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  • James O’Keefe Says Journalists Never Release Raw Footage Because It Would “Tell A Different Story”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Project Veritas Action, a group run by discredited right-wing videographer James O’Keefe, recently released two heavily edited videos purporting to reveal that Democratic operatives aligned with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign were “rigging the election.” O’Keefe is refusing to release the unedited footage his undercover operatives shot -- something his groups have routinely done in the past -- citing a need for journalistic integrity while simultaneously hinting that he had purposely edited the footage to “paint a specific picture.”

    O’Keefe released his latest edited videos on October 17 and October 18 and then almost immediately began complaining that mainstream news outlets were ignoring his efforts due to “fear of retaliation” from a future Clinton administration. Several media figures were quick to point out that O’Keefe’s refusal to release unedited footage from the undercover videos made it difficult for reporters to vet and accurately report on the purported stings, and that O’Keefe’s past track record of misleadingly editing footage make these latest videos even less credible. ThinkProgress reported this afternoon that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s private charitable foundation gave $10,000 to O’Keefe’s Project Veritas about a month before Trump declared his presidential candidacy, adding further unanswered questions about the videos’ legitimacy.

    O’Keefe’s response to criticism was to argue that journalists never reveal “raw unedited materials” because “it’d probably paint a different picture.” His reaction seemed to simultaneously suggest that:

    (a) he, like other journalists, would never reveal “unedited materials” (though he has before), and

    (b) if reporters like himself did release those materials, they would reveal selective editing (like his materials have before).

    In the post-debate spin room last night, O’Keefe again reiterated his claims that no “journalists” release their “raw, unedited notebooks” and that his refusal to release the raw footage from his latest video series is no different. Media Matters president Bradley Beychok captured O’Keefe’s explanation to Majority.FM’s Sam Seder, in which O’Keefe also appears to admit that his role as a “journalist” includes piecing the videos “together to tell a specific story”:

    SAM SEDER: Are you going to release the full footage of your tapes?

    JAMES O’KEEFE: Why don’t you ask all these journalists here if they’re going to release their full, raw, unedited notebooks?

    SEDER: But it’s a different--

    O’KEEFE: No, listen. Sam--


    SEDER: James, you have to admit it’s a different thing--

    O’KEEFE: Is it? Is it? Is it?

    SEDER: Undercover video where it’s been shown, I mean, there were several reports that showed during the, that you have edited tapes in such a way to prove your--

    O’KEEFE: Name one edit I’ve made. I want you to name right now, for your audience, name one specific edit I have made. Because I can debunk every one of those reports. Go ahead.

    SEDER: Well, I mean, I haven’t [unintelligible].

    O’KEEFE: OK, well I would like you to get back to me.

    SEDER: But you can debunk that by releasing that video. Why wouldn’t you release all the video?

    O’KEEFE: Because no journalist in their right mind would ever release their raw notebooks and if they did, Sam--

    SEDER: Well, it’s not a notebook. It is caught on camera.

    O’KEEFE: Let me tell you something: No journalist ever releases the raw, and the reason, and if they did, if all these journalists released the raw, you would see a different story. They piece words together to paint a specific portrait.

    SEDER: So you paste the words together to paint--

    O’KEEFE: No. I have video. I don’t just have words. I have video.


    SEDER: Are you saying you did piece it together to paint a picture?

    O’KEEFE: That’s what journalism is. Journalism is telling a story. And I will stand by every single edit. I will go to -- I will be in contempt of court to protect my undercover reporters because I’m standing for something greater than myself. I’m standing for the right of citizen journalists. No one here would ever dare release their raw. No one would.

    Project Veritas routinely released hours of raw footage for a number of its alleged stings until mid-2014. O’Keefe says the group stopped doing this because “they’ll manufacture reasons why it’s doctored/fake.” In actuality, O’Keefe’s raw footage -- whether released seemingly voluntarily or not -- has repeatedly revealed egregious instances of selective editing over the years.

    Project Veritas first made national headlines in 2009 with a series of heavily edited videos purporting to show staff members of the now-defunct nonprofit ACORN engaging in criminal behavior. Subsequent investigations revealed that the workers had engaged in no illegal activity, and that O’Keefe had employed “highly selective editing of reality.” He later had to settle a case filed by an ACORN staff member who was fired because of the edited videos, paying the man $100,000 and issuing a public apology.

