This act is getting tired.
In recent years, conservative activists, under the guise of renegade journalism, have been churning out undercover "sting" videos supposedly capturing reprehensible behavior by their mostly liberal targets. Those targets have included low-level workers at ACORN, a fundraiser at National Public Radio, and now officials at Planned Parenthood, among others.
The activists release a series of videos in an effort to build a big takedown story, and the press usually plays along. Meanwhile, activists coordinate with right-wing media players and members of Congress to generate simultaneous outrage over the clips.
The problem for the activists, and the problem for journalists who excitedly treat the clips as news, is that the videos invariably turn out to be doctored, filled with deceptive edits, and missing context in an effort to manufacture scandal.
The whole cycle has become a media cliché, but it's one that conservative partisans cheer. And they're cheering again this month as the Center for Medical Progress releases edited clips to claim Planned Parenthood officials have been caught discussing how the organization "sells the body parts of aborted fetuses" and "haggling" over prices for "baby parts."
Both incendiary videos have been proven to omit crucial context undermining their central claims.
While some outlets have done a good job calling out the deceptive nature of the campaign against Planned Parenthood, too many veer into a he said, she said construction while writing up the allegations. (See the front page of yesterday's New York Times, for example.)
Commentary's John Podhoretz was impressed by the roll-out:
This Planned Parenthood video drip-drip-drip is the first time anyone has properly followed the Andrew Breitbart playbook since his death.-- John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) July 21, 2015
Podhoretz was likely referring to the ACORN sting videos that Andrew Breitbart's site helped roll out in 2009, as the conservative media waged war on a nonprofit group that helped poor people -- a war waged via dishonest undercover clips that captured James O'Keefe and his sidekick, Hannah Giles, famously getting advice from ACORN workers in various field offices on how prostitutes could skirt tax laws. The ACORN videos that the press went bonkers for were built around the fundamental lie that O'Keefe entered the ACORN offices dressed like a cartoonish pimp and workers still counseled him. They were also bolstered by deceptive editing.
California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown, Jr. pointed out that the videotapes were "severely edited by O'Keefe." According to a 2010 New York Daily News article about an investigation into O'Keefe's sting at a Brooklyn office, "a law enforcement source" said the conservative activists had "edited the tape to meet their agenda."
In 2011, O'Keefe released a set of sting videos to expose NPR's supposed liberal bias. It featured fundraiser Ron Schiller having lunch with two potential (albeit fake) Muslim donors and Schiller making disparaging comments about Republicans and Tea Party members. It was soon revealed that the tapes had been highly edited and done so in a way to make the Schiller comments seem more damning than originally believed. (In the short term, the videos worked -- NPR's CEO was forced to resign.)
The anti-choice group Live Action rolled out a series of undercover videos in 2013 claiming to catch Planned Parenthood conducting "illegal and inhuman practices." Like the others, the Live Action videos were dishonestly edited to improve the story activists wanted to tell.
Let's put it this way, when conservative activists release an undercover sting video that doesn't rely on dishonest editing to manufacture its point, it will be their first.
But the dismaying part is the formula works in the short term because too much of the media, drawn to the heat and the light of agitated conservative outrage, almost immediately types up the tapes as news despite the fact that for six years running, the established record shows that these types of tapes are regularly debunked. (Joining some other outlets that have called out the spin, a New York Times editorial this week cut through the ambiguities and declared the clips to be part of a larger, deeply dishonest smear campaign.)
Does the press honestly believe these tape releases aren't carefully choreographed by conservatives? Meaning, the press seems to treat as news that the tapes generate outrage within the conservative media and the Republican Party.
From the New York Times last week: "The video spread rapidly over social media and was discussed on talk radio."
But there are clear indications that the outrage was planned in advance, so why is the ire considered newsworthy?
