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Hannah Giles, No Nellie Bly

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Nellie Bly -- Library of Congress

One day last week, a confluence of events brought together the enlightening and the dark sides of undercover journalism. The first was the daily Google doodle celebrating the 151st birthday of pioneering woman journalist Nellie Bly. The second was the Houston Chronicle’s breaking story on “citizen journalists” taping 800 hours of undercover video of Texas legislators for the American Phoenix Foundation, whose public face is provocateur journalist Hannah Giles.

Giles is best known for posing as a prostitute with James O’Keefe as her pimp in an undercover sting of the liberal Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, ACORN, that tried to get workers to incriminate themselves on hidden cameras. It was the kind of work that made her father proud.

Her father is a conservative talk radio personality and blogger named Doug Giles, pronounced J-I-les. Giles runs the ClashDaily site from Florida and writes for TownHall. Doug also is the author of five books, including Raising Righteous and Rowdy Girls, about Hannah and her sister, Regis, the curator of a blog called Girls Just Want to Have Guns

Doug’s columns have had titles such as: I’m So Sick of Hearing About Gay Cakes; BREAKING: Massive Spike in Whites Setting Blacks on Fire; and WWJT: Who Would Jesus Torture? 

I told my inquiring host that as a patriotic white male Christian redneck, as far as I can deduce from the holy text, Jesus and the balance of Scripture seem to be okay with dunking Achmed if said butt munch has the 411 regarding the 10/20 of the next mass slaughter of innocent Americans. Call me crazy. I’m well aware, however, that I could be committing an exegetical error given the fact that I’m white and male and all. This is my cross.

Perhaps a short stop at Matthew 5:5 would be a good idea for father Giles.

The article on whites setting fire to blacks is sarcastic and keys off an unsolved murder of a white woman in Mississippi as a prompt to list 14 cases in which African-Americans allegedly set a white person on fire to murder them. One is the Houston case of 12-year-old Jonathan Foster who was murdered with a blowtorch by African-American neighbor Mona Nelson. “The story was getting mainstream media coverage until they arrested a black woman,” Doug Giles wrote. He must have missed those stories by the Houston Chronicle, ABC, CBS, Fox News and the Daily Mail of London.

Sister Regis is not one to be outdone by dad. Her site declares: “Whether the weapon of choice is a gun, tazer, knife, spear, pencil or some form of martial arts, the most important thing is that women arm themselves with the right attitude and skills necessary to effectively and efficiently turn from prey to formidable defender.” In one interview with her dad, Regis Giles stated a simple philosophy, “To the Christians who do not believe God is ok with an innocent, law abiding citizen, defending themselves with a gun by pumping lead into an attacker at 1200 feet per second (fps), I tell them to wake up!”

So it was a happy family occasion last month when dad announced to the world that Hannah and her husband, Joseph Basel, had a baby named Hamish. Here is granddad’s boast.

Last Thursday my wife and I welcomed our first grandbaby into the world. My oldest daughter Hannah (who leveled ACORN) and her husband Joe (who’s currently leveling other nefarious nuts) had a handsome little boy they’ve named, Hamish. Badass name, eh?

By other “nefarious nuts,” do you think Doug Giles meant the members of the Texas Legislature who have been confronted and secretly recording answering loaded questions posed by the squad of “citizen journalists” that have been unleashed on the Capitol by the Giles/Basel foundation? 

A man who identified himself as John Beria, a spokesman for the American Phoenix Foundation, told the Houston Chronicle that 16 staff members had been working on the project. The staffers interviewed and interacted with legislators using hidden cameras. Beria claimed that some of the video will show “shady business deals.” Some legislators said the people interviewing them were using ambush tactics and sometimes got so aggressive as to border on harassment. Some have said the interviews also seemed to target supporters of House Speaker Joe Straus, but Beria told me there was no specific targetting of legislators.

