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  • Report: The nonprofit of frequent Fox News guest and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow is under investigation

    Sekulow’s organization is being investigated for “troubling” fundraising tactics and funneling donations to his family and personal businesses

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Guardian is reporting that authorities in North Carolina and New York are examining the filings from a nonprofit led by former Fox personality and President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow after reports unveiled that the organization steered tens of millions of dollars to Sekulow’s family.

    The report comes after The Washington Post found that millions of dollars donated to Jay Sekulow’s charities have ended up going to Sekulow’s family and their personal businesses.

    The Post noted that Sekulow’s media exposure on Fox News as an anti-Obama pundit and his close ties to Trump has led to the skyrocketing of donations to his groups the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE). The Guardian wrote that Sekulow’s fundraisers at CASE used scripts filled with anti-Muslim rhetoric, lies about Planned Parenthood, and falsehoods about the Affordable Care Act to scare conservatives into paying up.

    Today, Attorney General Josh Stein of North Carolina and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York announced they are investigating CASE’s filings following the report that CASE and an affiliate have been paid more that $60 million dollars in compensation and contracts to Sekulow, his family members, and their companies. From the Guardian:

    “Josh Stein, the attorney general of North Carolina, and Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, said on Wednesday they would be examining the operations of Jay Sekulow’s group Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case).

    Stein said in a statement: “The reports I’ve read are troubling. My office is looking into this matter.”

    Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman, said in an email: “We’re reviewing their filings.”
     

    [...]
     

    "Earlier this month, Sekulow directed fundraisers for Case to pressure hard-up Americans to donate money to the group by saying the funds were urgently needed to repeal the Affordable Care Act if they initially resisted.

    A script contained in the contract instructed the telemarketers to tell people that their money was needed for Case’s “massive campaign to repeal and replace Obamacare”.

    “Many people are helping with smaller amounts,” fundraisers were told to say. “Can Jay count on you for a smaller, but just as important gift?” People should be urged a third time to donate if they continued to resist, the script said.

    Fundraisers were told that if asked for information on Sekulow, they should say: “He never charges for his services”. Since 2000, the not-for-profit group and an affiliate have steered more than $60m to Sekulow, members of his family and businesses where they hold senior roles."
     

    [...]
     

    "The 2017 script for Case’s telemarketers detailed only the latest in a series of forceful requests for money the group has made over recent years. Scripts for several years were obtained by the Guardian. The not-for-profit group raises more than $40m a year, most from small contributions made by Christians across the US who receive alarmist political messages by telephone or in the mail.

    At the height of last year’s presidential election, Sekulow instructed his telephone fundraisers to “listen, empathize, [and] relate” to people who said they could not afford to donate to Case, before pushing these people twice more for an “urgently needed gift”. A script signed by Sekulow told the marketers to “overcome [the] objection” to donating, and to tell the person on the line that “many people are finding ways to help with smaller amounts as well”.

    Telemarketers for Case have over the years delivered frightening warnings about a variety of issues, depicting Christians in the US as under siege from both Muslim terrorists and a liberal political elite led by a president supposedly desperate to increase the national abortion rate.

    “Islamic extremists are headed in your direction, and you are most likely the main target,” Sekulow himself told people in a recorded message used in fundraising calls during 2011.”

  • Four myths journalists should watch out for during Trump’s “Energy Week”

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The White House has declared this to be "Energy Week" and is pushing a theme of "energy dominance," with a particular emphasis on exports of natural gas. Three of President Trump's cabinet members are out in force this week trying to spread misleading or false messages about energy and exports through the media.

    "An energy-dominant America will export to markets around the world, increasing our global leadership and influence," Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt wrote in a joint op-ed published Monday in The Washington Times.

    Watch out for these myths:

    Myth #1: Natural gas exports are good for ordinary Americans and the overall U.S. economy

    "American companies can and already have exported U.S. [liquefied natural gas] to our international trading partners in Europe and Asia," Perry said at a White House briefing on Tuesday. "Unleashing our full energy potential in this country will lead to robust job growth and expansion in every sector of our economy."

    A White House press release claimed that natural gas exports from 2016 to 2040 could "increase workers earnings by $110 billion," citing 2016 research from the American Action Forum, a group that describes itself as promoting "center-right" policy.

    But studies from the Department of Energy (DOE) and others have found that increased exports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, would not help many Americans and in fact would hit most in the pocketbook by raising the prices they pay for natural gas, harming lower-income people especially. And higher natural gas prices could dampen domestic manufacturing.

    "In every case, greater LNG exports raise domestic prices and lower prices internationally," according to a 2015 report produced for the Department of Energy. DOE reports from 2014 and 2012 found the same thing.

    In 2014, a bipartisan group of 22 senators were concerned enough about gas exports hurting average Americans that they sent a letter to then-President Obama on the topic:

    Families and businesses depend on affordable and reliable supplies of natural gas. This winter many parts of the country faced tight supplies of propane and natural gas and families were left to face high energy bills.

    [...]

    Taking a longer-term view, the United States has benefited from rising supplies and lower prices for natural gas since 2008. Thanks in part to lower natural gas prices, America’s manufacturing sector has created more than 600,000 jobs since 2010. The Boston Consulting Group concluded that affordable natural gas prices could lead to 5 million more manufacturing jobs by the end of the decade. We must ensure that we do not squander what is clearly an American competitive advantage right now for American manufacturers and for the American economy.

    This week, a trade group of domestic manufacturers, the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, wrote a letter to Perry and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arguing that aggressive natural gas exportation “poses a significant long-term threat” to energy-intensive industries. The group asked the Department of Energy not to approve LNG exports to nations the U.S. does not have free-trade agreements with, The Washington Post reported.

    A 2012 report commissioned by the DOE projected that LNG exports would not increase the number of jobs in the country:

    LNG exports are not likely to affect the overall level of employment in the U.S. There will be some shifts in the number of workers across industries, with those industries associated with natural gas production and exports attracting workers away from other industries.

    That report also projected that gas companies would be the big winners from increased exports and wage earners, while people relying on government assistance would be among the losers:

    How increased LNG exports will affect different socioeconomic groups will depend on their income sources. Like other trade measures, LNG exports will cause shifts in industrial output and employment and in sources of income. Overall, both total labor compensation and income from investment are projected to decline, and income to owners of natural gas resources will increase. Different socioeconomic groups depend on different sources of income, though through retirement savings an increasingly large number of workers share in the benefits of higher income to natural resource companies whose shares they own. Nevertheless, impacts will not be positive for all groups in the economy. Households with income solely from wages or government transfers, in particular, might not participate in these benefits.

    Myth #2: Natural gas exports are good for the climate

    Even as Trump and members of his administration downplay and deny climate change, they also make the claim that natural gas is climate-friendly. Perry did so while talking to journalists on Monday, The Hill reported: "He said the fact that the U.S. has been a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions — mostly due to cheap natural gas replacing coal for electricity — shows that the country can cut emissions without Paris or similar policies."

    Fred H. Hutchison, executive director of two LNG advocacy groups, elaborated on that argument in an op-ed in The Hill on Monday that praised Trump's pro-export agenda: "Low-priced U.S. natural gas, spurred by the shale energy revolution, has led to massive domestic fuel-switching and thus big reductions in conventional air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. ... Through LNG exports, these benefits can accrue to other nations — such as China, India and Korea — all of which now rely heavily on coal for power and industrial uses."

    But there is substantial research indicating that natural gas is not better for the climate than coal when one takes into consideration leaks from gas drilling and transportation infrastructure. Last year, Joe Romm of ThinkProgress rounded up more than a dozen studies that "undermine the climate case for fracked gas," including groundbreaking research by scientist Robert Howarth and his colleagues at Cornell. As Howarth said last year, "Methane leaking throughout the natural gas industry makes use of gas for power generation a disastrous strategy for slowing climate change." And a 2014 analysis of the impact of a coal-to-gas transition in the U.S. electricity sector by nonprofit science group Climate Central found that “even with modest leak rates and a fairly aggressive transition, we could still end up with little or no climate benefits by 2030.”