In fact, we now know at least two key Republican congressmen who expressed outrage at Planned Parenthood last week were shown the first sting video weeks earlier -- and did nothing with the information. Apparently not wanting to step on the media roll-out, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) -- a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee -- and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) both sat on the information contained in the video and only sprang into action after it was released to the press.
After the right-wing's NPR video was proven to be misleading in 2011, some reporters conceded that activists releasing bogus clips have the advantage because the press doesn't want to slow down and ask questions about whether the clips are dishonest or not.
But how many times does the same script have to play out before journalists refuse to star as actors in orchestrated, far-right attack campaigns?
Project Veritas is "a multi-million dollar non-profit P.R. machine to promote the James O'Keefe brand," according to a former employee who says he was fired after he refused to force a colleague to incite protesters into making violent anti-police comments.
Rich Valdes worked for O'Keefe's Project Veritas from February 2014 to January 2015. A New York Post article this week reported that "former top staffer" Valdes says he was fired from the organization for "being unwilling to strong-arm" another Veritas operative into attending a January anti-police brutality event organized by Al Sharpton's National Action Network. The Post reported that the operative's would-be assignment included telling protestors things like, "I wish I could kill some of these cops," to elicit shocking reactions.
Valdes expanded on the incident that he says led to his dismissal in an interview with Media Matters.
Valdes said O'Keefe wanted him to send the other activist, whom Valdes describes as a "Muslim operative," to a January National Action Network event related to the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after being put in a chokehold by a New York police officer in July 2014.
"In this particular situation, James came to my desk and asked me to send this particular operative into the field," Valdes recalls about the incident, which he says took place in the organization's Mamaroneck, N.Y., offices. "And he was really anxious and he said, 'do whatever it takes, do whatever it takes, tell him to say whatever he's got to say, get me the content.' Content is king."
Media Matters has reached out to the operative for comment, with no response yet. O'Keefe referred questions to a Project Veritas spokesman who confirmed Valdes' past employment, but declined to comment on the controversy or specific details of his work.
"He gave me some examples ... about saying he was a Muslim and kind of commiserating with the folks," Valdes told Media Matters about O'Keefe's pressure. "He tells me, 'tell your guy [to say to others] that, you know, that he had a kid and that he's a Muslim and you don't know what it's like to get stopped by the cops because they think you're a terrorist and they want to search your kid, and that I wish I could have a cop here now.' So as he's saying this at my desk, I'm writing it down."
Valdes said he emailed the operative with the request; he provided Media Matters with copies of the emails.
"He responded very quickly saying that he didn't want to do it, he didn't think it was legal, this, that and the other thing," Valdes recalled about the operative's reaction. "I had a discussion with our producer and with James and the consensus was, 'see what you can do, get him to do it.'"
Valdes said he sent another email and tried to convince the operative "that this is not very different from what you've done in the past, you've posed as someone you weren't in the past to get some undercover response from some people." But he said the man "thought it was really different and he felt it was illegal to talk about killing cops. I myself understood."
James O'Keefe has recently launched a political advocacy group, Project Veritas Action Fund, but journalists should be aware that O'Keefe has a long history of lies and deceptively edited videos filmed under false pretenses.
Project Veritas Action Fund has so far released videos about Kentucky's U.S. Senate race and Texas' gubernatorial contest. O'Keefe's venture is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, which allows direct involvement in political campaigns. O'Keefe's existing group, Project Veritas, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, which is not allowed to be involved in political campaigning.
Fox News host Eric Bolling derided the antics of controversial conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe's latest political stunt, which featured a video of him crossing the Rio Grande River in a mask of Osama Bin Laden.
Controversial filmmaker James O'Keefe, known for deceptively editing videos in order to push his canard of "political disinformation," released a video of himself dressed up as Osama Bin Laden to purportedly show how a terrorist could easily get into the U.S. from the Mexican border. Gawker immediately debunked the O'Keefe video, explaining that the area O'Keefe claims to have crossed in includes a "well-patrolled road that runs parallel to the river" and other obstacles that did not appear in his video.
