Three of the four young men charged in the alleged phone tampering attempt at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office Monday were involved in the well-funded, opportunity-rich world of conservative campus journalism in recent years, a link that provides potential clues about how the men knew each other and why they came to hatch the alleged plot.
James O’Keefe, Joseph Basel, and Stan Dai each founded or led the alternative conservative newspapers on their respective college campuses.
After graduating, O’Keefe, the filmmaker behind the ACORN stings, actually worked for a year as a recruiter for the Leadership Institute, one of a handful of conservative organizations that provide seed money to students who want to launch alternative newspapers.
Fostering the growth of alternative media on campus — publications that are more often National Review-style opinion journals than reporting-intensive newspapers — has been a tactic of the conservative movement for decades. The Collegiate Network, for example, was founded in 1979 and supports over 100 papers per year. CampusReform.org, the campus component of the Leadership Institute, employs 16 staffers.
Our first case is Stan Dai, who served as the editor-in-chief of the GW Patriot at George Washington University. Dai was also a Club 100 Activist of Young America’s Foundation, and an Undergraduate Fellow on Terrorism of the Foundation for the Defense of the Democracies, according to a scholarship citation at the conservative Philips Foundation (h/t Lindsay Beyerstein).
Dai was reportedly picked up by authorities Monday a few blocks away from Landrieu’s office, sitting in a car with a listening device that could pick up transmissions.
The GW Patriot, it’s worth noting, is the same paper that produced John McCormack, the Weekly Standard scribe with the habit of getting into scuffles at political events.
Both O’Keefe and Basel seem to have gotten their start in the conservative college press with a little bit of help from the Leadership Institute, the group that aims to recruit and train conservative activists.
In an interview with the two men posted Jan. 14 on the Leadership Institute’s CampusReform.org, it’s noted that O’Keefe founded The Centurion at Rutgers and Basel launched The Counterweight at the University of Minnesota-Morris. Both “were started with assistance from the Leadership Institute’s ‘Balance in Media’ grant.”
Leadership Institute Vice President David Fenner confirmed to TPMmuckraker that O’Keefe received $500 from the Leadership Institute to start the Centurion, but couldn’t confirm any details of Basel or Dai’s possible Leadership Institute backing.
It is possible, however, that O’Keefe met Dai or Basel through his work with the Leadership Institute.
For about a year around 2007, O’Keefe was an employee of the Leadership Institute, Fenner confirmed. His job was to visit college campuses to recruit and train conservative activists who might want to start publications on their own campuses.
“I have no idea if [O’Keefe] met [Basel] through the training,” Fenner said. “There’s obviously a high likelihood. Only Basel could tell us that.”
Fenner said the Leadership Institute no longer has a formal relationship with O’Keefe.
Operating on liberal campuses, conservative student media tend to thrive on an anti-establishment stance, relying on small staffs, gonzo tactics, and shock value to have a big impact. (For examples, read up on the pioneering work of the Dartmouth Review.) The strategy is not unlike O’Keefe’s successful pimp-and-hooker ACORN sting videos, and it’s possible the same background informed whatever was planned in the Landrieu “operation.”
It’s also worth noting that the CampusReform interview with Basel and O’Keefe — posted less than two weeks ago — is prefaced with this intriguing note from the editor:
“To protect their ongoing investigations, I can’t say exactly when or where the interview was conducted, but the contents are below.”
(Additional reporting by Ben Frumin)
(This post has been edited from its original version.)
Late Update: Fenner confirmed Wednesday morning that Basel’s The Counterweight received a $500 “Balance In Media” grant from the Leadership Institute in 2005.