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  • 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]

  • Fox News lies about context of Rob Reiner tweet to claim he called for “all out war” against Trump

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Co-hosts of Fox News’ The Five took a tweet by Rob Reiner out of context, claiming Reiner called “for ‘all out war’ to resist Trump,” ignoring Reiner’s quote was a reference to repeated instances where Fox News attempted to justify possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

    Reiner’s tweet was a reference to prominent Fox News hosts repeatedly attempting to justify any collusion that may or may not have occurred between the Trump campaign and Russia during the presidential election. Fox News hosts Gregg Jarrett, Brit Hume and Sean Hannity have all attempted to justify potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia’s government, as has Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera.

    But the co-hosts of The Five ignored this criticism of their colleagues and instead mocked Reiner’s claim without providing any context. From the June 26 edition of Fox News’ The Five:

    KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE (CO-HOST): Hollywood is, of course doing what it can to help fuel the resistance movement. Actor and director Rob Reiner, best known as “Meathead” from All In The Family, is encouraging his fellow resisters on Twitter to fight an “all out war” to save democracy.

    [...]

    GREG GUTFELD (CO-HOST): And what exactly is an all out war from Rob Reiner? Is he going to load up his Prius with water balloons? He’s gonna write a really scathing piece in Huffington Post and then order a pie, and get all the crust in his beard?

  • Fox & Friends is Donald Trump's safe space

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko and Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump loves rallies, but he can't hold a rally every day. Sometimes he has to turn to Fox & Friends.

    Amid a series of moves closing off access to the administration for journalists -- including recent major changes to the frequency and format of official press briefings --  the president and first lady Melania Trump are taping an exclusive interview today with Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt, his first televised, in-person interview in six weeks. (The interview is set to air Friday.) This move makes perfect sense for Trump, who is mired in countless major scandals and can expect to avoid being grilled about any of them on Fox & Friends, known more for its family-barbecue brand of casual, coded racism and xenophobia than for actual journalism.

    The interview also speaks to a larger trend in the president’s approach to the press, as he increasingly elevates and prioritizes loyal conservative sycophants over actual news outlets. After tomorrow’s Fox & Friends interview, Trump will have given as many interviews to Fox & Friends (three) during his presidency as he has to ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN combined.

    Since his inauguration, Trump has given 10 televised interviews in total to Fox News (and one to Fox Business), one each to CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, and the Christian Broadcasting Network, and none to CNN. 

    Trump's decision to grant another sit-down interview to his friends at Fox & Friends comes 40 days after his last one-on-one interview with Fox’s Jeanine Pirro, who also asked him predictable softball questions. It is an ideal move for a president who wants to appear as if he’s granting media access without being accessible to any members of the media who might actually ask him a critical question. (The last time he allowed that to happen, he stepped on a James Comey-shaped rake courtesy of NBC’s Lester Holt.)

    Trump’s retreat to his friends at Fox is happening in the midst of his administration’s unprecedented war on the press at large. On the same day the president and first lady are sitting down with Earhardt, elsewhere in the White House, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders conducted yet another bizarre and pointless press briefing that barred video recordings. The frequency of the White House press briefings and gaggles -- recorded or otherwise -- has been sharply declining in recent months. The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers calculated that the total White House press briefing time for June will shrink to about a third of what it was in March.

    Trump also lags far behind his predecessors in holding solo presidential press conferences. So far, Trump has held just one press conference, in which he called CNN’s Jim Acosta “fake news”; at this point in previous administrations, President Barack Obama had held six, President George W. Bush had held three, and President Bill Clinton had held seven solo press conferences.

    Fox News (and Fox & Friends, in particular) is predictably the runaway favorite when Trump is compelled to branch out from public interaction via Twitter and rallies. As Politico’s Joanna Weiss wrote last month:

    Trump’s cozy relationship with “Fox & Friends” has become one of the great curiosities of his unusual presidency. A well-known cable TV devotee, Trump has found inspiration for his Twitter timeline in various programs—but none so much as Fox News Channel’s 6-9 a.m. talk show.