IRS documents list Basel as the president and Hannah Giles Basel as the secretary treasurer of the American Phoenix Foundation. The foundation has the same street address as Basel’s C3 Strategies political consulting firm, which specializes in “Strategic Shake-Up Consulting. His LinkedIn profile states that he runs the foundations “day to day operations” and fundraising. The New York Times reported in 2010 that while a student at the University of Minnesota-Morris, Giles put posters up all over campus that read: “End Racism & Sexism Now: Kill All White Males,” prompting university administrators to call a campus forum on racism where Basel asked why everyone could not use racial epithets as black rappers do. A walkout of black students followed. 

“His methods were kind of to create an uproar,” said Nate Giles, a former president of the black student union at the university. “That’s what was abrasive, not his actual points.”

Basel may run the Austin group, but it is his wife, Hannah Giles, who is all over the American Phoenix Foundation web site discussing a new kind of journalism. She also does the promotions. Beria told me that Giles now holds the title Director of Investigations. He said Giles conceived creation of the foundation as a means of conducting journalism in an “effective way.” Giles studied journalism at Florida International University. (Basel and Giles had agreed to an interview, but because I was stuck in traffic we will have to do it another day.)

In an interview with a video blogger who goes by the name of DomariNolo1775, Hannah says the foundation is teaching citizen journalists that they do not have to become part of the New York or Washington mainstream media whose goal is to attend elite cocktail parties. “Journalism schools are teaching people how to join the establishment media. Work for 20 years and don’t say anything, and you’ll get invited to a cocktail party.”

Hmmm, I must have missed Cocktail Party 101 in J-school.

At the 2012 Steamboat Institute Freedom Conference, Hannah set out a bold vision of how the new media will replace the old media. “Our highest use right now is to strategically place reporters in initiatives to hold our leaders and media accountable. Accountability is what we seek, courage is what we need and content is what we must deliver,” she said.

Consider, if you will, the content she has been at least partly responsible for delivering in the past. Hidden camera video she and O’Keefe produced was released on a web site operated by Andrew Breitbart and appeared to show ACORN workers aiding in schemes of tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution. The videos caused ACORN’s funding to collapse and forced the organization to shut down. But investigations by The New York Times and the California attorney general found the video had been heavily edited to distort the reactions of ACORN workers, although some accurately reflected what had occurred. The California investigation reported that “O’Keefe stated that he was out to make a point to damage ACORN and therefore did not act as a journalist objectively reporting a story.”

In 2010, O’Keefe, Robert Flanagan and American Phoenix Foundation founders Joe Basel and Stan Dai were arrested after they posed at telephone repairmen and entered the office of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat. O’Keefe called it “stunt journalism.” They pleaded guilty to entering the property under false pretenses, received two years probation and were fined $1,500 each with 75 hours of community service. According to NOLA.com, “The judge repeatedly told the defendants that, as journalists, they needed to learn ‘where to draw a line’ in their investigative methods.”

We’ll have to wait until excerpts from the 800 hours of video are released on Breitbart Texas or elsewhere later this year to see whether they found nefarious doings by legislators or whether it’s more selectively edited video designed to show people or groups in bad light. In other words, will it be investigative journalism or a political hatchet job?

One thing already is clear: Hannah Giles is no Nellie Bly.

Nellie Bly-like characters have been fictionalized so many times in movies that it is easy to think of her as a female Indiana Jones. The real Nellie Bly—nom de plume of Elizabeth Jane Cochran—was a courageous young woman who began her career reporting on the plight of working women, and when pushed to the “women’s pages” to cover society, she left the country to report on conditions in Mexico. On returning to the United States, Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World gave her an assignment to pose as insane person to look at conditions inside the state’s Women’s Lunatic Asylum. Her groundbreaking 1887 report shocked the nation and later was published as Ten Days in a Mad-House. She not only broke barriers for women in journalism but also displayed the power of undercover reporting.