    When natural gas is processed and shipped overseas, the climate impact is even bigger, as climate policy analyst James Bradbury of the World Resources Institute testified before Congress in 2013. Bradbury explained why in a blog post:

    In order to send natural gas overseas, you must liquefy it, transport it, and then re-gasify it. This is an extremely energy- and emissions-intensive process. According to the National Energy Technology Lab’s 2012 Natural Gas Technology Assessment, liquefaction, transport, and gasification would add roughly 15 percent to U.S. natural gas production’s life cycle GHG emissions ... These additional emissions more than double the total upstream GHG emissions from U.S. natural gas systems.

    A new report from Carbon Action Tracker, a consortium of scientific research organizations, finds that natural gas and LNG systems are not just bad for the climate, they're bad for companies and investors that should be planning ahead for doing business in a warming world. Even though the U.S. intends to drop out of the Paris climate agreement, all of the countries the U.S would ship gas to are still party to the agreement and are working to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions. Using more natural gas runs contrary to that goal and would delay the transition to a carbon-free power system.

    "Betting on growth of natural gas is an unwise move and will lead to a lock-in of expensive infrastructure that will need to be shut down early," said Bill Hare from Climate Analytics, one of the groups in the Carbon Action Tracker consortium.

    From the report:

    Massive investments in gas extraction, new pipelines and LNG ports—in addition to what is already existing and often underutilised—will divert financial resources from investments into a decarbonised power sector, and lead to the creation of stranded assets in the coming decades, constituting a major obstacle for the full decarbonisation of the electricity sector.

    Myth #3: Natural gas exports have been blocked until now

    In their Washington Times op-ed, Perry, Zinke, and Pruitt wrote, "Becoming energy dominant means that we are getting government out of the way so that we can share our energy wealth with developing nations. For years, Washington stood in the way of our energy dominance. That changes now."

    Perry reiterated this idea during a speech on Tuesday at the 2017 Energy Information Administration conference, according to Oil and Gas Investor:

    Perry said he watched during past eight years as policymaking was driven by political agendas.

    “Previous leaders have said they were for American energy independence,” he said.

    However, those leaders “didn’t want to drill for it, didn’t want to mine it, didn’t want to transport it and didn’t want to sell it.”

    But that's a false frame. The U.S. oil and gas sector has been thriving for years. As The Washington Post reported in February, "Since 2010, the United States has been in an oil-and-gas boom. In 2015, domestic production was at near-record levels, and we now produce more petroleum products than any other country in the world."

    LNG exports specifically have also been growing in recent years. As Amy Harder reported in Axios, "The Obama administration approved roughly two dozen natural-gas export applications to countries the U.S. doesn't have free-trade agreements with, according to Energy Department data. The Obama administration also rejiggered the federal review process in 2014 to make it go faster for most companies waiting for approval."

    The process was moving so fast that 16 environmental groups warned in 2014 about a "disastrous rush to export fracked gas," saying they were "disturbed" by government plans to "build liquefied natural gas export terminals along U.S. coastlines that would ship large amounts of fracked gas around the world."

    "Trump will try to approve applications faster," Harder reported, but "Trump's latest move doesn't make any concrete changes that would indicate the process will move any faster."

    Myth #4: The U.S. can achieve "energy dominance"

    Trump and his cabinet members keep repeating the phrase "energy dominance." In a speech on Wednesday, Trump said, “We’re becoming more and more energy dominant. I don’t want to be energy free; we want to be energy dominant in terms of the world.”

    But energy analysts are dubious. As E&E News reported earlier this month, "Academics and energy experts struggled to define what actualizing 'energy dominance' would look like and cautioned that such a brusque policy stance could destabilize America's position on the global stage."

    Energy policy researcher and analyst Daniel Raimi wrote a skeptical piece this week in The Conversation:

    When people use the word “dominant,” they might think of the 2017 NBA Golden State Warriors, or Roger Federer in his heyday at Wimbledon.

    “Dominance” suggests the United States could bend geopolitical adversaries to its will by wielding energy as some type of bargaining chip or weapon. But the buying and selling of oil, gas and other forms of U.S.-produced energy are directed by market forces, not government policy. For example, a large share of recently increased crude oil exports from the U.S. has effectively gone to Venezuela, hardly a close ally.

    [...]

    And even if it were desirable, “dominance” of global energy markets in today’s world is simply unrealistic. There is no Roger Federer of energy.

    Consider the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), maybe the closest thing to the Golden State Warriors of the energy world, which has struggled mightily in recent years to exert some control over consistently low oil prices. U.S. oil and natural gas producers, while reemergent as major players, do not have OPEC’s market power, let alone that of John D. Rockefeller in the late 1800s and early 1900s or the Texas Railroad Commission from the 1930s through the 1960s

    [....]

    And why is it unrealistic to expect U.S. producers to exert this type of power? The answer lies in the enormous scale of the global energy system, which is many times larger than in the heyday of Rockefeller or other effective market managers.

    Peter Shulman, an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University and an energy historian, said it's not clear that being an energy exporter makes a country secure. E&E News summarized his view: "The negative connotation associated with 'dominance' could further alienate foreign allies, many of which are already reeling from the United States' shift away from climate action. It could also create tension with U.S. trading partners, he said."

    Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute, pointed out to The Washington Post that the phrase as it's being used leaves out something important: “Notably missing from most of this ‘energy dominance’ talk is renewable energy sources.”

    Maximilian Auffhammer, an environmental economist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, was particularly dismissive. "Frankly, I have to chuckle when I hear it, because it just doesn't make any sense," he told E&E News. "The word dominance is not generally used in a good context, and it always means there's a big person on the playground shoving around a smaller person."

  • Conservative media misinformation leads to violent threats against professors

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The conservative media misinformation cycle is increasingly targeting college professors for engaging in what they call anti-white rhetoric. Some conservative advocacy groups and right-wing and conservative media are working together to produce fake news about professors, leading to threats, intimidation, and campus shutdowns.

    Several articles published in the past week in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed trace the path of misinformation as it moves through the conservative media ecosystem. The Chronicle notes: “Whether true or trumped up, tales of liberal faculty espousing tone-deaf or noxious views are good business for the network of conservative media outlets that purport to document the leftward drift of higher education.” The process often starts with Campus Reform, a website where conservative college students write about perceived liberal bias on campus.

    The Chronicle reports that “Campus Reform’s pieces are often stamped with the hallmarks of nonpartisan journalism” but that they are packaged with sensational headlines and generally fail to place professors’ comments in context. These stories are picked up by right-wing “longstanding industry leaders” such as “The National Review and edgier newcomers like Heat Street and The Blaze,” which then further skew the original stories in ways intended to resonate with their conservative audience. After bouncing around right-wing media, the stories may be picked up by more mainstream conservative media outlets such as Fox News. By this time the story often bears only a superficial resemblance to reality. The result of these right-wing media campaigns has sometimes been an outpouring of abuse and threats against the professors. Recent instances have resulted in one campus closing down, universities asking professors to take a leave from campus, and a professor moving to protect his family.

    For instance, one of the many examples the Chronicle documented was the case of Trinity College professor Johnny Eric Williams. On June 18, Williams published a series of Facebook posts on race and policing. He shared a controversial article titled “Let Them Fucking Die” that referenced the shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise (LA-R).

    Campus Reform quickly wrote an article about Williams’ social network posts with the headline “Prof calls whites ‘inhuman assholes,’ says ‘let them die.’” The Blaze and The Daily Caller picked up the Campus Reform piece and wrote articles titled “College professor to blacks, other minorities: Let white people ‘f***ing die’” and “Professor Calls White People Inhuman,” respectively.

