posing as a [rape] victim is hardcore? You should see a lot of the other aliases we use,” O’Keefe told Mediaite after Project Veritas’s attempt to plant a false rape accusation against Roy Moore in The Washington Post (ostensibly so it could turn around and accuse the paper of bias) was exposed by The Post’s standard fact checking.
Slander occurs when one promulgates false and malicious allegations designed to impugn the character of individuals and organizations. O’Keefe fits the bill.
Senate is a student-led organization that prides itself on serving the best interests of the student body. This year, Senate made a commitment to be an activist body dedicated to promoting the best interests of Gettysburg College students. Sometimes, activism means saying no.
Our institutional philosophy on the freedom of expression is one that intends to hold a standard for the intellectual and academic integrity of the college and the students who have entrusted this college with their education. Giving voice to a man that has used his power and influence to slander others and tarnish the integrity of the media does not reflect that intention.
Furthermore, while we believe a strong case can be made that O’Keefe’s speech would likely constitute “slander, threats, or harassment” and can thus be restricted on those grounds, even if it does not, Senate is under no obligation to fund every budget request that comes to the floor. The student body relies on its elected representatives to make prudent choices about how to allocate the $91,511 it receives each year for student programming.
To spend $2,000 — 2.2 percent — of that on funding a slanderous repository of lies and deceit would be grotesquely irresponsible.
At the campus-wide town hall on freedom of expression, committee chair Dr. Jennifer Bloomquist said that she wanted a philosophy that allowed for everyone from Robert Spencer to Angela Davis to speak at Gettysburg College.
However, we believe that O’Keefe falls outside of those bounds given his overt commitment to promulgating slanderous falsehood.
Accordingly, the editors of The Gettysburgian urge Student Senate to refuse YAF’s budget request to bring O’Keefe to campus.
This editorial reflects the collective opinion of The Gettysburgian’s editorial board: Jamie Welch (editor-in-chief), Joshua Wagner (opinions editor), Benjamin Pontz (managing news editor), Alex Romano (associate editor), Katherine Lentz (arts & entertainment editor), Gauri Mangala (co-features editor), Noelle Zimmerman (co-features editor), Claire Healey (co-sports editor), Elizabeth Hilfrank (co-sports editor), and Morgan Hubbard (lead copyeditor). The editor-in-chief bears final responsibility for all editorial content, and questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.