At age 19, Hannah Giles became a rock star of the conservative movement after she and provocateur videographer and conservative activist James O’Keefe posed as a prostitute and her pimp to run a 2009 hidden-camera sting on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, ACORN. Republicans often accused the left-leaning organization of committing voter fraud, and the Giles/O’Keefe videos seemed to show ACORN workers were encouraging them to set up a child prostitution ring. Official investigations in three states found no criminal wrongdoing by ACORN workers and reported that the videos were heavily edited to put ACORN workers in the worst light. But the damage was done, ACORN lost both its government and private funding and went out of business. Giles’s husband later was arrested for attempting to enter U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu’s office disguised as a telephone repairman. They have been conservative activists in the past.
Giles and Basel afterward moved to Texas and set up the American Phoenix Foundation to promote investigative journalism by young conservative activists. Giles in speeches tells audiences that there is a need to bypass the mainstream media with investigations that “disrupt the narrative.” As part of that, they say they have hired 16 workers to use hidden cameras to investigate Texas legislators, an investigation that has angered both lawmakers and lobbyists.
Giles and her husband, Joseph Basel, sat down with me in the Texas Monthly offices for an hour this week to discuss their project and philosophy. My approach to the interview was to be a neutral solicitor of information so the readers can decide for themselves the motives behind Giles and Basel: Whether this is a pure investigation; is intended to oust House Speaker Joe Straus’s conservative allies; is a real scandal of lobbyists and legislators; or, whether the Texas Capitol’s legislators, lobbyists and journalists have all just been punked. We’ll know if the first video is released in June.
To make reading easier, I have broken the interview into topical parts. I have tried to be as light-handed as possible in the editing for brevity and to increase the clarity of my questions.
Continue reading this item for the first part: Disrupting the Narrative. The other parts are: