Nightly News   |  September 23, 2009

ACORN video 'pimp': Activist or agitator?

Sept. 23: The self-described advocacy journalist who made the videos that landed ACORN in trouble talks about his past pranks—including crank-calling Planned Parenthood and offering to pay for abortions of African-American babies—and his future aspirations as a "progressive radical" producer. NBC's Mara Schiavocampo reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Tonight, an NBC News exclusive. In his first broadcast network news interview, the young man behind the " Candid Camera "-like spoof that has caused so much backlash against the group ACORN . He tells his story. ACORN has now filed a lawsuit over his hidden camera video that got two of its Baltimore office employees fired and touched off a big internal investigation. NBC 's Mara Schiavocampo has our story.

MARA SCHIAVOCAMPO reporting: This is how most of the world was introduced to James O'Keefe , as a young video producer dressed like a pimp for a hidden camera investigation into ACORN , the community advocacy group whose voter registration efforts in disadvantaged communities were targeted by President Obama 's opponents last year. And this is how I met him... Mr. JAMES O'KEEFE : Yes.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: a soft-spoken, self-described radical dealing with an awful lot of new attention....

Unidentified Man: We think you're unbelievable.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: ...that's caught him completely by surprise. Did you expect all these repercussions when you started? Mr. O'KEEFE : No.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: Posing as a pimp and prostitute, O'Keefe and Hannah Giles , a friend he met on Facebook , caught ACORN employees in five cities appearing to give advice on tax evasion, human smuggling and prostitution.

Unidentified Woman: If you're just taking money from underaged prostitutes, oh my God. That doesn't sound good.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: O'Keefe says he and Giles spent about $ 1300 to fund their trips, though he won't say how many offices they visited. Do you consider yourself a conservative? Mr. O'KEEFE : No. I consider myself a progressive radical. I don't really want to conserve anything.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: How do you define yourself? As a journalist? Mr. O'KEEFE : I don't have a...

SCHIAVOCAMPO: As an activist? Mr. O'KEEFE : I don't have a business card . I mean, I'm too busy doing what I do. I let other people frame it the way they want.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: It's a controversial style O'Keefe has been honing since his college days at Rutgers University . He started with pranks like complaining about Lucky Charms being served in the dining hall ... Mr. O'KEEFE : As you can see, we're not all short. We have our differences of height, and we think this is stereotypical of all Irish-Americans.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: ...and moved on to more outrageous political fare, like calling Planned Parenthood to see if they would accept donations to abort black babies. Offscreen Voice #1: OK, whatever.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: O'Keefe plans to release more ACORN footage in the coming weeks and has already started thinking about his next project. Mr. O'KEEFE : I would hope to be able to do more of these types of things and expose more corruption and do more investigating, absolutely. I would love to be able to do -- it would be a privilege to be able to do this full time .

SCHIAVOCAMPO: His hope? That this introduction to the public is the beginning of a long relationship. Mara Schiavocampo , NBC News , New York .