Conservative activist James O'Keefe suggested that in his new video he would show that "a lot" of environmental "propaganda" is funded by foreign oil interests. O'Keefe duped two small-time filmmakers into accepting funding from a man posing as an oil tycoon from the Middle East, but his attempts to broaden the scope of the sting to more prominent organizations and activists were based on deceptive edits.
O'Keefe hyped his latest YouTube video, titled "Expose: Hollywood's War On U.S. Energy," by suggesting in a fundraising email that it would expose "the darker side of how a lot of the feel-good environmentalist propaganda gets funded by international interests who jeopardize national security." In it, he convinces the filmmakers of FRACKED, an upcoming documentary about the risks of fracking, to accept funding from an actor posing as "Muhammed," an oil tycoon from the Middle East who is being represented by an ad executive. The filmmakers said in a statement that they agreed to this funding because "It was understood that the investor would have no control over the content of the film and that we, the directors, would have final cut. We thought to ourselves 'oh the irony! We'll use the funding from an oil company to make a film that promotes green energy!'" Encouraging reliance on green energy, rather than oil from domestic or foreign sources, is essential to national security and it's not clear how a real "Muhammed" would benefit from this.
The video suggested that not only would the filmmakers, Josh and Rachel Tickell, accept oil money but that larger environmental organizations may as well, by adding a false voiceover. The voiceover claimed that the Tickells named environmental groups "When asked if environmental partners would be willing to be paid off":
VOICEOVER: And when asked if environmental partners would be willing to be paid off...
"AD EXECUTIVE" REPRESENTING "MUHAMMED": Which ones? Which ones?
REBECCA TICKELL: Environment California and CodeBlue.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Would that be something that --
JOSH TICKELL: And the NRDC.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Like they accept donations and things like that too?
REBECCA: Absolutely. They would work with us on this film.
But the Tickells were actually stating that they could reach out to these groups to promote their film, not that these groups would accept oil funding - the parts in bold were in the unedited tape starting at 3:28:30 but not in the edited version:
JOSH TICKELL: What's our market reach? We essentially work with six verticals. And these are things that we have developed for the better part of two decades. Grassroots? We have a number of organizations that actively activate our grassroots base. [...] Universities -- as I said, we do a lot of work with universities. That builds credibility, it also allows you to do a back and forth when you're taking people from the university, putting them in the film, and then you're screening it. That university becomes part of your prestige of the film -- oh we have an MIT professor, oh we have this professor, we have that professor. NGOs --
REBECCA TICKELL (interrupting): Which these two organizations, their main focus is anti-fracking.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Which ones? Which ones?
REBECCA TICKELL: Environment California and CodeBlue.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Would that be something that --
JOSH TICKELL: And the NRDC.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Like they accept donations and things like that too? I want my client to --
REBECCA: Absolutely. They would work with us on this film. They would make sure that all of their members saw the film. They would speak at the screenings, they would send out email blasts.
Kate Kiely, a spokeswoman for The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement to Media Matters that "NRDC actually has very strict rules about donations. We have a hard and fast policy not to accept money from any fossil fuel industries. Nor do we accept money to advocate for projects. Our advocacy is always based on strong science, law and policy." When asked whether the organization had "ever accepted funding from foreign oil interests" or if they had any part in the upcoming film FRACKED, Kiely wrote that the answer to both was "a resounding 'NO.'"
Most environmental organizations and activists do not accept funding from special interests that contradict their values. As the Tickells stated during O'Keefe's video, public knowledge that they had agreed to accept Middle Eastern oil money would damage their credibility among environmentalists.
However, according to O'Keefe, his deceptive editing job has already convinced a Senate committee to investigate:
A Texas judge dismissed a complaint based on claims from a video produced by conservative fabulist James O'Keefe after special prosecutors ripped the video as "little more than a canard and political disinformation."