Journalists usually are squeamish about undercover reporting and the use of hidden cameras because the tactic requires an element of deception, and truth-seekers should not deceive. Hidden cameras have been in use since the New York Daily News in 1928 sent a reporter to a prison to witness an execution with a camera strapped to his ankle. The hidden cameras flourished in television journalism after the success of Prime Time Live in the early 1990s. Professional journalism’s Poynter Institute has published guidelines for the use of deception as a last resort. Those guidelines also are hosted by the Radio Television Digital News Association. As distasteful as I might find hidden cameras in journalism, even the Investigative Reporters and Editors 2013 conference held a panel on the use of hidden cameras “to produce great investigations.” 

The 19th Century Nellie Bly risked her life to improve the lives of working women, Mexican peasants and women confined to an asylum. Conservative activist Hannah Giles and her husband are pursuing a political agenda using hidden cameras in a way that cheapens both politics and journalism.

(Photo: Nellie Bly/Library of Congress)

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  • José

    It’s great for journalists to be bold and courageous, to hold people accountable and all that. But something is still missing. When it comes to reporting where do Giles & Giles stand on other qualities that some of us hold in high regard, such as truthfulness, fairness, and objectivity?

    • roadgeek

      “…truthfulness, fairness, and objectivity?…” All qualities woefully absent in what passes for journalism in the country. It’s amusing to watch Ratcliffe try to be sanctimonious.

      • WUSRPH

        Your comment is a perfect example of the sad fact that too often when someone says that a reporter isbiased what they really mean is that they did not like what was reported based on their own biases. JBB for example, is not going to like any account, truthfulor not, that says anything good about. President Obama. . The same goes for some leftist when someone like Cruz is the subject. Both scream “bias” when the problem is that they are unable to see thru their own opinions.

      • Gunslinger

        It’s also amusing to see internet commenters who know nothing about journalism chide respected journalists about their integrity. Feel free to stick with Redstate or Right Wing News. Don’t worry, they’ll feed your ego by reinforcing what you already believe.

        • roadgeek

          As will NPR, the WaPo and the NYT.

          • José

            The Post and the Times, of course, have well documented records of being bipartisan when holding politicians accountable. (Latest example, uncovering the story behind Clinton’s personal email server.) Can’t say the same about the favorite media outlets for the wingnuts.

            I’m always amused when rightwingers insist on throwing NPR into the fray as some sort of liberal equivalent of, say, Fox News. I’ve been listening to them for years and admire them for their fairness. Maybe that’s what so liberal? Interviews typically have very intelligent questions and the subjects are allowed to answer at length, without interruption. Contrast that with clowns like O’Reilly or Hannity.

          • roadgeek

            The WaPo. The Times. National Public Radio. All so bipartisan. All so fair. All so objective. All of them ignored evidence regarding tawdry behavior on the part of John Edwards, and left it to the National Enquirer to break the story. Yeah, right. Color me convinced.

          • José

            Um, a politician was being unfaithful to his wife, and these news organizations concentrated on things like policy and budgets and stuff and let the Inquirer handle the gossipy piece? Not seeing the problem here. Bush lies about the reasons for the Iraq occupation but you want more daytime drama instead. Oh, geek…

            But of course you’re ignoring the main point, that these so-called leftist media outlets are actually pretty fair handed in general while the right wing ones are not. Given the message you’re trying to spread here I can’t blame you for avoiding from that truth. Run, geek, run!

            It is possible to have a definite political viewpoint and still be fair. It’s been a long time since I watched the Maddow show but I recall her interviewing conservative figures on several occasions. Certainly she is left of center and would readily say so. On these shows Maddow would ask pointed and difficult questions, to be sure, but she allowed ample time for her guests to respond in full, and she addressed them respectfully. Now back to O’Reilly and Hannity. Have you seen them do the same when they interview someone with a strongly opposing viewpoint? Interruptions, badgering, cutting off the microphone. Insults and accusations. That’s not journalism. It’s bullying for the purpose of entertaining a bloodthirsty mob.

