James O'Keefe has recently launched a political advocacy group, Project Veritas Action Fund, but journalists should be aware that O'Keefe has a long history of lies and deceptively edited videos filmed under false pretenses.
Project Veritas Action Fund has so far released videos about Kentucky's U.S. Senate race and Texas' gubernatorial contest. O'Keefe's venture is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, which allows direct involvement in political campaigns. O'Keefe's existing group, Project Veritas, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, which is not allowed to be involved in political campaigning.
O'Keefe released a video that accused the progressive group Battleground Texas of using “potentially illegal methods to change elections” in their efforts to register voters before Texas' election this year. Special prosecutors in Texas were appointed to investigate O'Keefe's claims and they recommended the case be dismissed and criticized the Project Veritas video as “little more than a canard and political disinformation.”
The group's latest video attacks Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes (D). Titled “The Lying Game,” Project Veritas claims they went “undercover in multiple Grimes campaign offices to determine if her opposition to the core principles of her own political party is genuine or an intentional deception.” But as Bloomberg's Dave Weigel explains, “There's no criminal activity alleged here. Instead, there's a succession of cheerful activists insisting that Grimes is on their side, and is participating in a 'lying game' when she says she'll fight for the coal industry.”
This is a continuation of O'Keefe's deceptive video release strategy, which has often worked in concert with Fox News.
In a series of videos, O'Keefe targeted the low-income advocacy group ACORN. O'Keefe falsely claimed the videos showed a “nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation” that implicated ACORN employees. But the videos were deceptive and heavily edited. Three separate investigations cleared employees of criminal wrongdoing and law enforcement officials called O'Keefe's videos a “highly selective editing of reality” from “partisan zealots.” Despite this, the U.S. House voted to defund ACORN (and did so over a dozen more times) and the group was dissolved. A lawsuit from a former ACORN employee against O'Keefe for illegally taping a conversation at an ACORN office resulted in a $100,000 settlement.
O'Keefe was then arrested when he attempted to enter the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in another attempted sting operation. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and a $1,500 fine.
Later in 2010, O'Keefe tried to lure then-CNN correspondent Abbie Boudreau onto a boat filled with sexually explicit props and record the encounter surreptitiously. The plan, described by O'Keefe as a “CNN Caper,” was disrupted when an O'Keefe confidante warned off the reporter.
Attacking unions, an O'Keefe video purported to show union officials promising to “secure funding” for a company that did nothing but dig holes in the ground. But the unedited video actually showed that the officials were skeptical of the entire scheme.
An O'Keefe video promoted by Fox News took an NPR executive out of context, leaving the impression that he had disparaged the tea party movement and said NPR was “better off” without federal funding. The full video showed that the Project Veritas video had been edited to leave a false impression, removing the context of the conversation.
In the midst of the 2012 presidential campaign, an O'Keefe video alleged voter fraud from the Obama re-election campaign, but the doctored videos failed to demonstrate any real criminal activity. Another election year video from Project Veritas said “we found ballots being offered out in the name of the dead” but the ballot in question in the unedited video was for someone who was actually alive. O'Keefe's organization released several more videos alleging voter fraud that year, but they were all based on false interpretations of voter ID laws.
An O'Keefe video accused Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) of “excluding whites” from protection under his proposal for a new Voting Rights Amendment Act, but this claim is a complete misreading of the bill, which would include all races in its protection of voting rights.
In concert with the release of his book, O'Keefe pushed a video that purported to show widespread problems with the federal Lifeline program, which provides phones to low-income Americans. However, the video was edited to make it appear as if government employees had encouraged illegal activity, and the raw video showed this was untrue.
In May, O'Keefe released a video called “Hollywood's War On U.S. Energy,” which attempted to connect opposition to fracking to funding from Middle Eastern oil tycoons. The video chopped up dialogue to deceive viewers into believing environmental groups would accept oil industry money.
Earlier this year, O'Keefe dressed in an Osama Bin Laden costume and crossed the Rio Grande River in a ham-fisted attempt to prove that the southern U.S. border is insecure. The stunt was so outlandish that Fox's Eric Bolling said O'Keefe should “give it a rest.”
But he hasn't. O'Keefe continues to produce videos that don't hold up under even light scrutiny, and now his pivot to more direct involvement in electoral campaigns should be a warning signal to reporters to be extremely skeptical of his claims.