    […]

    It’s not hard to understand the show’s appeal. While the rest of the media frets and wails over Trump’s policies and sounds the alarm over his tweets, “Fox & Friends” remains unrelentingly positive. It’s pitched to the frequency of the Trump base, but it also feels intentionally designed for Trump himself—a three-hour, high-definition ego fix. For a president who no longer regularly receives adulation from screaming crowds at mega rallies, “Fox & Friends” offers daily affirmation that he is successful and adored, that his America is winning after all.

    On Twitter, his preferred mode of communication with the public, the president has repeatedly lavished Fox & Friends with praise since taking office. Trump routinely appeared on the show throughout his campaign, often calling in just to talk or complain about whatever was bothering him, including on Election Day. For years beforehand, he even had a weekly call-in segment on the show to share this thoughts about the news of the day. 

    The warm and familiar embrace of Fox & Friends is where Trump turns for unconditional support in furthering an alternate reality where his presidency is historically successful and his critics are merely unfair or needlessly mean. Perhaps that's why Ivanka Trump is also now frequenting the show -- her own one-on-one interview with Earhardt was pushed back to accomodate her father's, but it will air on Monday.  

    Rob Savillo contributed original research to this post. 

  • Trump champion Hugh Hewitt gets his own show on MSNBC

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Conservative talk radio host and Trump supporter Hugh Hewitt will host his own show on MSNBC. Hewitt, who has called himself a “‘reluctant Trump’ voter," has a history of flip-flopping on Trump and his policies. He's been critical of Trump, even calling on him to be removed as the nominee twice during the presidential campaign, but has also defended him during his campaign, transition, and presidency. Hewitt's record suggests he will simply serve as a Republican shill on MSNBC and will continue spreading his right-wing punditry and misinformation.

  • Gateway Pundit’s White House correspondent promotes rally with white nationalist and “special guest” Matt Forney

    Forney has previously worked for holocaust deniers, declared “everyone hates blacks,” and claimed women “want” to be “raped”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In a tweet promoting a “Rally Against Leftist Violence,” Gateway Pundit White House correspondent Lucian Wintrich announced the event would feature white nationalist Matt Forney as a “special guest.”

    “Special guest” Matt Forney is a white nationalist previously employed by Red Ice Radio, an anti-semitic online media outlet that promotes Holocaust denialism. Red Ice Radio has previously promoted YouTube videos with titles including “Eric Hunt - The Shoah: The Biggest Hoax of the 20th Century?,” “Ole Dammegard - Making Critical Thinking Illegal: Questioning the Holocaust,” and “David Cole - The Truth Behind the Gates of Auschwitz.”

    Prior to his upcoming appearance at the “Rally Against Leftist Violence,” Forney described the children of interracial marriages as “almost always fucked in the head,” claimed “we need strict black control and Muslim control,” claimed “Mexicans are a fifth column in the U.S.,” and declared “Let’s just be honest: everyone hates blacks.” Forney has additionally claimed “Jews support gun control because their limp wrists make it impossible for them to shoot straight.”

    Furthermore, Forney has said women “want” to be “raped” and “beat[en]”, and claimed "Blacks do nothing but murder cops, rob and rape people, and bring death and destruction wherever they go.” In a profile in Slate, Michelle Goldberg wrote that Forney said “he’s been gratified by the way the Donald Trump campaign has made his views less taboo.”

    UPDATE: Wintrich is disavowing responsibility for the "flyer" and claims that he posted it without reservation because it has "the correct time/place."

    On June 23, Forney posted a YouTube stream with homophobic attacks where he stated that Wintrich had promoted a "joke flyer," clarified that he thinks feminists "want women to be raped," and criticized the current in-fighting and divisions occuring in the "alt-right."   

  • Can White House press briefings be saved?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Is the era of Trump White House daily press briefings now, for all practical purposes, over?