    O’Keefe’s own unedited footage negated a 2011 attempt to tell a specific story that an NPR executive had called members of the Tea Party “racist.” In reality, the executive had been quoting someone else; that part was conveniently edited out. “How quickly things seem to fall apart when James O’Keefe is the person who put them together,” concluded the Columbia Journalism Review. Washington Post writer Michael Gerson explained that O’Keefe had “manufactured an elaborate, alluring lie.”

    Raw footage from a 2012 undercover video similarly disproved O’Keefe’s story that local officials in New York state were agreeing to waste taxpayer money on a fake company that dug holes and filled them up again. Instead, the footage just showed officials trying to be courteous to actors they believed were constituents in an absurd, manufactured situation.

    O’Keefe stopped releasing his own unedited footage in May 2014, shortly after Media Matters used the raw footage from an edited Project Veritas video purporting to expose “Hollywood’s War On U.S. Energy” to debunk the video. O’Keefe’s group had cut parts of a secretly recorded conversation mid-sentence to paint a certain picture that two environmental producers were accepting funding from foreign oil interests; the unedited footage revealed they were actually discussing something completely different.

    This May, Project Veritas Action released raw footage on YouTube for a video series purporting to show “voter fraud” committed by Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in New Hampshire, when prompted to do so by the state’s attorney general. At the time, O’Keefe made similar claims about journalistic integrity. This is how the group’s press release ended (emphasis added):

    In order to assist the State of New Hampshire with their investigation of voter fraud and other election-related irregularities, PVA is releasing the raw footage associated with all three videos to Governor Hassan and the Attorney General she appointed, as well as making the footage available to the general public on a YouTube channel.

    “When Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said that ‘sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,’ he probably didn’t envision viral YouTube videos,” said PVA President James O’Keefe. “These videos provide ample evidence of criminal behavior to assist the state in the immediate investigation of electoral malfeasance. Hopefully, those caught engaging in voter fraud will receive the swift hand of justice. Likewise, the videos spotlight a significant legislative problem which could have easily been avoided if Governor Hassan hadn’t vetoed last year’s residency bill.” 

  • Journalists Who Covered Florida Recount Say There's No Comparison Between Gore And Trump

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Donald Trump supporters have been defending the presidential nominee’s warnings about a “rigged” election and refusal to say he will accept the results in November by claiming Trump is merely doing the same thing former Vice President Al Gore did in 2000. But reporters who covered that year’s Florida recount tell Media Matters that the people pushing that comparison either “haven’t done their homework or they are being disingenuous.”

    During Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate, Trump sparked widespread criticism by telling moderator Chris Wallace that he will “keep you in suspense” over whether he will accept the outcome of the election.

    Immediately following the debate, Trump surrogates, media allies, and campaign officials quickly went to work pretending that Trump’s assertion -- which journalists and experts have called “horrifying” and “disqualifying” -- was actually no big deal, because he was merely doing the same thing Gore did following the 2000 election.

    But for reporters and editors who covered the Florida recount, there is no comparison.

    “The two situations are not even remotely similar," recalled Martin Merzer, a former Miami Herald senior writer who was among the lead recount journalists at the time. "In 2000, the recount was mandated by the state because of the narrowness of the margin. They haven’t done their homework or they are being disingenuous. At no point before, during, or after that election was voter fraud an issue and at no point three weeks before the election did any candidate refuse to accept the result.”

    He also had a warning for journalists who might try to compare the two this year: “Any reporter who just does a he said/she said on this is not doing his or her work because the cases are not similar and a little bit of research could show how dissimilar they are.”

    Trump, echoing his conspiracy theorist media allies, has spent months warning his supporters that the November results might be “rigged” against him.

    Tim Nickens, who was the St. Petersburg Times political editor in 2000, agreed that the situations are not similar. 

    “I don’t think it’s the same at all,” Nickens, now editorial page editor at the renamed Tampa Bay Times, said. “Gore was never claiming the election was rigged as I recall, certainly not right out of the box. You may remember in the pre-dawn hours he was heading to concede.

    “As the things unfolded, Gore raised questions in specific counties, not the entire state,” Nickens said. “And then after 36 days of this and the court ruled, he could have continued to dispute it then in a P.R. sort of a way and he didn’t do that. Trump has no evidence or anything other than saying, ‘If I lose, I should have won.’”

    Adam Clymer, a former New York Times political reporter who covered elements of the recount, points out that Gore never questioned the validity of the process and certainly not in advance.