    On June 21, The Washington Times followed with an article based on these three pieces titled “Trinity College professor calls white people ‘inhuman’: ‘Let them f-ing die.’” Finally, Fox News published an article the same day titled “Professor’s profane, anti-white messages cause campus controversy.” Williams also issued a statement on June 21, defending his position: “It is evident to anyone who carefully reads my posts on Facebook and Twitter that I did not call for the death of all self-identified ‘whites,’” he said. He called the coverage a “provocative move to get readers to pay attention to my reasoned, reasonable, and yes angry argument.” But by then, the cycle was complete and the campus was temporarily shut down due to a multitude of violent threats.

    Trinity College eventually placed Williams on leave. Williams told the media that this was not his idea; the Hartford Courant quoted him saying, “They said it was in the interest of the college, primarily in their interest, not in my interest.”

    Media Matters has documented an extensive network of conservative and right-wing funders, advocacy organizations, and media organizations that work together to generate a toxic culture of harassment and intimidation. Campus Reform plays a critical role in this nexus by providing stories about college campuses. Campus Reform is also intimately connected to Professor Watchlist, another right-wing campus group that targets college professors and asks site visitors to “submit a tip” about professors who “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Campus Reform is the primary documentary source that Professor Watchlist links to to substantiate professors’ purported anti-conservative discrimination. Two of the professors profiled in the recent Chronicle stories, Tommy Curry and Johnny Eric Williams, are also profiled on Professor Watchlist. Professor Watchlist currently lists 216 professors, complete with pictures, brief summaries of their alleged offenses, and links to stories of dubious quality detailing these offenses.

    Inside Higher Ed reports that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) “is definitely concerned about this trend” of professor intimidation. The article notes that some universities have offered “mixed responses” to professors in the wake of threats and intimidation. Universities have also censored, fired, or put on leave some professors, like Williams, who are targeted by these dishonest campaigns. They have also tried to cancel, or rename controversial courses that draw attention of the far right.

    Universities that fail to protect professors against the dishonest misinformation campaigns of conservative media are complicit in the rise in violent right-wing rhetoric on college campuses. A statement from AAUP, reported by the Chronicle, highlights the risk: “Threatening messages are likely to stifle free expression and cause faculty and others on campus to self-censor so as to avoid being subjected to similar treatment.” The conservative media that create the environment for these threats -- and the mainstream media outlets that fail to aggressively counter this misinformation -- are also at fault in creating less safe and less open universities.

  • How becoming a Fox News hack is paying off for Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow

    Washington Post: Jay Sekulow’s family is personally profiting from his charities 

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow is using his conservative media exposure and close relationship with President Trump for his family’s personal financial gain.

    According to a report from The Washington Post, Sekulow, who is a radio host and the Chief Counsel for the conservative American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), is using his position to gain millions from charities he and his family controls. The report details how his charities “brought in nearly $230 million in charitable donations from 2011 to 2015 — and millions of those dollars ended up going to the members of the Sekulow family or their companies.” According to the Post’s research into the business records and tax filings of Sekulow’s charities, $5.5 million has gone to Sekulow’s family with another $23 million going to his firms.

    A large part of Sekulow’s success can be traced back to his media exposure and his close ties to the president. The report found that as “Sekulow’s exposure on television increased,” his fundraising for the organization run by he and his wife increased by ten million dollars over a two-year period. His fundraising “jumped another $10 million” as Sekulow’s role as an anti-Obama “legal pundit on Fox News further amplified his reach.” Sekulow’s new position as Trump’s personal lawyer could also boost his fundraising and income even further. From the Post:

    As Sekulow’s exposure on television increased, CASE’s annual fundraising jumped from $14 million to $24 million over a period of about two years.

    Then, during the term of President Barack Obama, Sekulow’s role as a legal pundit on Fox News further amplified his reach. As Sekulow questioned whether Obama’s IRS had unfairly targeted conservative nonprofit and tea party groups, revenue for CASE jumped another $10 million, eclipsing that of the ACLJ.

    At the same time, the work of the ACLJ increasingly moved in step with causes of the political right.

    The group joined legal challenges to Affordable Care Act mandates and Obama’s executive order on immigration. It defended an antiabortion activist who was sued in California over undercover videos at a Planned Parenthood clinic. It also argued that the corruption conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, should be overturned.

    Gregory M. Lipper, a partner in private practice and former senior litigation counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he saw the change in cases he fought against the ACLJ.

    “We litigated against a number of religious organizations, and they all, generally, have similar or slightly different angles. But the ACLJ seemed to become much more like a movement right-wing organization,” Lipper said. “They were very noisy on Islamic terrorism . . . and they started to sound more like Fox News than focusing specifically on free speech or religious liberty issues.”

    On May 9, when Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, Sekulow was one of the president’s first and most vocal supporters, both in television appearances and on social media.

    Sekulow tweeted that Trump had made “the right decision” — and a similar assessment later came from the ACLJ’s Twitter account. “There is NO evidence of collusion between Pres #Trump and #Russia. Trump says it’s ‘a total hoax’ ” read a tweet from the nonprofit.

    On June 9, a day after Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sekulow announced to his radio listeners that he had accepted a position on Trump’s personal legal team, calling it his patriotic duty to defend against “an attack on the presidency.”

    Borochoff, of CharityWatch, said Sekulow’s proximity to Trump could boost fundraising.

    “He has far more attention than he normally would have to raise money — so there is the question of profiting from his relation to the president,” Borochoff said. “Are people listening to his radio program because he’s the president’s adviser? Then they get hit on to donate.”

    Sekulow has regularly pushed false stories and conspiracy theories to defend Trump and attack his opponents. Sekulow has defended Trump’s lie that he may have recorded conversations with former FBI Director James Come, hyped conspiracies that a “shadow government” and “deep state” operatives are out to destroy the Trump administration, and pushed the discredited conspiracy theory that a former Democratic National Committee staffer was assassinated in retaliation for allegedly being the source of leaked DNC emails. Fox News was forced to retract the Seth Rich conspiracy theory.

  • Donald Trump is fundraising off CNN "sting" video the White House admitted may not be accurate

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Donald Trump is fundraising off of the latest “sting” video from dishonest conservative activist James O’Keefe. In a fundraising email from the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, the fundraising committee claims the video “raises questions” about “phony news stories” from CNN and that the network was attempting to “rile up their rabid liberal viewers, and take us down.”

    The video in question highlights comments made by a CNN staffer with no involvement in CNN’s political coverage engaged in a casual conversation in which he says a “smoking gun” has not been uncovered yet in the numerous investigations into allegations that Trump’s presidential campaign possibly coordinated with Russia's attempt to sway the election.

    The video, as well as a Russia story that CNN published and later retracted, was seized by the White House and their allies in an attempt to prove “the media can’t be trusted.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders urged Americans “to take a look at” O’Keefe’s video despite admitting that she didn’t know if “it’s accurate or not.”

    In May 2015 the Trump Foundation, Donald Trump’s charitable organization, donated $10,000 to James O’Keefe and his organization, Project Veritas. Trump routinely used O’Keefe’s dishonest videos on the campaign trail, even mentioning the videos during a debate with Hillary Clinton.

    O’Keefe has been arrested for the illegal methods he uses to obtain his videos and he was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine to the subject of one of his videos after O’Keefe’s deceptively edited video smearing a former ACORN employee led to his firing. This is not the first time O’Keefe has attempted to sting CNN, as he also once tried to embarrass a CNN correspondent by luring her to a “palace of pleasure,” and planning to then videotaping her in the boat with sex props strewn about.