In February, O'Keefe and his Project Veritas group released a video investigation of progressive organization Battleground Texas. In the video, O'Keefe accuses the group, which he labels "the new ACORN," of using "potentially illegal methods to change elections." The allegation hinged on O'Keefe repeatedly pointing to a part of the Texas Election Code, which states that "the registrar may not transcribe, copy, or otherwise record a telephone number furnished on a registration application."
An organizer from Battleground Texas -- which has worked to register voters in the state -- says in the video that the group has taken phone numbers from the applications, which they will use to reach out to people and encourage them to vote closer to the election. A quote from Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry's office included in the video suggests that the Battleground Texas organizers may in fact have been in violation of the law.
Following outrage from Republican officials, complaints were filed with the secretary of state's office about the claims from the video. A Texas judge eventually appointed two special prosecutors -- one of whom is reportedly a Republican -- to investigate the allegations.
On Friday, the special prosecutors released a report recommending the case's dismissal, which a judge granted. As first reported by Texas blog Burnt Orange Report, the recommendation for dismissal from the special prosecutors is withering, attacking, among other things, "unprofessional" aspects of O'Keefe's video.
According to the prosecutors, the language about copying telephone numbers from registration applications "applies only to the official county registrar, not to a volunteer deputy registrar." Further, they conclude that "three recent attorney general opinions hold that one's telephone number on a voter registration is not confidential information."
After labeling the Veritas video "little more than a canard and political disinformation," the prosecutors recommend that the complaint "be dismissed for insufficient evidence and failure to state an offense." San Antonio Judge Raymond Angelini subsequently signed an order dismissing the complaint.
The dismissal of the complaint is merely the latest egg in O'Keefe's face, whose work has repeatedly been marred by misinformation and incompetence and condemned by law enforcement reviews. Last year, O'Keefe agreed to pay $100,000 to an ACORN employee he had smeared as part of his fraudulent ACORN sting.
A copy of the special prosecutors' recommendation for dismissal, courtesy of Burnt Orange Report, is below.
James O'Keefe, a right-wing performance artist known for his undercover videos that supposedly "expose" progressive "fraud," has released a new video falsely accusing conservative Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) of "excluding whites" from protection under his new Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), a distortion of this bipartisan bill that has already been repeated in the National Review Online.
O'Keefe's new video shows him mysteriously dressed in camouflage, dancing to New Order's "Round and Round," and ultimately "confronting" Sensenbrenner at a town hall meeting about supposedly alarming anti-white language in the VRAA. Sensenbrenner, as he has in the past, began working on both sides of the aisle on this new VRA legislation last year, after the Supreme Court gutted crucial voter suppression protections in Shelby County v. Holder.
In the video, O'Keefe lectures Sensenbrenner on his own bill, claiming that "[i]n the legislation, it seems to contain language that explicitly removes white people from the protections of the Voting Rights Act." Sensenbrenner interrupts O'Keefe to correctly point out that the law "does not do that. There is nothing targeting people by race in the Voting Rights Act." O'Keefe eventually accuses Sensenbrenner of "doing the work of [U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder and the race-hustlers with this language in the bill."
From the July 3 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Conservative activist James O'Keefe released a new highly edited video that he's using to suggest there are widespread problems with a government program that provides phones and phone service to low-income Americans.
The Lifeline phone program, which according to the Federal Communications Commission "provides discounts on monthly telephone service for eligible low-income consumers to help ensure they have the opportunities and security that telephone service affords, including being able to connect to jobs, family, and 911 services," has existed for decades and was expanded to include cell phones during the Bush administration. Conservatives have criticized the program repeatedly, which they have called the "Obama phone" for years.
O'Keefe's video, which coincides with the launch of his self-congratulatory book, purports to show O'Keefe's actors receiving free cell phones after telling employees of a wireless phone company that they plan to sell the phones to pay for drugs, other purchases, or bills. The edited video includes a narration by O'Keefe asking if the employees would tell his actors "to sell the phones and break the law."
