O’Keefe crony is no Saint -- or is he?

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In case you haven’t noticed, yet another controversy has begun to swirl around James O’Keefe, the insufferably smug little video terrorist and protégé of Andrew Breitbart whose fraudulent acts of “citizen journalism” delivered the death blow to ACORN.

This time, it’s some of his accomplices who are giving O’Keefe the public stink eye: Two co-conspirators in his February hit on NPR have complained to The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz that his methods and motivations were less than honorable. They wanted to conduct a serious, far-ranging and collaborative investigation, they allege, whereas O’Keefe was only interested in getting something inflammatory -- no matter how flimsy -- before the public eye in time to influence a congressional vote and buttress his own fast-fading “reputation.”

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Why anybody familiar with the young O’Keefe’s already checkered history would expect him to behave honorably toward, well, anybody is a question best addressed on an honest-to-goodness political blog. Why we’re talking it about here will become apparent as soon as I tell you the names of O’Keefe’s disillusioned ex-comrades.

One is Shaughn Adeleye; the other is Simon Templar.

When I read that, my reaction was instantaneous: “Simon Templar? The real name of The Saint, the fictional detective created by Leslie Charteris and played in movies and TV by everyone from Louis Hayward to Roger Moore to Val Kilmer? That Simon Templar?”

I say this not to win the big prize in some grand, karmic equivalent to Mandaddy’s Trivia Madness; talkbackers at both The Daily Beast and Think Progress, where the story was recapped, seized on the detail as well. The point is that Kurtz apparently didn’t: Nowhere in his story does he acknowledge that “Simon Templar” is a name the reader should know in any other context. And that raises a whole host of questions.

The first and most obvious is, Was Kurtz punked? He was dealing with people whose admitted M.O. is false identity and entrapment; it would certainly be no stretch for one of them to try to target him, too. It’s of course unclear what O’Keefe et al would stand to gain by faking a rift in the mainstream media. But even if their falling-out is genuine, it’s still highly possible Kurtz was handed a pseudonym and just didn’t pick up on it. (At the moment, the profile pic on “Templar”’s Facebook page is -- you guessed it -- the official, decades-old Saint logo.)

If “Simon Templar” indeed failed to ring any bells in Kurtz’s head, that doesn’t say great things about his cultural literacy. But it’s a preferable alternative to the possibility that he had noticed the allusion and didn’t feel it was worth mentioning. That would mean he wasn’t terribly concerned with the credibility of his source -- or worse, that he feels we’re living in an age in which personas are so fluid that the distinction between a real identity and an assumed one isn’t even worth acknowledging. And of course, the minute an ostensibly genuine journalist surrenders that point, he’s playing O’Keefe’s game.

Think Progress seems to be in the same boat: In encapsulating and commenting upon Kurtz’s story, they failed to bring up the “Simon Templar” issue, either. Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher did address it -- but only in the form of a fleeting, sarcastic reference to this “Templar” as “the guy who’s cleverly named after The Saint.” Unless Christopher has some information he hasn’t divulged, it seems that he’s assumed “Templar” is indeed a pseudonym -- and he just doesn’t care.

So far, it’s only the commenters at The Daily Beast and TP who are treating this little enigma with the inquisitiveness it deserves, pointing out that leaving it unexplored undermines the authority of the entire story. Score one for reader insight -- although the Daily Beast talkback almost collapsed into infighting over the advisability of defaulting to Val Kilmer as one’s “go-to” Saint. Oh yeah, guys. Like that’s the fucking issue here.

What is the issue here is the (one would think) obvious idea that a columnist should hold his sources to a higher standard than Bart Simpson prank-calling Moe’s. Maybe it was once too much to expect “serious” political reporters to know much about the movies or TV -- but those days were over right about the time politics and entertainment became essentially indistinguishable.

In that light, I was so honestly spooked by Kurtz’s sloppiness that I took extra pains to search the name “Shaughn Adeleye,” lest I miss an even more arcane reference. From what I can tell, it’s legit -- though I’m going to be on the lookout from now on for any scoops that are credited to Amanda Huggenkiss.

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