    On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer held an off-camera “gaggle” where all video and audio recordings were banned. It was only the latest example of an administration obsessed with secrecy and committed to embracing the opposite of transparency. (The White House held a similar “no audio” briefing last week.) That hallmark lack of transparency extends specifically to keeping journalists and voters as uninformed as possible.

    Today, White House press briefings are dying on the vine. They’re becoming increasingly scarce and unhelpful. “When Spicer and [deputy Sarah Huckabee] Sanders do take questions from journalists, they increasingly offer nonanswers,” The Washington Post noted this week.

    This trend fits a larger, disturbing strategy as the GOP-run Senate scrambles in total secrecy to pass a sprawling health care bill without holding any public hearings, without hearing from any health care experts, and without releasing the text of the bill. Reporters today have no idea what’s in the bill, simply because Republicans won’t make the contents public. (Reporters have to rely solely on Republican sources for legislative information.)

    It all constitutes a historic, incremental effort by the Trump administration to lock out the press -- and, by extension, the public -- from the government’s official duties and business.

    This was my warning just days after Trump’s November victory: Moving forward, news organizations face a stark, and possibly defining choice in terms of how they respond to any radical efforts to curb the media’s White House access."

    Today, some journalists, and specifically the large, influential news organizations they work for, deserve a healthy dose of blame for largely sleepwalking past a dangerous problem for months.

    For much of 2017, Media Matters has urged news outlets to take collective action to push back against the White House’s anti-press steamroller operation.

    This week, following the outrageous “gaggle” lock-out, CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta spoke out, suggesting “collective action” is the only option news outlets have in the face of the White House’s unprecedented attack on newsgathering:

    “It's bizarre,” said Acosta, who despite being labeled “fake news” to his face during a press conference with President Trump in February is not known for editorializing his reporting. “I don’t know what world we’re living in right now, Brooke, where we’re standing at the White House and they bring us into the briefing room here at the White House, and they won’t answer these questions on camera or let us record the audio... I don’t understand why we covered that gaggle today, quite honestly, Brooke. If they can’t give us the answers to the questions on camera or where we can record the audio, they’re basically pointless.”

    But is it now too late? The time for robust pushback was certainly back in January or February when the White House was still assembling its obstructionist strategy. The press should’ve been raising holy hell from day one. (Following yesterday’s controversy, the White House announced Spicer will be holding an on-camera briefing today.)

    Reminder: When the Obama White House tweaked an access policy in a way news organizations didn’t like, they instantly staged a “mini-revolt” by indignantly, and collectively, demanding a meeting with Democratic administration officials to fix the problem.

    Acosta's forceful and important commentary on Monday has been the exception, not the rule -- and criticism like Acosta's has not been bolstered by much tangible action from major news organizations.

    Why the media’s signature timidity? My guess is it was the dream of access journalism that prevented many in the press from doing the right thing from day one. It was the dream of access journalism that kept reporters, editors, and producers from loudly, angrily, and collectively, demanding traditional access from the Trump White House.

    Nervous about having their access cut off -- about not being called on at briefings, about being shut out of gaggles, about having no chance at landing a presidential interview -- many journalists and news organizations sat on their hands and hoped for the best. Nervous of offending a Republican president they deemed as a TV celebrity, journalists backed down. (Or worse, laughed along.)

    And leading the access brigade was the White House Correspondents’ Association. No matter how many obstacles the administration erected for the press, the group has routinely seemed to downplay them -- all while stressing the Trump team was providing access.

    But of course today the White House does not provide beloved access. It’s doing the exact opposite. The new paucity of on-camera briefings prove that point, as does the fact that when truncated briefings do occur the main objective appears to be to share as little helpful information as possible.

    Example: Three weeks ago a reporter at a briefing asked Spicer if Trump believed in climate change. Spicer said he didn’t know because he had never asked Trump. To date, Spicer still does not seem to have an answer for that very simple question.

