So much for James O'Keefe as the scrappy, independent sparkplug of conservative media. The 25-year-old, who famously embarrassed ACORN on YouTube, got a five-figure sum that traces back to at least one rich conservative, well known to Silicon Valley.
O'Keefe told the Washington Post he acted independently in making his ACORN videos. But the Village Voice has traced a series of benefactors to the firebrand: The Leadership Institute conservative think tank appears to have given O'Keefe $4,000 for a monitor with which to make his movies, and $500 to start his conservative newspapers. Then there's the "small government group" through which the money of PayPal co-founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel came.
Thiel's people told the Voice that Thiel didn't know of O'Keefe's videos until he saw them on YouTube. But they acknowledged that $10,000 of his contributions reached O'Keefe. O'Keefe's estranged friend Liz Farkas apparently told the publication that Thiel ponied up a full $30,000, and that the money was used to produce the ACORN video. Thiel's people disputed that larger sum, to the Voice. But they acknowledged that the group Thiel funded was behind another O'Keefe video, in which fake, oversized "Sweepstakes" checks are delivered to various families and revealed to be bills, a stunt designed to illustrate the scale of recent federal bailouts.
Any modestly resourceful college kid knows how to stretch $10,000, so it's quite possible Thiel's money ended up being used on the ACORN video, even if he didn't know it. Why not embrace the fact? Here is a young man whose clever reporting stunt showed up the mainstream national media and may well be the undoing of its subject. O'Keefe started a conservative college publication, just like Thiel, and wants to bolster right-wing politics using YouTube, just like Thiel.
Besides, with his funding of O'Keefes earlier video, Thiel has gotten over his earlier disdain of media producers who "try to be gratuitously meaner and more sensational than the next person... like a terrorist who is trying to stand out and shock people." Those were the words Thiel used to condemn Valleywag as "the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda;" they would seem to fit O'Keefe nicely.
(Thiel pic by Auren Hoffman)