Is Joe Basel a conservative truth seeker or a right-wing hack?

Joe Basel

Joe Basel

Who is Joe Basel, one of four people arrested by the FBI on Tuesday at U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's New Orleans offices? He and the others cut their teeth in conservative politics by either starting, editing or writing for right-wing campus newspapers funded by a right wing network of organizations.

Basel, 24, helped found The Counterweight at the University of Minnesota-Morris. In a recent interview he described himself as a conservative seeker of truth, and chided people he called right-wing hacks.

As we reported yesterday, Basel played the role of a fake telephone repairmen involved in the stunt and quickly copped to being a phony as soon as the authorities put the heat on him.

Basel, 24, James O'Keefe, 25, Stan Dai, 24 and Robert Flanagan, 24 were all charged yesterday with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony. The charges carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

O'Keefe made headlines last year when he posed as a pimp, and accomplice Hannah Giles posed as a prostitute, and made a secret videotape of themselves getting advice from a Philadelphia ACORN office. Rep. Michele Bachmann later praised the pair in her continuing war against the community organizing group.

Basel and O'Keefe sat down for an interview with The right-wing organization is funded by longtime Republican politician and activist Morton Blackwell's Leadership Institute. Both seek to train conservative student journalists to counter what they call a leftist takeover of college campuses.

Here are some of Basel's comments from the interview.

Campus Reform: Would that be the difference between journalism and advocacy journalism? Do you guys practice advocacy journalism or activist journalism?

Basel: I guess I wouldn't call it activist journalism either. I think the only real agenda with what I did at the University of Minnesota was to pursue truth and to hold the administrators and hold the professors' feet to the fire. To hold them accountable for what they were getting away with, what they were doing in the classroom and out of the classroom, in the community.

So, I think if you just make your agenda the truth or a fair chance at the truth on campus, you'd be surprised what falls in your lap if you work hard and keep doing it.

Campus Reform: What was the inspiration for each of your student publications?

Basel: We started The Counterweight, the conservative publication there, my freshman year with a group of other freshmen.

I wasn't that politically active before college. Once I got to that liberal of a university they basically pushed me to it. It was more in response to their hegemony on campus.

We just felt like one of the better ways to amplify the conservative student voice on campus was to start a conservative paper, and that's what we did the fall of my freshman year.

Campus Reform: What changed in life on campus when you started your papers?

Basel: I think people have gotten used to the status quo, they've gotten used to not being questioned, they've gotten used to thinking and assuming that everyone was liberal at the campus. And I think when you print a couple thousand copies of a minority opinion, people begin to wonder if it's actually minority opinion.

If you effectively articulate conservative or libertarian values on campus and you're willing to call people out on what they need to be called out on, you'd be surprised how much that changes the dialogue. So, the left is responding to you. The administration is responding to what your publication is doing.

Now, if you just go into a classroom and spout off, or quote some right-wing hack, they'll probably laugh you out of the classroom. But if you force them to respond to an issue through publishing something, then you're setting the agenda. And the agenda can be framed on our terms if you do it correctly.

PZ Myers, a UM-Morris biologist who writes the popular Pharyngula blog, remembers encountering Basel.

He claims he was "pushed" into conservative activism by our liberal campus, which is complete nonsense: the campus isn't that liberal at all, as most of our students are from rural communities, and in my few encounters with Basel I found him to be a conservative lout from the very beginning. I know he wrote about me a few times in the awful conservative rag he founded on our campus.

Here's a question Basel might be asking himself this morning as he considers his legal predicament: Does getting arrested by the FBI while posing as a phone repairman at a U.S. senator's office make him a journalist, or a right-wing hack?