    “He didn’t announce in advance that he didn’t trust it,” Clymer remembers, later adding, “I don’t think it’s comparable. People have always challenged results when they thought there were irregularities. What is different about Trump is announcing in advance he may not accept the results.”

    John Zarrella, a former CNN correspondent on the Florida recount, said there was no pre-vote claim of rigging as there is with Trump.

    “In 2000, the result was not called into question until after the votes were cast,” he said via email. “And only after an automatic machine recount was triggered in Florida. So at this point, what is there to compare?”

    George Bennett, a Palm Beach Post reporter who was on the recount story, said that was only disputed afterward and because it was “freakishly close.”

    “There was a lot of dispute over what the rules would be over recounting ballots,” Bennett said. “It was contested after the fact and not beforehand. Trump is saying something three weeks before. The 2000 recount was hotly contested, but it was after the election.”

    Tom Fiedler, former Miami Herald political editor and editorial page editor in 2000, said anyone seeking to compare Trump’s actions with Gore is displaying “either an ignorance of the facts or a deliberate attempt to distort them.”

    “The Gore campaign never alleged that the system was rigged or the outcome in any way unfair,” Fiedler added via email. “Again, the entire series of lawsuits and court hearings was about the determining voter intent on the uncounted ballots.”

  • Chris Wallace Botched The Discussion Of Immigration At The Final Presidential Debate

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Fox News’ Chris Wallace, moderator of the last presidential debate, failed to generate a meaningful discussion on immigration, meaning audiences “learn[ed] nothing new,” according to Univision. Instead, the moderator provided another platform for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant bashing while failing to dig deeper into the serious consequences immigration policies have on millions of people in the United States.

    Wallace initiated the discussion around immigration by stating the positions that both of the candidates have made known to the public throughout the campaign and then asking each, “Why are you right and your opponent wrong?”

    During Univision’s post-debate analysis, commentators took issue with the immigration segment because audiences “learn[ed] nothing new” even though many had been clamoring for a meaningful discussion of the topic leading up to the final debate. As Univision legal contributor Ezequiel Hernandez pointed out, many questions on specifics still linger: “The executive action was not discussed, judges were talked about in the previous topic, but the thousands of children who get to the border and are left waiting and who are deported until something is done were not discussed.”

    Wallace stuck to his promise of being nothing more than a timekeeper and failed to dig deeper on the topic, instead framing his next query around an illegally obtained excerpt of a speech Hillary Clinton gave to a Brazilian bank where she allegedly said, “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.” Wallace asked Clinton, “Is that your dream? Open borders?” while ignoring both the context of Clinton’s words and Trump’s 2013 CNN op-ed in which he said, “We still have to leave borders behind and go for global unity when it comes to financial stability.” Trump had already attempted to capitalize on Clinton’s phrasing on the campaign trail, which prompted PolitiFact to analyze the claim and rate it “mostly false,” calling her immigration plan "a far cry from Trump's characterization." PolitiFact also explained that “the context of that sentence related to green energy -- and wasn’t about people immigrating to the United States.” As NBC News’ Suzanna Gamboa wrote,“The candidates seemed on the verge of a more insightful discussion” until Wallace directed the debate toward the “open borders” comment, which is when “things began to crumble.”

    As predicted, Trump took advantage of Wallace’s inaction and vague immigration questioning, using it as a platform to once again smear immigrants as violent criminals, conjuring up a phrase offensive to Latino immigrants in particular: “bad hombres.”

    Meanwhile, the pressing, life-altering questions many Latino immigrants have -- like the question 6-year-old Sophie Cruz suggested on OpenDebateCoalition.com, “What happens to me if you deport my parents?” -- remain unanswered.

  • Chris Wallace And The Banality Of Conservative Dishonesty

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has received widespread praise for his performance as moderator of the final presidential debate, despite repeatedly injecting right-wing framing and misinformation into his questions. The celebration of Wallace’s performance highlights the extent to which conservative spin has become normalized in national politics.

    Following the October 19 debate, commentators across the political spectrum praised Wallace for his performance as moderator. Wallace was lauded for his “blunt questions,” “evenhanded approach,” and “sterling performance,” and he was even described as the “one clearcut winner” of the debate.

    Some of this praise is legitimate -- Wallace repeatedly grilled Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on questions of policy and at times forced him to stay on topic in his answers. And the most newsworthy moment of the debate -- Trump's refusal to say whether he’d accept the results of the elections -- came in response to Wallace’s pointed, repeated questioning near the end of the event.