  • James O’Keefe’s latest attempt to expose CNN is a sad, attention-seeking mess

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The political media world is dissecting CNN’s Russia coverage right now, which means late last night was the perfect time for self-described “guerilla journalist” James O’Keefe to do what he does best. That included releasing an embarrassing letdown of an undercover sting video that does very little of what he says it does but is nominally related to the story of the day, claiming credit for the “bombshell” revelation nonetheless, and then watching as his friends on the far-right fringe used social media to vault his shitty video art project all the way up to the Trump camp.

    O’Keefe, a partisan activist who styles himself as a “citizen journalist,” has spent years hyping and releasing secretly recorded and heavily edited videos aimed at discrediting and attacking (almost exclusively) progressive organizers, leaders, and government officials. Since the election, O’Keefe has expanded his sights beyond progressive targets to “main stream media” and issued categorical threats of surveillance to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, among other figures.

    O’Keefe’s videos often fall flat and rarely match their billings. He has had to issue public apologies, been arrested for trespassing, and foiled his own plots, yet his videos have been promoted by the president of the United States. O’Keefe also regularly incites his loyal internet followers to practice their own brand of “investigative journalism.”

    His latest attempt -- a nearly nine-minute video called “American Pravda: CNN Producer Says Russia Narrative “bullsh*t" -- is yet another sign that O’Keefe has no actual interest in reporting the truth, but instead produces video art projects for the sole purpose of getting attention from one of his biggest fans, President Donald Trump.

    O’Keefe’s CNN sting, part one (take two): Political commentary from a medical producer

    Today's video, which O'Keefe is billing as the first in a series, isn't actually the first time he's tried to sting CNN since the election. 

    “The media is a huge target of mine right now,” O’Keefe told CNN’s Brian Stelter as he previewed his new “CNN Leaks” project back in February. After days of hyping a so-called investigation into CNN then, O’Keefe released an absolute dud of a video that pieced together audio-only recordings from CNN in 2009 to reveal purported “bias” in its reporting. The smoking guns in this release included a clip of a producer explaining the overwhelming scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, and another clip of a CNN staffer explaining that journalists have a responsibility to question institutions. 

    Now, O’Keefe is back at it again, with a new “part one” of his media exposé series, now called “American Pravda.” This latest video does about as much damage as the last attempt. Its “bombshell” is a CNN senior producer for medical content saying casually that the network thus far has no "smoking gun" in terms of the possible Trump-Russia collusion and suggesting that the focus on the story is excessive.

    “You’re not going to believe what you’re about to hear. Or maybe you will,” O’Keefe says in his art project, following an ominous introduction segment complete with a signature Glenn Beckian conspiracy map.

    Viewers will probably believe what they hear, though: a CNN staffer with no involvement in CNN’s political coverage (this isn’t mentioned in the video) speculating casually about CNN’s reporting on Trump’s possible involvement with Russia. The video also showed the same CNN producer claiming CNN makes reporting decisions based on ratings, a shameful tactic that’s really no secret at all -- and one that doesn't account for warranted, extensive reporting on an undeniably important story.

    The lack of there there hasn’t stopped O’Keefe from shamelessly hyping his video alongside the legitimate news of a CNN reporting failure that’s been publicly addressed, thereby allowing him to claim credit for any and all public discussion of CNN’s reporting on Russia’s possible involvement with members of the Trump administration.

    It also hasn’t stopped O’Keefe’s friends in far-right media from hyping the video. And if Donald Trump Jr. and The Washington Times are to be believed, O’Keefe’s lackluster video was enough to warrant an erratic statement from the president. (Trump’s actual tweets do not explicitly indicate whether he is referring to CNN’s retraction of a report related to Russia, or to O’Keefe’s video.) This afternoon, in response to a question about CNN's story retraction, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders seemed to refer to the video during the White House press briefing when she urged people to watch "a video circulating now, whether it's accurate or not, I don't know." 

    It’s certainly believable that Trump (who gave thousands to O’Keefe about a month before declaring his presidential candidacy) would respond to the video too -- after all, it’s aimed perfectly to confirm his longheld anti-CNN and anti-media assertions. Trump apparently thought O’Keefe’s laughable February attempt at a CNN exposé was “so cool.”

    Once a hack, always a hack 

    Since 2009, O'Keefe has repeatedly pushed misleading and doctored “undercover” videos and embarrassed himself while attempting to launch sting operations targeting government agencies, media outlets, and liberal organizations and institutions. Here is Media Matters' compilation of O'Keefe's missteps over the years: 

    O’Keefe accidentally revealed plans to infiltrate a philanthropist’s organization on the targeted employee’s voicemail. In March 2016, O’Keefe accidentally detailed plans to send an “undercover” operative to secretly infiltrate the liberal philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Foundations in a voicemail message for an Open Society employee. After calling the employee and posing as a “Hungarian-American who represents a, uh, foundation,” O’Keefe held “a meeting about how to perpetrate an elaborate sting on Soros,” unaware that his phone was still connected to the employee’s voicemail. Investigative journalist Jane Mayer detailed in The New Yorker that O’Keefe also inadvertently recorded himself narrating his attempts to access the employee’s LinkedIn page before realizing the individual would receive a notification he had viewed her profile. O’Keefe later acknowledged the botched attempt, saying, “Some of us just forget to hang up the phone.” [Media Matters, 5/20/16]

    O’Keefe and associates trolled college campuses dressed as the Constitution, but they “didn’t make much of a splash.” In the fall of 2015, Project Veritas released a video purporting to show officials at several colleges and universities “literally shredding” a copy of the Constitution in response to an undercover actor posing as a student upset by the document. The video also featured footage of O’Keefe, dressed in a Constitution costume with a tricorn hat and gloves, attempting to engage with students walking through the campuses as he asked female students for their phone numbers. In response, officials from several of the schools criticized O’Keefe’s attempts at “shoddy journalism,” and noted that the administrators featured in the videos were attempting to do their jobs by assisting a student who appeared to be experiencing a mental health crisis. Media writer and Vassar College professor Hua Hsu described O’Keefe’s stunt on his own campus, and its lackluster results, for The New Yorker:

    Earlier this year, James O’Keefe, the conservative activist famous for his hidden-camera exposés, visited Vassar College dressed in costume as the Constitution. Vassar, where I teach, is one of those campuses that seems to typify, for some, how wacky and permissive higher education has become—a readymade specimen for those seeking to depict the twenty-first-century American college at its most insular and navel-gazing. O’Keefe hoped to do this by handing out pocket-sized Constitutions outside the campus’ busiest building. One of his operatives, posing as a student, would then coax an administrator into destroying this replica of our nation’s founding document. A video edited down from the day’s footage shows an officer of the college awkwardly humoring the faux student, who is pitch-perfect in her recitation of how the offensively retrograde Constitution had “triggered” and traumatized her, helpfully suggesting that the officer use a nearby shredder.