            So would you mind applying these high standards of yours to Fox News, the Washington Times, Breibart, and Drudge, and tell us how well they perform? Thank you!

          • José

            Brother geek, it looks like you love that old right wing doctrine about liberal MSM bias and how the conservative media outlets are just balancing out the otherwise tilted forum. However there are a couple of things that matter a lot but which are missing from that proposition. One is a side by side comparison of the two extremes, whether the left is really as far off as the right. The other is facts.

            I’ll say it again. There is a lot more fairness and balance and integrity in those three news organizations than in any of the ones on the other side of the fence. If you disagree then please cite your evidence. The NYTimes right now is making a fuss, rightfully so, about Clinton’s refusal to make herself available for questions. That’s hardly being a lapdog for the progressive movement. The Times Op-Ed page includes columnist David Brooks, a conservative. The Post has even more conservative columnists–George Will, Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin, the awful Charles Krauthammer for Pete’s sake! They recently hired reporter Robert Costa. Now, what does the other side have in comparison? Nothing, really. Fox used to trot out Alan Colmes in the same way that the Globetrotters hired the Washington Generals. Even he is gone now. Pitiful.

          • roadgeek

            It might surprise you, but I don’t have cable in my home. I cut the cord in early 2000. Spend the cable bill money on good music, books and fine food. I read blogs and papers on both sides of the spectrum, as evidenced by my reading this one, among many others. I used to listen to NPR while driving around and traveling, but gave it up when I noticed that they never found a Palestinian too unsympathetic to interview. When major news events occur, I do watch to see how the MSM in this country covers those events. Said coverage is stale and predictable. I suspect, Jose, that reasonable men will need to disagree. But not all right-wingers watch Fox or listen to Limbaugh.

          • José

            Again missing the point. Regardless of whether you personally partake of the rightwing media, the fact remains that it is there and it is decidedly more biased than what many (including yourself, apparently) purport to be a massive leftist media bloc.
            Earlier this year NPR had another weeklong series from Israel and Palestine prior to the Israeli national elections. They interviewed people from both nationalities and from many points of view. They interviewed PM Netanyahu and, per their practice, let him respond at length to their questions. Yes, they had tough questions but the PM is a polarizing figure both in his nation and around the world. That is what I want in news reporting, and am sorry that you did not perceive it to be so.

        • don76550

          Don’t think you need a degree in journalism to spot a liar. Remember Brian Williams, Dan Rather?

    • John Johnson

      We’ll, if a surreptitious video is played unedited for all to see, what difference does the videographer’s truthfulness, fairness and objectivity make? If it shows a legislator in a compromising position, making poor decisions, what does motives of the person holding the camera have to do with anything?

      • Indiana Pearl

        Who decides which video is seen?

        • John Johnson

          The person who took it, or the person they give it to. Whoever is in possession of it. Who cares what the motivation is of the one who releases it? If unedited, it shows nefarious or immoral actions what difference does it make?

          • Indiana Pearl

            A hundred hours of video can be modified down to an hour to say anything the videographer chooses. Unless every minute of unedited tape is available, it’s all bull dicky whang.

            Remember the missing eighteen minutes of Rosemary Woods’ tape?

          • John Johnson

            Let’s see, Pearl…if Rep. X is seen on tape rubbing the brisket of a an ex-political consultant turned stripper, or, with slurred words and bloodshot eyes, dog-cussing someone in a most obscene manner, I doubt the “before and after portions will make much difference…nor do I think what you or anyone thinks about it is going to have one iota of difference on their plans for release.

          • Indiana Pearl

            Context is important.

        • Lilly

          Wouldn’t it be the copyright holder or its agent? Surely the videotapes would be considered as copyrighted.

          • Indiana Pearl

            I don’t know. Was interviewed once in my youth by a local TV channel. What I said and what was broadcast were quite different. The producers have a story they want to tell and snip and splice tape to make that story come together.