The raw footage that O'Keefe also released doesn't show any of the featured employees telling the actors to sell their free phones, despite the actors repeatedly saying that they intend to do so and asking about their resale value. As New York magazine's Jonathan Chait explained, the employees only acknowledged that personal property, in the form of these cell phones, can be sold by their owners to buy other things. The raw footage also shows that none of the actors actually received a free phone -- only information about how they could apply for a free phone and the eligibility requirements to receive one, with the actors walking away saying they'd bring their documentation later.
But O'Keefe's edited video is fulfilling its intended effect and is fooling right-wing media. The Daily Mail Online's David Martosko, who wrote the exclusive article about O'Keefe's video, falsely wrote in his headline that the video "catches wireless employees passing out 'Obama phones' to people who say they'll sell them for drugs, shoes, handbags and spending cash." Martosko again wrote that the video:
[S]hows two corporate distributors of free cell phones handing out the mobile devices to people who have promised to sell them for drug money, to buy shoes and handbags, to pay off their bills, or just for extra spending cash.
Again, the raw footage shows that the actors who stated their intention to sell free phones for these reasons never actually received phones.
Fox News has teased a segment on the O'Keefe video for Tuesday's edition of The O'Reilly Factor. Will Fox fall for O'Keefe's misleading framing?
From the June 18 edition of Cumulus Media Network's The Mike Huckabee Show:
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At various points throughout Breakthrough, the new memoir/manifesto by conservative "sting" video auteur James O'Keefe, the reader is informed that O'Keefe's mission is to "save democracy," "save the 2012 election," "revive investigative journalism," and, most ambitiously, "change the world." It's an outsized view of what one can accomplish with some silly costumes and cameras concealed in neckties. And by O'Keefe's account, he's been just about flawless in exposing the most sinister and corrupt establishments of the American political system.
Then there's the reality of what O'Keefe has actually accomplished. He has more than a few scalps -- an executive at NPR, the field director of Rep. Jim Moran's (D-VA) 2012 campaign, ACORN. He's been on TV quite a lot, he was honored by the House of Representatives, and New Hampshire passed a restrictive voter ID law as a consequence of his work. His penchant for trimming otherwise damning videos of exculpatory material has brought down scathing condemnations from journalists across the ideological spectrum.
Can any of this really be considered saving democracy? Did he save the 2012 election? Has he changed the world?
Unless, of course, you view the world as James O'Keefe does. In this terrifying alternate reality, ACORN "help[ed] bring the economy to its knees" in 2008 and was the "General Motors" of the "election fraud business." It's a world in which voter fraud is so rampant that Sen. Al Franken stole his 2008 election with the help of "more than a thousand ineligible felons" who "voted illegally." O'Keefe's existence is filled with "totalitarians" and "anti-journalists" who oppose him -- from President Obama to Media Matters to the administrative staff of Rutgers University -- and his only friend is the little voice that says: "All roads lead to truth. All roads lead to Breitbart. Go there."
According to court documents obtained by Wonkette, conservative activist James O'Keefe has agreed to a $100,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed against him by Juan Carlos Vera, a former employee of ACORN. Vera filed the suit against O'Keefe in 2010, alleging O'Keefe had illegally taped their conversation at an ACORN office in California as part of his fraudulent "exposé" of the community activist group.
Vera was one of the ACORN employees portrayed in O'Keefe's videos as offering assistance in setting up a nonexistent child prostitution ring. After his encounter with O'Keefe, Vera contacted the police to report "possible human smuggling," unaware that he had been duped. Vera claims he lost his job as a result of O'Keefe's deception after the conservative's video of their encounter was posted on a Breitbart website.
According to the settlement documents obtained by Wonkette, O'Keefe has agreed to "pay Vera $100,000.00," and that "as part of this settlement O'Keefe states that at the time of the publication of the video of Juan Carlos Vera he was unaware of Vera's claims to have notified a police officer of the incident. O'Keefe regrets any pain suffered by Mr. Vera or his family."