    In a year when college campuses were particularly visible as hotbeds of political activity, O’Keefe’s stunt didn’t make much of a splash. The administrator in the clip seems confused and skeptical, like an actress flubbing her lines, while the real-life Vassar kids caught on camera look mildly inconvenienced rather than incensed. [The Oberlin Review, 11/6/15; The Cornell Sun, 11/10/15; The Vassar Miscellany News, 11/11/15; The New Yorker, 12/31/15]

    Reporter asked, “Is this a joke?” as O’Keefe targeted the Clinton campaign for selling T-shirts. In a September 2015 sting operation, O’Keefe baselessly accused Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign of money laundering after releasing a video in which an undercover operative with Project Veritas purchased a campaign T-shirt on behalf of a Canadian attending a campaign event. The money laundering accusation was widely ridiculed by political reporters, with one journalist reportedly asking O’Keefe at a press conference promoting the video, “Is this a joke?” O’Keefe later reportedly admitted that his group likely broke the law by facilitating the $30 to $40 purchase. [Media Matters, 9/1/15; Talking Points Memo, 9/1/15]

    After an Osama Bin Laden border crossing stunt, even Fox News suggested O’Keefe “give it a rest.” In August 2014, O’Keefe released a video in which he purportedly crossed the Rio Grande River while wearing an Osama Bin Laden costume, a stunt meant to suggest that terrorists could easily enter the U.S. at the Mexican border. Gawker immediately debunked the video in a post titled “James O’Keefe Is Getting Desperate as Hell, Part MCMXVII,” pointing to evidence O’Keefe grossly misrepresented the area he repeatedly crossed in his video. Even Fox News host Eric Bolling couldn’t defend O’Keefe’s antics, saying the video was “not helpful,” and that O’Keefe ought to “give it a rest.” [Media Matters, 8/11/14; Gawker, 8/11/14]

    O’Keefe’s attempt at a bombshell Hollywood fracking video ended with a target using his own secret recording to expose O’Keefe. In May 2014, O’Keefe released a video he said exposed “the darker side of how a lot of the feel-good environmentalist propaganda gets funded by international interests who jeopardize national security.” In the video, a Project Veritas actor posed as “Muhammed,” an oil tycoon from the Middle East who attempted to fund a documentary project on the harms of fracking. O’Keefe suggested that, based on an instance in which two filmmakers appeared to accept the funding, his tactics had “exposed the truth about the dark funding behind Hollywood’s anti-fracking messaging machine.” O’Keefe even “debuted” the edited video at “a ‘premiere’ in Cannes, France.” Media Matters found that O’Keefe’s claims were refuted by unedited footage O’Keefe himself released, and one target of Project Veritas, film director Josh Fox, revealed his own secret recordings of their interactions that "caught" O’Keefe "in total deception," "willfully portray[ing] it in the wrong light" with heavy editing. The director shared his own revealing recordings on MSNBC’s All In, where host Chris Hayes introduced the segment on “disgraced right-wing operative professional troll” O’Keefe:

    CHRIS HAYES (HOST): People-who-plead-guilty week continued on The Kelly File last night. Fresh off the heels of the blockbuster interview with Dinesh D’Souza, who recently pled guilty to campaign finance law violation, was James O’Keefe, the disgraced right-wing operative professional troll who has pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of entering federal property under false pretenses. On Fox News last night, O’Keefe was pushing his latest trolling enterprise in which he plays gotcha with environmentalists who are hypocritical because, well to be honest, I didn’t care enough about it to read about it. But it’s a James O’Keefe bombshell, you just wait a day for it to be debunked. [MSNBC.com, 5/22/14Media Matters, 5/21/14; The Daily Beast, 5/22/14]

    O’Keefe’s Battleground Texas video was declared “little more than a canard and political disinformation” by a state investigation. In February 2014, Project Veritas released a video purporting to show employees of the progressive voter registration group Battleground Texas using “potentially illegal methods to change elections.” Outraged Republican state officials pushed for an investigation into the video, ultimately resulting in two Texas special prosecutors disparaging O’Keefe’s tactics and the video itself. The special prosecutors concluded their investigation by asking that complaints against Battleground Texas be dismissed, calling the Veritas video “little more than a canard and political disinformation.” [Media Matters, 4/7/14]

    O’Keefe “confronted” a lawmaker about nonexistent language in “race hustler” voting rights legislation. In a March 2014 video, O’Keefe bizarrely attempted to “ambush” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) about his bipartisan bill designed to reaffirm civil rights protections in the Voting Rights Act. After dancing to a New Order song while wearing camouflage, O’Keefe attempted to confront Sensenbrenner at several Wisconsin town hall meetings for so-called “racialist language” in his bill that “excludes whites,” which Sensenbrenner correctly noted the bill does not, in fact, do. Media reporter Dave Weigel described the bizarre video’s “strange” focus at Slate:

    [K]udos to James O'Keefe for going undercover, in hunting gear for some reason, and posing as a constituent. It's just confusing what he decided to do when he got in the room. O'Keefe insists that Sensenbrenner's attempt to restore some version of voting rights law pre-clearance is de facto racist.

    There is no mention of the "Voting Rights Act" in the intro. It's called "a part of federal law that gives Eric Holder the power to approve election law in 16 states," and Sensenbrenner's amendment is called "legislation to give Eric Holder back power over state elections."

    [...]

    In the room, asking questions, O'Keefe does use the law's name. He asks Sensenbrenner whether it's true that the bill "removes white people from the protections of the Voting Rights Act." Sensenbrenner says it isn't -- a red buzzer goes off. We're directed to language in Sec. III, subsection 4 of the bill, which defines "the term 'minority' as used throughout.

    This is strange. That's not the bill's only mention of race -- it's a pretty trivial one, actually.

    [...]

    But most people who covered the bill have been over this already. O'Keefe's claims just don't wash. [Slate, 3/5/14; Media Matters, 3/5/14]

    O’Keefe was forced to pay $100,000 and publicly apologize in a settlement related to his sham 2010 ACORN exposé. In March 2013, O’Keefe and conservative activist Hannah Giles settled a 2010 lawsuit after one of the videos they released in a series on the now-defunct group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which fraudulently portrayed the role of a former ACORN employee, resulted in the employee’s termination. In the video, the employee was shown appearing to aid undercover actors in criminal activity, but an analysis of the heavily edited video revealed the employee had actually called the police immediately following the secretly recorded interaction. Pursuant to the court-approved deal, O’Keefe and Giles had to pay the employee a collective $150,000, and O’Keefe issued a public apology claiming he was unaware the employee had notified authorities. [Media Matters, 3/7/13]

    O’Keefe’s New York union boss “gotcha” attempt just showed local officials trying to be “courteous” in an absurd, O’Keefe-manufactured situation. In July 2012, Project Veritas released a video it claimed showed elected officials and union leaders in New York state helping undercover actors secure funding for a business “that literally does nothing but dig holes and then put the dirt back.” The raw footage of the video revealed that the officials featured in the video did not express support for the fake company or offer to help the actors find funding at all, but rather politely questioned the actors posing as their constituents about their clearly made-up operation. The officials later clarified they had assumed at the time that the discussion “must be a scam” but had “tried to be courteous.” [Media Matters, 7/18/12]

    O’Keefe’s “voter fraud” video showed a “dead” voter later found to be very much alive and “non-citizens” who were actually citizens. A May 2012 video O’Keefe claimed showed voter fraud in North Carolina, including “ballots being offered out in the name of the dead” and “non-citizens voting," was found to have edited out some important facts -- the “dead” voter from the video was not actually dead, and the “non-citizen” in the video had become a U.S. citizen decades earlier. Upon viewing the raw footage from the “voter fraud” video, Media Matters found that O’Keefe had edited out an important exchange in which the undercover operative clarified he was actually seeking the ballot of the deceased man’s living son, who was registered to vote at the same address and shared his late father’s name. ThinkProgress similarly debunked O’Keefe’s claims of “non-citizens” voting in the video, noting that “a simple Nexis search” of one man’s name showed that he and his wife were naturalized citizens, and that a second man, who was reportedly harassed with anonymous phone calls about his citizenship prior to the video, had become a naturalized citizen the previous year. ThinkProgress concluded that “the one instance in the video where O’Keefe purports to show that a non-citizen had actually voted, in fact shows that a citizen voted.” [ThinkProgress, 5/15/12, 5/16/12; Media Matters, 5/16/12]

    Yet another “voter fraud” video failed to show any actual voter fraud; it “just shows how limited O’Keefe’s talents are.” Over the course of several months in 2012, Project Veritas released videos O’Keefe claimed proved “widespread voter fraud” in several states and the District of Columbia. As several media outlets quickly pointed out in response to one of the videos in which an undercover actor appears to obtain a ballot posing as former Attorney General Eric Holder, the heavily edited videos do not, in fact, show any instances of voter fraud or voting at all. Instead, the videos showed actors almost committing a crime by attempting to falsely claim ballots, and illustrated how difficult it would be to commit actual voter fraud. As politics writer Alex Koppelman explained in The New Yorker (emphasis added):

    James O’Keefe and his supporters think that he’s scored big today. See, not long ago, Attorney General Eric Holder criticized laws that require people wishing to vote to bring photo I.D. with them; he called those laws “a solution in search of a problem,” and said “there is no statistical proof that vote fraud is a big concern in this country.” So one of O’Keefe’s colleagues—a white man who looks considerably younger than the Attorney General—went to went to Holder’s polling place for the recent primary in Washington, D.C., and claimed to be Holder. The punch line, of course, is that he was given no trouble, and welcomed to vote. (He never went through with it and actually committed the voter fraud, presumably because someone’s giving them legal advice not to.)