      • José

        In this context there really is no such thing as “unedited”, only various degrees of manipulation. As Pearl says there is choice in deciding what material to release and what to hold back. Which subjects are chosen to be targeted and which not. You don’t know what happens before the start of the clip nor what happens after, do you? Does the person in control of the recording manipulate events, provoke outbursts, set traps? And even subtle things like lighting, camera angles, and frame cropping, they all affect the perception by the viewer.

        A skillful producer is most definitely capable of being an artist, and you, the viewer, are the instrument. Even with what is purportedly “unedited” footage.

        I’m reminded of James O’Keefe’s appearance on Fox & Friends to promote his ACORN videos. On that show was dressed as a stereotypical urban pimp, with fur coat, cane, and sunglasses. In parts of the videos, the cutaway shots out in the street, he was shown in the same garb. When introducing O’Keefe host Steve Doocy told the audience that O’Keefe was dressed exactly in the same outfit when visiting the ACORN offices with Giles. That was, in fact, a lie, which O’Keefe pointedly did not correct. Breibart had repeated the same lie. When actually talking to ACORN O’Keefe had really worn pretty normal clothes for a young upper middle class white feller. Now I’ll be the first to say that a few ACORN offices really screwed up regardless of what O’Keefe wore. O’Keefe can claim that he didn’t lie about the clothing, and in a very strict and technical way he didn’t. But you have to admit that the mistruths perpetrated by Fox and Breibart, with the obvious and intentional encouragement of O’Keefe himself, added fuel to the outrage of many right wingers.


      • JJ you have to understand, put yourself in a democrat’s shoes. They have been controlling the agenda for 70 years and now they are being exposed for being in bed with the DNC.

    • don76550

      The objects of their attention speak for themselves – like Acorn did

  • dave in texas

    We’ll have to wait until excerpts from the 800 hours of video are released on Brietbart Texas or elsewhere later this year to see whether they found nefarious doings by legislators or whether it’s more selectively edited video designed to show people or groups in bad light. In other words, will it be investigative journalism or a political hatchet job?

    Given that it’s Breitbart and that it has ties to notorious hack James O’Keefe, I think I’m gonna go with selectively edited video and political hatchet job. Even if “shady business deals” are found to have occurred, or even if not, my guess is that sinister-sounding sensationalist headlines and coverage will be the order of the day.

    I’m afraid, though, that I have to admit one of my main questions about this article regards the pronunciation of the name Giles. It’s not really all that rare, and I normally would have automatically assumed it rhymed with files, but with a ‘j’ sound, as it usually does, until I saw the J-I-les notation. Does that mean it has three syllables and is pronounced jay-eye-les?

    • PrattonTexas

      O’Keefe posts the entire, unedited version of the videos you mention.

      • Indiana Pearl


  • PrattonTexas

    So the real headline of this should be: Old-line press continues to belittle activists who do the real work


    She is probably closer to that very thin blonde (sic) on Fox who is constantly saying things she shouldn’t but does to keep herself on the air. She even writes (sic) books that do the same thing….seems proud to be a …

    • Indiana Pearl

      There are so many thin blondes on Fox who say things they shouldn’t . . .

      • WUSRPH

        I won’t dishonor myself by speaking her name. Some people just should not be mentioned in polite society.

        • roadgeek

          Well, at least she pays her taxes, unlike several of the Democratic Party mouthpieces on MSNBC.

          • WUSRPH

            You have absolutely no way of knowing whether she does or does not unless you work for the IRS or unless they have taken legal action against her. As such, you are either making an assumption or, if you work for the IRS, committing a crime.

          • Indiana Pearl

            Or lying about folks about whom he has no knowledge . . .

          • WUSRPH

            Actually, I think one of MSNBC types did get zapped for owning the IRS a bunch….

          • Indiana Pearl

            But not everyone . . .

          • Indiana Pearl

            Is it illegal or unconstitutional for a member of the Lege to be involved in sexual hanky panky?