    But Wallace also exposed his audience to a large dose of right-wing misinformation:

    • His question about the economy began with the false premise that President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan damaged the economy.
    • His question about immigration took Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s 2013 comments about “open borders” grossly out of context.
    • His question about abortion access invoked the right-wing myth of “partial-birth” abortion, a non-medical term invented by anti-abortion groups.
    • His question about the national debt falsely alleged that programs like Social Security and Medicare are going to run out of money and add to the debt absent short-term cuts, echoing Republican talking points about entitlements.

    Wallace also failed to fact-check Trump’s frequent falsehoods -- following through on his promise not to be a “truth squad” during the debate.

    Wallace’s rave reviews from Republicans and Democrats alike highlight the extent to which right-wing dishonesty -- made ubiquitous by Fox News and conservative media -- has become normal in national politics. Wallace’s network has spent years repeating and mainstreaming these types of lies -- the stimulus failed, Democrats want open borders, et cetera. Viewers have heard them so often that it can feel passé to go through the motions of debunking them over and over. Journalists become so numb to the talking points that they can hear them being repeated by a debate moderator during a presidential debate without batting an eye.

    That’s how political propaganda works -- not by outright convincing people, but by treating a lie as so routine and unremarkable that people slowly stop being suspicious of it.

    Journalists’ willingness to accept and overlook Wallace’s bullshit is even greater when it’s being compared to the absurdity of Donald Trump. When Trump is on stage claiming his opponent should be disqualified from running for office or suggesting he might not accept the results of the election, it feels nitpicky to worry about the misleading nature of many of Wallace’s questions. Trump’s unhinged, out-of-control campaign style makes everything around him seem normal and tame by comparison. We’re willing to forgive Wallace’s occasional dishonesty because we’re so grateful that he pointed out Trump is literally threatening a core democratic principle.

    But becoming numb to Wallace’s casual, subtle dishonesty is incredibly dangerous. Fox News’ modus operandi is making right-wing misinformation so pervasive and constant that it becomes unnoticeable -- it becomes part of the noise we just take for granted in American politics. What makes Wallace such an effective purveyor of dishonesty is that he’s good at playing the part of the reasonable, “even-handed” journalist, even when what he’s saying is wrong.

    It’s easy to challenge bullshit when it’s being delivered wildly by Trump on a debate stage. It’s much harder to challenge it when it’s being subtly baked into questions from a moderator whose employer has spent years trying to blur the lines between serious journalism and right-wing fantasy.

  • Fox Business Gets Fooled Again By Gateway Pundit's Email Conspiracy Theory

    Host Stuart Varney Falsely Claims Out-Of-Context Email Proves Clinton Campaign Is “Encouraging” Voter Fraud

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Fox Business host Stuart Varney promoted the baseless conspiracy theory that Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta tacitly endorsed mass voter fraud based on a misreading of the contents of stolen emails released by WikiLeaks. Varney’s story comes straight from the discredited right-wing blog The Gateway Pundit, and it marks the second time in as many weeks that the Fox host has fallen for such an obviously fabricated story on air.

    In an attempt to deflect criticism of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s suggestion during the third presidential debate that he might not accept the results of the general election, Varney falsely accused Podesta of arguing in an email that “if you’ve got a [driver’s] license, you should vote … whether you’re a legal citizen or not.” Varney and guest Andrew Napolitano went on to suggest that the availability of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in California and some other states would create an environment ripe for mass voter fraud:

    STUART VARNEY (HOST): Now listen to this. Maybe Trump's got a point. A WikiLeaks email from Clinton campaign manager [John] Podesta shows that if you’ve got a license, you should vote. That’s what Podesta thinks, whether you're a legal citizen or not. Here is exactly what he wrote: “On the picture ID, the one thing I have thought of in that space is that if you show up on Election Day with a driver's license with a picture, attest that you are a citizen, you have a right to vote in Federal elections.” … You’ve got to stand up and attest that you're citizen when you're not so you’ve got to lie. He’s encouraging this.

    Once again, Varney is pushing a conspiracy theory from hapless right-wing blogger Jim Hoft based on an intentionally misleading interpretation of emails released by WikiLeaks.