After the ACORN prostitution hoax fell apart, O'Keefe and his Project Veritas group released a series of heavily edited undercover sting videos attempting to document voter fraud, most of which collapsed under scrutiny, sometimes spectacularly so.
In a post at Salon, Brad Friedman reports that O'Keefe's ACORN video partner, Republican activist Hannah Giles, has agreed to pay Vera $50,000.
Discredited conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe released heavily edited videos Wednesday claiming to prove that members of President Obama's campaign team are helping voters engage in voter fraud. In fact, neither of the highly edited videos O'Keefe released shows a single vote being cast, completely undermining his campaign to demonstrate widespread voter fraud.
In the heavily doctored videos, so-called undercover reporters are shown approaching individuals identified as staffers for Organizing for America, Obama's grassroots campaign organization, and other Obama supporters handing out voter registration forms in Texas and New York. The reporters claim they want registration forms because they intend to vote in two states.
No votes were cast, and no voter fraud occurred in either video, yet both doctored films are falsely blasted out under headlines promising a voter fraud expose.
In the first doctored video O'Keefe released in his latest campaign, a woman identified as Houston OFA Regional Field Director Stephanie Caballero is shown talking to a so-called undercover reporter who asks for help requesting an absentee ballot to vote in Florida, where the "reporter" claims to be registered to vote. The "reporter" is heard saying she intends to vote in both Florida and in Texas. The woman identified as Caballero at various times laughs, urges the "reporter" to only vote in Florida, and at one point says, "Come up with like, if anyone checks, say, 'I don't know.' "
Without the full, unedited video, it is impossible to know what any of this is actually in response to. As of publication, O'Keefe has not released the unedited video.
The woman identified as Caballero offers to print off an absentee ballot request form and explains the absentee ballot process, at one point acknowledging that she is not an expert in whether canvassing boards cross check absentee ballots to make sure voters don't vote twice. During what O'Keefe said is a second visit, the so-called reporter allegedly received an absentee ballot request form.
That a person claiming to be eligible to vote in Florida obtained an absentee ballot request form is not shocking. In fact, absentee ballot request forms are available online courtesy of Florida election officials. And printing one off is several steps away from actually voting.
What's important is that O'Keefe has not shown a single vote being cast, let alone a second "double" vote. O'Keefe hasn't even shown a potential voter actually requesting an absentee ballot. At best he's demonstrated printer abuse.
John Fund, on a brief hiatus from lying about voter fraud, writes at National Review Online today that there's a vicious double-standard at play in the media's disparate treatment of Mother Jones' video of Mitt Romney denigrating half the country as incorrigible welfare parasites, and James O'Keefe's series of "sting" videos. "The [Mother Jones] tape was played over and over with no caveats, hand-wringing, or speculation that it might have been doctored," writes Fund, who goes on to complain that O'Keefe routinely faces accusations of video doctoring. This complaint is echoed by O'Keefe himself, who has been busily clucking his tongue about the "double standard amongst professional journalists."
That's utter nonsense. If the media did have any reasons to doubt the video's authenticity, they were quickly put to bed by the Romney campaign itself.
Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald has a good explanation here for why the Romney video does absolutely nothing to vindicate James O'Keefe and his M.O. of crafting elaborate hoaxes to trick private citizens and low-level government employees into saying foolish things. I'd add to it that O'Keefe is an incompetent liar who has been caught doctoring his videos. Many, many, many times. A good run-down of the many deceptions in his various video "stings" was put together by, ahem, Mother Jones. O'Keefe has not earned the presumption of trust. In fact, he's worked doggedly to forfeit it.
The same can't be said of David Corn, whose byline tops the Romney video stories. Yes, he writes from a progressive standpoint and works for a liberal publication. He also has decades of professional experience and a reputation for solid journalism. To put Corn and O'Keefe on the same plane is a huge disservice to the former and an unearned plaudit for the latter.