The XX Factor

James O’Keefe and the Politics of Misogyny

I was struck by one detail about conservative activist James O’Keefe’s jilted plan to film a “faux” seduction of a CNN reporter - his group’s misogynist justification for the stunt. The backstory, for anyone who missed it: CNN reported that O’Keefe, the “pimp” from those undercover ACORN videos (which, as it turned out, were heavily edited ) tried to turn the tables on Abbie Boudreau, who was reporting on young conservative activists and wanted permission to attend a music video shoot O’Keefe was going to be in. He got Boudreau to agree to fly down to Maryland so they could discuss her request - but his real plan, according to documents and a female colleague of O’Keefe’s, was to lure Boudreau onto a boat that was studded with hidden cameras and sex paraphernalia. (According to a planning document for the so-called “CNN Caper,” music by Marvin Gaye was dismissed as “too cliché,” but ” fuzzy handcuffs” and a ceiling mirror were just fine. Strange.)

The plan was foiled when Boudreau was tipped off, and in the days since, O’Keefe has tried to distance himself from his group’s planning document. Meanwhile, his colleague, Ben Wetmore, who apparently authored the document, did an interview with . Told that he was being accused of “misogyny and worse,” Wetmore responded that the scenario was supposed to be played out in an “awkward” rather than “sexually aggressive” fashion, and that it’s hard to tell from from a script just how hilarious it would have been. “When you dissect and sterilize a joke, it’s not funny anymore,” he said.

This is true. Wetmore is learning, as the ACORN workers did, what happens when you strip something of its context. Sadly, we will never get to see this piece of comedic brilliance realized. But we do get to read about how Wetmore proposed he and O’Keefe could do damage control if the stunt had succeeded.

“Make sure to emphasize Abbie’s name and overall status to help burden her career with this video, incident and her bad judgment in pursuing you so aggressively,” the planning document reads. “If they go on the attack, you should point out the hypocrisy in CNN using the inherent sexuality of these women to sell viewers and for ratings, passing up more esteemed and respectable journalists who aren’t bubble-headed bleach blondes …”

“Aggressive” is what reporters must and should be - but paired with the document’s description of Boudreau’s looks, the implication of this adjective is clear. If she is attractive and aggressive, she’s asking for it, right? O’Keefe and Wetmore would no doubt say they wanted to use humor to make a political point, and that the means was incidental. But context - which these political pranksters have proved so adept at altering - is key. The documents reveal a classic blame-the-victim defense, an attempt to justify the sexual humiliation of a female journalist who had the audacity to pursue a story.

Photograph of James O’Keefe by Win McNamee for Getty Images.