    On October 19, Hoft published a blog claiming “Podesta Says It’s OK for Illegals to Vote With Driver’s License…” in which he highlighted the exact quote cited by Varney and singled out California and other states for providing driver’s licenses to “illegal aliens.” The entire October 20 segment on Varney & Co. is based on this single blog, and Varney’s argument during the segment is pulled directly from Hoft.

    Varney could have followed the link back to the original WikiLeaks source and viewed a days-long email exchange from January 28, 2015, through February 4, 2015, between individuals who would soon join Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign. At no point during the email exchange, which has not been authenticated, does any participant so much as mention the word “immigrant,” much less undocumented ones. The email in question is about how responsive voters are to easing voter registration restrictions -- such as by adopting a policy of automatic voter registration when you receive a driver’s license or other state ID -- and the author simply concludes -- correctly -- that “you have a right to vote in Federal elections” if you “show up on Election Day with a drivers license ... [and] attest that you are a citizen”:

    It would still be a felony for a noncitizen to vote in a federal election, regardless of whether that person has a valid driver’s license. Trump supporters have been trying and failing to turn voter fraud into a core issue of the campaign, but the problem simply does not exist at any meaningful level. Fox News even admitted as much earlier the same day with an on-screen chyron reading “Experts Say Voter Fraud Is Rare.”

    Varney’s face plant on the voter fraud issue marks the second time in as many weeks that he has fallen for an laughable Gateway Pundit conspiracy on air. Last week, the Fox Business host bizarrely claimed that an unsolicited racist email sent to -- not from -- John Podesta somehow proved that Hillary Clinton was a racist.

    Varney should be more careful when regurgitating talking points pulled from fringe blogs like The Gateway Pundit, particularly when their conclusions are based on documents that the U.S. intelligence community stated on October 7 were stolen via Russian state-sponsored hacking in an effort to “interfere with the U.S. election process.”

  • Even Though Debate Moderators Didn’t Pose Any LGBT-Related Questions, Both Candidates Brought Up LGBT People

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Over the course of three general election presidential debates, moderators failed to ask candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump a single question on LGBT equality. In the third and final debate, both candidates independently brought up LGBT people, though in drastically different terms, highlighting the need for a question to specifically parse policy positions on LGBT equality.

    The third presidential debate concluded without Fox News host Chris Wallace asking a question pertaining to LGBT equality. Prior to the debate, the National Center for Transgender Equality had urged Wallace to address the “critical issue” of transgender equality. This year saw an unprecedented number of anti-LGBT bills introduced in state legislatures, high-profile lawsuits from several states against federal policy guidance over transgender student equality, and the adoption of North Carolina's widely condemned HB 2, which, among other things, requires transgender people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates.

    While Wallace failed to ask the candidates about their differing positions on LGBT equality, both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump brought up LGBT people in the course of the debate. In answering a question on Supreme Court nominees, Clinton said that “we need a Supreme Court that will stand up … on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community” and that it is “important that we not reverse marriage equality.” In the second debate, Clinton had similarly said, “I want a Supreme Court that will stick with marriage equality” and pointed out that Trump has suggested that he would nominate justices who would “reverse marriage equality.”

    Trump didn’t bring up LGBT equality in the discussion of domestic policy. Instead, he mentioned LGBT people in an attack on the Clinton Foundation, calling the organization a “criminal enterprise” because it accepts donations from countries with anti-LGBT policies, saying “these are people that push gays off business -- off buildings.” This talking point is ripped straight from right-wing media pundits like Fox’s Sean Hannity, who have attempted to attack the Clinton Foundation by scandalizing donations from countries that have a history of discriminating against women and LGBT people. This line of attack ignores Trump’s business dealings in the exact same countries that donate to the Clinton Foundation. 

    Given that media have previously ignored Trump’s anti-LGBT record to falsely tout him as LGBT-friendly, the debates would have been the perfect chance for journalists to correct the mischaracterization of Trump as a “champion” of LGBT equality. 

    Methodology: Media Matters searched transcripts of the three presidential debates in The Washington Post for the terms “LGBT,” "gay," “lesbian,” “bisexual,” "transgender," "sexual orientation," "gender identity,” and “marriage.” 

  • Newspaper Editorials Slam McCain For Unprecedented Pledge To Block Any Clinton Nominee For Supreme Court

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Newspaper editorial boards are sharply criticizing Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for promising that he and his fellow Republican senators would block any and all nominees for the Supreme Court put forth by a President Hillary Clinton, noting that McCain’s promise upends the GOP’s stated reasons for refusing to even hold a vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.