    So yes, journalists sat on their hands while angling for access that never came. Trump hasn’t had a full-fledged press conference since February; it’s been more than a month since he sat down with a legitimate journalist to answer extended questions. And as scandal allegations mount, there’s no reason to think Trump’s personal attorney will allow him to give any in-depth interviews soon.

    While networks have gone overboard with airing almost all of Spicer's briefings, on-camera briefings -- even ones in which Spicer is his usual, evasive self -- are still better than nothing in terms of creating a video record of the administration's answers to reporters' questions on important issues.

    Nonetheless, the window to save the press briefings is closing quickly. I wish CNN and the rest of the press corps would take Acosta’s current advice (“we should walk out”), and do something.

  • CNN’s chief is criticizing the president's war on the media. Last year, he hired Trump’s top press abuser.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    CNN President Jeff Zucker criticized President Donald Trump’s administration for its strategy of trying to delegitimize the press for political purposes, warning that his network’s reporters now regularly receive threats. But CNN itself has played a key role in that effort, rewarding key figures in the Trump team’s anti-press campaign with jobs at the network.

    Zucker told HuffPo that the “shameful” effort “does disservice to this country and its position in the world and ... allows for a heightened sense of rhetoric against journalists and media organizations. And it is unconscionable and dangerous and they should know better.”

    CNN's chief is absolutely right. The attacks on the free press from the Trump administration and its media allies are unprecedented in their vitriol. Reporters covering Trump rallies often feared for their physical safety as Trump would whip his crowds into an anti-press frenzy. A Republican congressman’s assault last month on a reporter who sought to ask him a question represented a frightening new turn, with anti-press rhetoric turning swiftly to violence.

    But Zucker’s concern for the journalists he employs and their colleagues around the country would be more compelling if he had not previously decided that former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who oversaw many of the campaign’s most despicable attacks on journalists, was a great fit for the network.

    Lewandowski earned notoriety for his open hostility toward -- and physical altercations with -- journalists trying to cover the campaign. He reportedly pushed a CNN reporter who was trying to ask a question and threatened to pull the credentials of another. He was said to have propositioned female journalists who sought to cover Trump. And most infamously, he was charged with misdemeanor battery after he forcibly grabbed reporter Michelle Fields for the crime of trying to ask Trump a question (the state declined to prosecute).

    After all that -- and in spite of a nondisclosure agreement that likely prevented him from criticizing Trump -- Zucker’s CNN hired Lewandowski in June 2016 to represent his former boss on the network. Journalists inside CNN and out promptly savaged the network for its “inexcusable” action.

    But Zucker repeatedly defended Lewandowski’s hiring on the grounds that the network needed to have a supporter of the Republican nominee on the payroll. This argument did not meet the smell test: The network already employed several Trump supporters and had no trouble finding others to appear on their airwaves, none of whom had records of physical altercations with journalists.

    The reality is that time and time again during the presidential campaign, Zucker was willing to do what it took to curry favor with the Trump campaign, providing the Republican front-runner with an ocean of coverage because he thought Trump gave the network great ratings. Now that Trump is president, he’s stuck in the unenviable position of having to deal with the result: A president willing to publicly declare his network “fake news.”

    Meanwhile, the pro-Trump pundits Zucker’s network employs play a key role in the administration’s effort to delegitimize the press by defending that strategy on the network’s own airwaves. CNN’s Jeffrey Lord laughed off Trump’s unhinged February press conference, during which the president launched dozens of attacks on reporters and media outlets, as the “launch of a new reality television show called ‘Beat the Press.’” In October, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Trump campaign aide Jason Miller if he was comfortable with the way Trump lashed out at the press and threatened to sue journalists. Miller responded by blaming the “biased” media. In March, CNN hired him as a political commentator.

    It’s great that Zucker now wants to stick up for his reporters when the president’s supporters chant “CNN sucks” at Trump rallies. But the administration's attacks on journalists did not come out of nowhere; they were completely predictable. Instead of punishing the Trump campaign for its actions “against something that is guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States” when it could have made a real difference, Zucker rewarded its anti-press lackeys.