In the latest of his heavily edited, deceptive videos, discredited conservative activist James O'Keefe claims that he found “union bosses” who “loved the idea” of a company that does nothing but dig holes in the ground and fill them again -- and that those union men said “public officials” would fund such projects. The unedited video, of course, shows nothing of the sort.
The edited video shows workers from the fictional company Earth Supply and Renewal (ESR) meeting with New York union leaders John Hutchings and Anthony Tocci and former NY state assemblyman Ronald Tocci (Anthony's brother). The faux-ESR employees explain that workers at their company dig ditches and then “put [the dirt] right back in the ground,” then ask if the union leaders can help them get public funds for their hole-digging, hole-filling operation.
In a series of fast cuts, the union leaders are shown advising the supposed ESR employees to “just call it a jobs program for workers,” explaining how they lobby officials, and saying that they are “good with [Sens. Kirsten] Gillibrand and [Charles] Schumer.” The video repeatedly shows Hutchings saying, “It's awful hard for anybody to vote against a jobs bill right now” -- the implication being, apparently, that anyone will vote to fund any kind of jobs, even useless ones like repeatedly digging and filling holes.
The Project Veritas press release accompanying the video claims it shows that “UNION BOSSES LOVED THE IDEA!” of funding “a fake company that literally does nothing but dig holes and then put the dirt back,” and during the video, O'Keefe claims that “union bosses expressed the willingness of public officials and lawmakers to secure funding for projects just like ours.”
But the raw footage of the video shows no such thing. In the raw footage, the union leaders are highly skeptical of Earth Supply and Renewal, and they never promise to help “secure funding” for it.
In the raw footage, the union leaders repeatedly ask the “ESR employees” about the purpose of their projects. When they can't give any, Hutchings and the Tocci brothers gently propose they take on more useful work. Hutchings asks if they “dig prior to construction projects” for “historical artifacts.” Ron Tocci asks if they analyze or remediate soil, then later says, “I'm just trying to get a hook on how you sell your product.” When one actor says, “There are people who have seen merit in what we're doing, especially from the green, more green circles,” an incredulous Tocci replies, “Well, why would they see that as -- besides the jobs that you would create, what are you doing for the environment?”
Watch their awkward exchange in the video footage O'Keefe edited out:
Throughout the interview, the union men continue to suggest real work ESR could do: remediate brownfields, identify archaeological sites, or move large amounts of dirt for property owners. Tocci repeatedly suggests the company look into alternate projects, saying at one point, “You've got to find a purpose.”
The raw footage also debunks O'Keefe's claim that the video shows “the willingness of public officials and lawmakers to secure funding for projects just like [ESR's].” Actually, the men question aloud how the company has ever managed to receive public funds before. About halfway through the video, Anthony Tocci says: “When you do these grants, the fellows you have writing them up, you know, in the past -- like Ronnie said, what do they put in there, outside of this? They must fluff it up, so to speak.”
As the faux-ESR workers press the union men for information on getting public funding, they emphasize that grant projects need to have a purpose; Ron Tocci says that federal support wouldn't be guaranteed, but would “be based on how good the grant is.”
So, the raw footage of O'Keefe's supposed shock video shows nothing more than three men kindly trying to explain to two youngsters that they can't run a business just by digging holes and filling them with dirt, and that the government won't pay them to do that either. The only thing these men are guilty of, if anything, is being too polite to the O'Keefe actors.
Indeed, in an article published today on Capitol Confidential, Ron Tocci told reporters he and his brother “tried to be courteous” even though they knew that the whole thing “must be a scam”:
Ron Tocci said the three labor officials (he is a dues-paying member of the union) had given the “kids” an audience because they had called and been referred from a New Jersey contact. He said the union officials determined after the meeting that they were scammers or too unsophisticated to ever get a grant. “My brother and I said this must be a scam. We told them we want them to see their principle,” Tocci said. “It's all BS.” He said he told them they needed to evolve and can't be just digging holes and suggested doing dirt cleaning or remediation of brown fields.
“We figured they were shysters,” said Tocci, an assemblyman for 20 years until becoming commissioner of Veteran Affairs from 2005 to 2007. “We tried to be courteous. They were young kids; first thing that comes to mind is that its young idealists, like Occupy Wall Street. We sized it up even half-way through the meeting when they couldn't explain what they did with the dirt.” He did not know about being featured in O'Keefe's project until being contacted by a reporter Wednesday morning. The union leaders, he said, never took the pitch too seriously because it didn't add up.
This isn't the first time O'Keefe has cried wolf. In the past, he's used his doctored videos to misleadingly portray NPR executives as Tea Party-haters, to falsely claim ACORN was abetting national child prostitution rings, and to inaccurately portray former USDA official Shirley Sherrod as racist. One of O'Keefe's videos even suggested a voter in North Carolina who was very much alive was “dead.”
His “Earth Supply and Renewal” video is just like the rest of his work: a flimsy string of out-of-context clips that crumbles under the slightest scrutiny.