          • WUSRPH

            Is it illegal for you to be involved in sexual hanky panky? There is no difference between a legislator engaged in “hanky panky” and any other person. The only possible offense connected to the office would be if the other party(s) were coerced by use of the power of the office. Of course, coercion is possible in the public world, too.

          • Indiana Pearl

            Let me rephrase the question: is there a rule/law in the Texas Constitution that states that a member of the Lege cannot engage in adultery, fornication, or drunkenness?

          • WUSRPH

            Nope…nothing that distinguishes their behavior from any other citizen……

          • John Johnson

            It’s the perception…dare I say…the lies that candidates for office project that often blows up on them. How many run on a morals platform that actual ends up hanging them. It may only be a few, but that might be because only a few get caught. One of the longest running TV sports broadcasters in the DFW area is also one of the first to pound on pro and college athletes for improprieties. If someone had been following him around with a camera, or if he had been involved in a traffic stop or accident while driving under the influence, which everyone up here who crossed paths with him over the years knows he has, he would have someone hanging him up to dry. No one likes blatant hypocrisy in their sportscasters or their politicians…but it’s there, and I will expose it every chance I get. I can do this since I have driven drunk and done plenty of things that would be an embarrassment to my family in past years. If I ran for office I would be upfront about this and take my chances. Most never do. They are phonies. I have no respect for them. As far as I’m concerned, they are open game.

          • José

            Or the most recent GOP Presidential nominee. Oops, that should be allegedly. We don’t really know one way or the other. Mitt decided that transparency was too dear a price to pay for the Presidency.

        • Indiana Pearl

          Give us a hint.

        • roadgeek

          Anne Coulter? She’s hot, isn’t she?

          • WUSRPH

            If you like skeletons.

  • Beerman

    Giles and his followers remind us old timers of the propaganda machines created and run by the Third Reich/Hitler during the 40’s….”national purity”….”white supremacy”….”cleanse our Country”…..

  • Interesting comments….from what I read it is ok for Katie Couric to selectively edit an interview with Sarah Palin, in fact she is paid millions to do so, but it is not ok for Hannah to expose the corruption, the sleazy underbelly of looters called politicians?
    Keep telling yourselves that, you go Hannah.

    I’ve made this statement a 1000 times….”democrats are losing power and they will vilify, trash, imprison, riot in the streets, use the power of the federal bureaucracy against anyone who destroys them.”

  • Rod Williams

    RG Ratcliffe- what have you ever done that is memorable? That helps citizens? That helps lower our waste by government officials? That holds politicians accountable? or anything else but bullshit, weak-ly researched opinion pieces with information you scraped off of other sites and regurgatated out of context into a trash talking piece on the “texas monthly blog” .(laughable)
    I guess you forgot to mention that because of Hannah Giles’ work, she saved our citizens over 2 billion in waste by bringing down ACORN and its minions. I’m thinking you might be a sign carrier too. What a pathetic piece you have written. You are not a journalist, you’re a blogger. Hannah Giles has more balls and courage than you ever have or will. Let this be a hint of the changes in journalism to come. You’re an old washed up has been, soon to be forgotten.

  • John Johnson

    I have decided today that surreptitious activities that shed light on stinky activities are OK with me. The sleeping masses seem to pick up on this type of stuff; the mundane, lightly reported stuff that affects the average Texan big time never is picked up on due to a desire for ignorant bliss.

  • Hats off to a young lady standing up to the advocates of big government. I admire her spunk.

  • Marty Jamieson

    Remember Deep Throat?
    Our highest use right now is to strategically place reporters in initiatives to hold our leaders and media accountable. Accountability is what we seek, courage is what we need and content is what we must deliver,” she said.

    The goal should be to pul back the curtains and lift the rocks….

    It may not be tasteful, yet, it is necessary in today’s North American society?

  • grackle101

    from The Atlantic:

    Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe Ruined Him, and Now He Gets $100,000

    Former ACORN
    employee Juan Carlos Vera sued after being wrongly portrayed as a
    willing participant in an underage sex-trafficking scheme.