    It’s a cute little trick, and a lot of people on the right have gotten a nice little laugh at Eric Holder’s expense today. The Drudge Report has led with it all day. But it doesn’t prove anything—actually, if anything, it shows just how limited O’Keefe’s talents are, and how un-ambitious is the vision espoused by the right’s new investigative journalists and those who publish them.

    [...]

    [Ben] Shapiro and O’Keefe and the rest don’t know when voter fraud takes place, if indeed it does, because they don’t do the work necessary to find out. O’Keefe may be lionized as an investigative journalist, but he’s not one, and he never has been. He takes the easy, flashy way out: his videos don’t prove that malfeasance is happening; they prove that it could, maybe. (Taking the same trick and repeating it over and over again, which is basically what O’Keefe did with this latest video, part of a series of such work, doesn’t help.) [The New Yorker, 4/9/12Media Matters, 1/11/12, 1/11/12, 1/12/12, 4/9/12, 4/16/12]

    O’Keefe’s “pointless” “To Catch A Journalist” series was roundly mocked by experts. In a video series titled “To Catch a Journalist,” O’Keefe attempted to show journalists engaging in questionable or biased journalistic practices. Instead, a range of highly respected reporters and journalism experts immediately mocked his heavily edited videos. Even the Project Veritas website noted that the first video in the series had drawn criticism from “the media elite” and “a Pulitzer Prize winning professor from Columbia’s Journalism School.” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple dismissed the first video as a “gotcha attempt” and “fishing expedition” against Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein. Reporter Jack Schafer wrote for Reuters, “The only thing O’Keefe has accomplished with this ‘To Catch a Journalist’ expose is to prove that Stein is a conventional journalist,” adding that the video “ends up making Stein look normal and O’Keefe slightly tetched.” The Poynter Institute’s Steve Myers discredited the second video in the series, noting it was “heavily edited” and pointing out that the video, which was supposed to target The New York Times, did not feature any Times employees or journalists at all. The Atlantic Wire concluded that O’Keefe “burns his own straw man” in the video. A Forbes reporter declared the series “a dumb idea,” condemning “the lameness of O’Keefe’s results,” “the dubiousness of his method,” and “the pointlessness of the enterprise itself.” In a later, also failed attempt, O’Keefe was reportedly filmed and then dismissed by an unfazed Columbia University journalism professor, who said O’Keefe also couldn’t figure out how to use the door to exit the professor’s office, writing, “Turns out they were pulling the door instead of pushing it.” As Gawker summarized:

    James O'Keefe has been lurking in journalism school hallways across the country in pursuit of his latest bombshell series "To Catch a Journalist." So far, he's blown the lid off the story that some college professors like Barack Obama and that sometimes journalists drink alcohol and use bad words. [Gawker, 11/10/11The Washington Post, 10/24/11; Project Veritas, 10/27/11; Poynter, 10/27/11; The Atlantic Wire, 10/27/11; Forbes, 10/28/11]

    “Medicaid fraud” videos actually just showed Medicaid workers doing their jobs. A series of heavily edited videos that O’Keefe said proved “widespread Medicaid fraud” in fact depicted no instances of fraud, but did show footage of Medicaid workers in Ohio, Indiana, and Maine correctly following Medicaid application procedures. The processes partially shown in O’Keefe’s videos, in which workers advise undercover actors about the rules and limitations for Medicaid eligibility and help them to accurately fill out applications, were the first in many steps necessary before any type of fraud could have been committed. [Media Matters, 7/18/11, 7/26/11, 8/11/11]

    Even Glenn Beck's website discredited O'Keefe's “bad reality show” NPR video. O’Keefe released a video in March 2011 that claimed to show two NPR executives making controversial remarks to two people posing as members of a "Muslim Brotherhood front group,” including statements alleging that members of the tea party were racist. Even Glenn Beck’s website TheBlaze concluded that the video was a smear. As Time magazine reported:

    In the video, NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller and a colleague met with two members of a fictional Muslim group dangling a $5 million donation. Prodded by the "donors," Schiller said liberals "might be more educated" than conservatives, described Republicans as "anti-intellectual" and said the GOP had been "hijacked" by the "racist" Tea Party.

    Or did he? After the tape became national news, and after NPR hastily sacrificed its CEO to appease critics, a video editor at the Blaze — a website founded by Fox News host Glenn Beck — compared the edited sting video and the two-hour original, also posted online.

    Schiller did say some bad things, the Blaze found. But the short video took them out of context, like a bad reality show, and made them sound worse. It transposed remarks from a different part of the meeting to make it seem as if Schiller were amused by the group's "goal" of spreading Shari'a law. It left examples of his complimenting Republicans on the cutting-room floor.

    And that Tea Party quote? Schiller was, for at least part of it, describing the views of some Republican friends. Somehow — oops! — O'Keefe left that bit out. [Time, 3/17/11; The Blaze, 3/10/11; Media Matters, 3/8/11, 3/14/11]

    A CNN reporter detailed O’Keefe’s botched plan to demonstrate media “hypocrisy” by “faux seducing” her with a boat full of sexual “props.” In September 2010, then-CNN investigative correspondent Abbie Boudreau described how O’Keefe had attempted a “failed punk” on her by staging what a former colleague of O’Keefe’s called a “bizarre sexual conversation” on a boat filled with sex toys. The “punk” was halted when the former employee of Project Veritas alerted Boudreau, who later obtained a document detailing the various “props” O’Keefe had requested for the stunt. According to an internal script, the plan was to have O’Keefe introduce the resulting footage by explaining that the reporter who was doing an investigative piece on conservative activists “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.” As reported by CNN’s Scott Zamost:

    "The plans appeared so outlandish and so juvenile in tone, I questioned whether it was part of a second attempted punk," Boudreau said.

    But in a phone conversation, [Project Veritas employee Izzy] Santa confirmed the document was authentic. Listed under "equipment needed," is "hidden cams on the boat," and a "tripod and overt recorder near the bed, an obvious sex tape machine."

    Among the props listed were a "condom jar, dildos, posters and paintings of naked women, fuzzy handcuffs" and a blindfold. [CNN.com, 9/29/10, 9/29/10]

    ABC used O’Keefe’s own footage to contradict him on live television. In a video posted on the late Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com in June 2010, O'Keefe stated that he had been hired as a U.S. Census worker and attended two days of training. He said, "What I found were census supervisors systematically encouraging employees to falsify information on their timesheets." The video includes clips of census employees who, according to O'Keefe, "didn't seem to have a problem with the discrepancy" of the hours recorded on his time sheet versus the hours he claimed to have worked. O'Keefe omitted a clip that was later aired by ABC during a Good Morning America interview with O’Keefe and Breitbart that showed a census supervisor emphasizing the importance of accurately reporting on miles driven by census enumerators. [Media Matters, 6/1/10; ABCNews.com, 6/1/10]

    O’Keefe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor criminal charge of entering a Senate office under false pretenses. In January 2010, O’Keefe and three associates were arrested on criminal misdemeanor charges stemming from a botched attempt to tamper with the phones at the New Orleans office of then-Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). In May, the group pleaded guilty and O’Keefe faced probation, a fine, and community service for his illegal antics. As The Times-Picayune reported:

    The four defendants who were arrested in January in Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in the Hale Boggs federal complex in New Orleans pleaded guilty Wednesday morning in federal court to entering real property belonging to the United States under false pretenses.

    Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles III sentenced Stan Dai, Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan each to two years probation, a fine of $1,500 and 75 hours of community service during their first year of probation.

    James O'Keefe, as leader of the group and famous for posing as a pimp in ACORN office videos, received three years of probation, a fine of $1,500 and 100 hours of community service. [The Times-Picayune, 5/26/10; Media Matters, 1/29/10]

    O’Keefe’s heavily edited ACORN “pimp” hoax videos were investigated and widely discredited. O’Keefe’s brand of performance activism first made national headlines in 2009, with the release of several heavily edited videos that O’Keefe said showed staff from the nonprofit Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) engaging in criminal behavior. In the videos, O’Keefe and an associate are portrayed as if they had dressed as a “pimp” and a “prostitute” attempting to elicit help from ACORN staff in eight offices across several cities in supposedly setting up a child prostitution ring. It was later discovered that, among other misrepresentations in the edited videos, O’Keefe and his associate were not, in fact, dressed flamboyantly during their secretly recorded meetings at ACORN offices, and the audio of ACORN workers was muted and edited. An independent investigation, state-led investigations in California and New York, and a federal investigation through the Government Accountability Office all found no evidence of illegal activity from ACORN staff, and a Congressional Research Service report found no instances of ACORN violating the terms of its federal funding, but it did note that O’Keefe and his associates may have violated state bans on secret recording in California and Maryland. The California attorney general concluded that O’Keefe had engaged in “highly selective editing of reality.” An ACORN employee who was terminated because of the videos subsequently sued O’Keefe and his associate Hannah Giles, and O’Keefe had to settle the case and issue a public apology. [Media Matters, 10/21/09, 12/8/09, 2/17/10, 7/21/10, 3/7/13; CNN.com, 6/14/10]

  • Media need to be extremely careful to not repeat their mistakes with Trump and Syria

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s administration may launch another military strike in Syria if the Syrian government carries out another chemical attack. If Trump does attack Syria, media must be cautious in their coverage and not repeat the fawning approach much of them adopted after Trump launched an April strike in the country.

    On June 26, the Trump administration issued a statement saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad was possibly preparing for another chemical attack and warning that Assad would “pay a heavy price” if he actually carried one out. The New York Times also noted that military officials were “caught off guard” by the statement.

    If there’s another chemical attack and Trump carries out his threat and launches military action in response, it could be a repeat of what happened just a few months ago. On April 7, in response to the Assad government’s reported chemical attack on a rebel-held Syrian town, Trump ordered the military to fire missiles at the Syrian airbase that launched that attack. Many in media lauded Trump in an over-the-top fashion, calling the strike “beautiful” and “an emotional act by a man suddenly aware that the world’s problems were now his,” saying the strike was the moment “Donald Trump became President of the United States,” and claiming that he had “nailed” his “first test,” that he “made Americans proud,” and that he showed “a level of decisiveness that we have not seen in these past eight years.” Yet that same Syrian base was back in operation less than 48 hours after the attack, and now the administration is claiming it could be the source of another possible attack.

    Thus far, cable news coverage, in particular, has generally been restrained, expressing caution in their interpretation of the administration’s action while also suggesting that it could be a “deterrent” and a “red line” threat against the Syrian regime. (Fox News, perhaps unsurprisingly, used it to criticize former President Barack Obama.) If Trump follows through on his threat, this continued level of cautious analysis will be crucial.

    The commentary about military action does not exist in a vacuum. After Trump’s missile strikes in April, some pundits linked their praise of the strikes to the threat North Korea poses to the U.S. Trump, a huge consumer of cable news, could potentially have felt incentivized to increase tensions with that country as a result, given the positive coverage he has received for taking military action.

    Further, the possible military action could yet again revive the Trump-is-finally-pivoting narrative, a claim that has repeatedly popped up since Trump announced his presidential campaign but that has consistently been incorrect. With Trump’s threats against Syria, media are being given another chance not to repeat the "pivot" mistake that many of them have made time and time again.

  • The White House and Trump’s propagandists teamed up to attack CNN at today’s press briefing

    The purpose of WH press briefings is now to undermine the press. At least one reporter has had enough.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders used a rare on-camera press briefing to lash out at CNN, claiming that in light of the network’s retraction of a story, “we have gone to a place where ... the media can't be trusted to report the news.” Aided by the pro-Trump media outlets in the room, Sanders sought to further the administration's effort to delegitimize the mainstream press.

    Since late last week, CNN has published, investigated, and retracted a story on ties between Russia and an adviser to President Donald Trump; three journalists involved in the story have resigned. Trump and the pro-Trump media used the incident to buttress their claims that CNN deliberately produces “FAKE NEWS to undermine the president.” That effort is now being echoed from the podium of the briefing room.

    The White House press office teamed up with reporters from two of the president’s staunch media allies to stage an attack on a major press outlet that has provided critical coverage of Trump. Briefers have all but openly discarded the notion that they are supposed to be providing information to reporters and, through them, the American people. Instead, the purpose of the White House press briefings is to aid in the effort to undermine the media’s credibility, shut critical reporters up and make an example of them.

    This was a deliberate, well-choreographed hit by the administration -- Sanders went into the room knowing she wanted to go after CNN, and she had a strategy to get there. After a week of the White House very deliberately refusing to allow the briefings to be videotaped, the cameras were allowed back in the room today. Sanders called on Trump propaganda outlet Breitbart.com’s reporter, presumably knowing that the website has been pushing the CNN story and could be counted on for a softball question. Breitbart’s correspondent basically asked, “Will you please attack CNN,” and Sanders obliged with a well-rehearsed screed against CNN and the rest of the press.

    During her response, Sanders said there is a “constant barrage of fake news directed at this president,” and she urged “everybody across the country to take a look” at stunt videographer James O’Keefe’s hit on CNN, adding the caveat that she doesn’t know “whether it’s accurate or not.” She went on to scold outlets for using anonymous sources about what she termed the “Russia-Trump hoax.”

    Sanders was rebuked from the floor by White House reporter Brian Karem, who interrupted the proceedings to criticize her for being “inflammatory” toward reporters who are “just trying to do their job.”

    Later in the briefing, Sanders called on a reporter from Trump advocate Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette, who asked if the media “should go back and look at anonymously sourced stories on Russia and Trump and, you know, maybe start a review process and retract where necessary.” Sanders replied, “I think that would be a great idea.”

    Roughly a third of the 17 minutes of question time provided by Sanders was devoted to hammering CNN.

    I warned in January of the danger of the White House’s plan to flood the briefings with sycophants and propagandists and its effort to single out individual reporters and crush them. Brian Karem has had enough. Will the rest of the press corps respond, or will they let the administration pick them off one by one?

  • Five great examples of local journalism showing what the GOP bill will do to Americans

    Blog ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

    After the Senate GOP released a massive tax cut bill for the the wealthiest Americans disguised as a health care proposal, which the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected would kick 22 million Americans off their insurance, drastically cut spending on Medicaid, and raise premiums on seniors, Fox News used the opportunity to lie and spin on behalf of the Republican Party. For example, Fox hosts and guests have mocked legislators who correctly pointed out that the Senate bill would increase mortality rates in the United States. Additionally, hosts and guests claimed that millions not having health insurance is “the American way,” lied that Medicaid wouldn’t be cut by the bill, and attacked former President Barack Obama for speaking out against the proposal, which would reduce all of the gains in insurance coverage his signature law created.

