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September 29, 2010

Our Documentary Takes A Strange Detour

Posted: 07:46 AM ET

By Abbie Boudreau
CNN Investigative Correspondent

(Programming note: "Right On The Edge" airs this Saturday and Sunday at 8 and 11 p.m. ET).

I've been a reporter for nine years. My first official day on the job was on 9-11. I was the bureau chief in Dubuque, Iowa, working as a one-man band. I shot my own video, set up my own live shots, and edited my own stories. I would bring home the police scanner to make sure the nights were quiet in this modest town along the grand Mississippi River. Only one time, in my year and two months working there, did that scanner wake me up. (It would be the first murder story I covered. I remember being one of the first reporters to show up. The police were hosing down the blood off the sidewalk, and the bloody water washed over my shoes. It's something you don't forget.) Those days were long, and physical. I would go home and count the bruises on my legs and arms. There was nothing glamorous about this life. But that's what I liked about it. I was a reporter – and I was proud of that.

As a woman in the news industry you have to be tough. I have always had to work harder than my male counterparts to be taken seriously and to be treated with respect. As a woman in the news industry you have to ignore all of the silly talk from your managers about the clothes you should wear on-air or what color your hair should be. I have had my share of conversations like that, and to be honest, it stings. I'm left wondering, "When will my work stand on its own? Why does this always have to be part of the conversation?"

Recently, I was the target of a failed punk. James O'Keefe, the so-called "pimp" in the ACORN expose videos, was participating in a detailed plan to "faux" seduce me on his boat. For months, I had been working on a documentary about the young conservative movement. James had called me about concerns he had regarding an upcoming shoot. He asked me to meet him to talk about the shoot. I agreed to fly to Maryland and then drive to his "office" for a face-to-face conversation with him.

When I showed up, there was no office, as promised. Instead, he wanted to get me on a boat, which we later learned, was staged as a "pleasure palace." One of his colleagues, Izzy Santa, who was in Maryland that day, told me about the plan and stopped the punk before it happened.

Izzy told me he had "strawberries and champagne" waiting for me on the boat, and that he planned to "hit on me" the entire time. She said it would all be captured on hidden cameras that had been set up on the boat and in the back yard. She said the sole purpose of the "punk" was to embarrass me, and to make CNN look bad.

I would soon learn the details of the plan, in a 13-page document titled, "CNN Caper."

It explains the type of equipment needed to stage the boat for our meeting. Here is how the document reads:

Equipment needed

a. Video

1. hidden cams on the boat

2. tripod and overt recorder near the bed, an obvious sex tape machine

b. Props

1. condom jar

2. dildos

3. Music

a. Alicia keys

b. 80s romance songs, things that are typically James

c. avoid Marvin Gaye as too cliche

4. lube

5. ceiling mirror

6. posters and paintings of naked women

7. playboys and pornographic magazines

8. candles

9. Viagra and stamina pills

10. fuzzy handcuffs

11. blindfold

James was supposed to tape the following script before the meeting on the boat.

"My name is James, I work in video activism and journalism. I've been approached by CNN for an interview where I know what their angle is: they want to portray me and my friends as crazies, as non-journalists, as unprofessional and likely as homophobes, racists or bigots of some sort…"

"Instead, I've decided to have a little fun. Instead of giving her a serious interview, I'm going to punk CNN. Abbie has been trying to seduce me to use me, in order to spin a lie about me. So, I'm going to seduce her, on camera, to use her for a video. This bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five will get a taste of her own medicine, she'll get seduced on camera and you'll get to see the awkwardness and the aftermath."

"Please sit back and enjoy the show."

It explains very simply what "the joke" is.

"The joke is that the tables have turned on CNN. Using hot blondes to seduce interviewees to get screwed on television, you are faux seducing her in order to screw her on television."

It goes on to explain how James should "adapt" to my mood on the boat.

"As the operation is going on, James will have to adapt and adjust to her mood and her reaction. If she is pulling away, withdraw and pull her back in. If she's unsure, comfort her and reassure her. Vacillate between somewhat serious interview and the come-hither persona as needed in order to confuse her judgment and also keep her on the boat."

James says that he wasn't really going to follow through with the plan. He e-mailed CNN this statement:

"That is not my work product. When it was sent to me, I immediately found certain elements highly objectionable and inappropriate, and did not consider them for one minute following it."

But that does not appear to be true, according to a series of emails we obtained from Izzy Santa, who says the e-mails reveal James' true intentions.

All of this is so disappointing. I never wanted to become a part of the story – especially under such strange circumstances.

I have worked so hard to have people pay attention to my work, and to be a respected journalist. I don't want to be judged based on anything other than my work. But apparently, I represent all of the things this group hates about the mainstream media. They feel because of the way I look that I do not matter, and that my reporting is a joke. They don't know anything about my work ethic – my history – my dedication and commitment – and my love for reporting. They just saw my blonde hair. And the ironic thing is that I'm really a brunette.

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