    In stark juxtaposition to Fox News’ misinformation campaign, state and local media outlets have often properly covered the effects of the bill on citizens of their areas and debunked popular right-wing myths. Here are five of the best examples:

    KMGH’s 7 News @ 10 PM (Colorado): Despite administration talking points, “the CBO’s big-picture analysis” on Obamacare “was right.” KMGH anchor Anne Trujillo debunked a claim from President Donald Trump that the CBO produced “inaccurate predictions on Obamacare,” noting that “the CBO’s big-picture analysis, that Obamacare would bring the uninsured rate down to a historic low, that was right.” From the June 26 edition of KMGH’s 7 News @ 10:

    ANNE TRUJILLO (HOST): And the White House, once again, criticizes CBO today for its, what it calls “inaccurate predictions on Obamacare.” So we did some digging. And this is not a new argument from the administration. Back in March, our partners at PolitiFact ranked the criticism as “Half True.” And here’s why. In 2010, the CBO predicted 30 million more Americans would gain coverage by 2016. That number turned out to be 22 million, so off by 8 million. But PolitiFact says the CBO’s big-picture analysis, that Obamacare would bring the uninsured rate down to a historic low, that was right. PolitiFact also pointed out that the CBO could not have foreseen the Supreme Court’s decision on Medicaid expansion, which led 19 states to opt out.

    Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Georgia): Senate health plan may leave 680,000 more Georgians without insurance. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that, according to health care analyst Bill Custer of Georgia State University, the Senate bill would cause approximately 680,000 Georgians to lose their health insurance coverage. From the June 26 article:

    The Congressional Budget Office released its score of the Senate plan’s impacts late Monday. The nonpartisan office estimated that 22 million more Americans would be without health insurance at the end of 10 years if the plan becomes law. Georgia’s share of that figure is 680,000 or so, according to a health care analyst who has been following the debate, Bill Custer of Georgia State University.

    Georgia advocates for rural hospitals, patients and others likely to feel the cuts howled.

    “This legislation represents a giant leap backward from what Americans have come to expect and demand from their healthcare delivery system,” Earl Rogers, president of the Georgia Hospital Association, said in a statement.

    “Cuts to Medicaid take resources away from the entire healthcare delivery system, so tough decisions will have to be made regarding which services to scale back or eliminate entirely,” he added, cutbacks “that will affect all patients.” [Atlanta Journal Constitution, 6/26/17]

    Penn Live (Pennsylvania): “Senate bill for Obamacare repeal would ‘destabilize’ Pa. health care system: state official.” Penn Live, the online version of Harrisburg’s Patriot-News, noted that the state’s deputy secretary for human services estimated that the cuts to Medicaid would cost the state “about $4.5 billion annually.” In addition, “the cut would be especially damaging given the opioid addiction crisis, which is presently killing 13 Pennsylvania residents per day, according to Jennifer Smith, the acting secretary of drug and programs.” From the June 23 piece:

    The Medicaid expansion that covers 716,000 people in Pennsylvania would be phased out over three years ending in 2024. The state could continue paying for the coverage -- the federal government now pays about 90 percent under Obamacare -- but it would be unaffordable, according to Brendan Harris, the deputy secretary of human services. He said on Thursday afternoon the state hadn't yet figured out the exact financial impact, but estimated the state would lose about $4.5 billion annually.

    Eliminating the Medicaid expansion would impact drug and alcohol treatment. About 124,000 people covered by the expansion have accessed such treatment. The cut would be especially damaging given the opioid addiction crisis, which is presently killing 13 Pennsylvania residents per day, according to Jennifer Smith, the acting secretary of drug and programs.

    Overall Medicaid spending would be capped. States could choose between a block grant or a per capita limit, although children with major medical needs would be exempt from the cap. Moreover, increases to Medicaid spending would eventually be based on increases in the consumer price index. Increases are presently based on medical cost inflation, which is higher than CPI increases. Asked whether that might have the positive impact of bending the cost curve downward, a state official said it would not. Rather, it would shift costs to medical providers and private insurers and create pressure that would harm services.

    [...]

    The income limit for people to receive federal subsidies to help buy coverage on the electronic exchange would drop to 350 percent of the federal poverty level, down from 400 percent. About 426,000 Pennsylvania residents have exchange coverage, with 80 percent receiving a subsidy, Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller said. Also, subsidies would be based on 56 percent of the benchmark plan, down from 70 percent, which would lower their value, Miller said. Miller said the changes would increase the number of people who can't afford coverage.

    [...]

    Secretary of Health Karen Murphy said the cuts to Medicaid would "destabilize" the health care system in Pennsylvania and result in "hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs." Other impacts would include the loss of $22 million in annual funds that go toward disease prevention. [Penn Live, 6/23/17]

    The News Journal (Delaware): ‘People will die’ under new health care proposal. An article in Delaware’s The News Journal quoted the director of Delaware’s Division of Public Health, who called the GOP’s legislation “simply inhumane” and said, “People will die.” [The News Journal, 6/23/17]

    WLWT’s News 5 at 11:00 (Ohio): Senate bill would “allow insurers to charge older policyholders more.” A segment on WLWT’s News 5 at 11:00 explained that the CBO score found that 22 million Americans would lose their health insurance by 2026 under the bill, which would “end enhanced Medicaid expansion, eliminate coverage mandates, and allow insurers to charge older policyholders more.” In addition, the segment explained that “those in the individual market would be hit with dramatic increases for services.” From the June 26 edition of WLWT News 5 at 11:00:

    MIKE DARDIS (CO-HOST): Well, Republicans can’t seem to agree on the best way to repeal and replace Obamacare, a promise several years in the making.

    SHEREE PAOLELLO (CO-HOST): The Senate is expected to vote on this newest health care bill a little bit later this week, but some new numbers out this evening may not help convince the holdouts.

    [BEGIN VIDEO]

    SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): CBO’s report today makes clear that this bill is every bit as mean as the House bill.

    [END VIDEO]

    REPORTER: Twenty-two million -- that’s how many more Americans would be without health insurance by 2026 if the proposed Senate GOP health care bill passes, according to the Congressional Budget Office report. Like the House version of the bill that passed in May, this version would end enhanced Medicaid expansion, eliminate coverage mandates, and allow insurers to charge older policyholders more. Premiums would be down about 20 percent over the next 10 years for the average customer. The U.S. deficit could also by cut by $321 billion. But those in the individual market would be hit with dramatic increases for services. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is scrambling now to shore up votes for the bill, but these numbers may not help.

    [BEGIN VIDEO]

    SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): From a political point of view, if you had a problem with the bill, the CBO score didn’t help you at all. It’s going to be tough to get to 50, but time will tell.

    [END VIDEO]

    REPORTER: Senate Republicans unveiled their version of the Obamacare repeal last Thursday to an underwhelming response by many in their own party.

  • Right-wing media bury stories on Senate GOP delaying vote that would gut American health care

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    Conservative media outlets buried Senate Republicans’ announcement that they would delay the upcoming vote on their struggling health care bill, instead prominently covering stories about former President Barack Obama’s vacation, the European Union fining Google, and right-wing attacks on CNN.

    On June 27, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate would delay a vote on its deeply unpopular health care bill. The bill, which would kick 22 million people off of health care, faced opposition from both moderate and far-right Republicans and had no Democratic support, making it unclear if it would pass through the Senate.

    After the announcement, right-wing media decided to keep its focus on other stories, as was pointed out on Twitter:

    Twitterati didn’t miss the irony of Fox highlighting Obama’s vacation either: