“This is an extraordinary recording,” Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe told Fox’s Sean Hannity on November 12, 2020, “because you never really hear something like this.”
O’Keefe was speaking on Hannity’s radio show about a recording which he alleged showed a federal agent intimidating U.S. Postal Service “whistleblower” Richard Hopkins, who claimed he overheard his supervisor discussing the backdating of mail-in ballots. That was, of course, not what actually happened.
The subject of this rumor, the postmaster of Erie, Pennsylvania, recently settled a lawsuit against Project Veritas and O’Keefe, who admitted they had “no evidence” for the fraud claims O’Keefe so ominously described three years earlier — a similar ending to many of right-wing media’s false claims about the 2020 election.
When Project Veritas first promoted Hopkins’ fraud claims, it quickly drew the attention of federal investigators. Soon thereafter, The Washington Post reported that Hopkins retracted his allegation. However, Project Veritas and O’Keefe released multiple videos claiming the retraction was coerced, and launched fundraisers on crowdraising sites.
Among Project Veritas’ supposedly vindicating evidence was what appeared to be two hours of audio from Hopkins’ federal interview, which actually confirmed his retraction. “I didn’t specifically hear the whole story. I just heard a part of it, and I could’ve missed a lot of it,” Hopkins told investigators, adding that Project Veritas wrote the legal affidavit, which he regretted signing because it exaggerated what he witnessed.
Even as Project Veritas’ claims completely fell apart in public view, thanks in part to Project Veritas itself, O’Keefe continued to spoon-feed right-wing audiences a bizarre set of alternative facts to support the initial falsehood. And, for a brief time, the formula worked: O'Keefe's false claim spread through right-wing media, even being cited by the Trump campaign in its attempt to stop Pennsylvania from certifying its election results.
“They don’t want to find fraud — they want to reinforce the narrative that fraud is not possible,” O’Keefe told Hannity’s radio listeners in December 2020. “This is really Orwellian.”
Since the 2020 election, Project Veritas and O’Keefe have both fallen on hard times. In February 2023, Project Veritas’ board of directors fired O’Keefe for allegedly mistreating staff and wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal expenses, including his bizarre attempt to secure a DJ set at the Coachella music festival. Six months later, it was reported that O’Keefe and Project Veritas were both under investigation by a suburban New York district attorney’s office.
One month after news of the state investigation broke, Project Veritas announced layoffs and a pause in fundraising. December brought the resignation of Hannah Giles, O’Keefe’s replacement as CEO, who cited “strong evidence of past illegality and past financial improprieties” which she claimed to have shown to the police. Separately (or not), Project Veritas is also facing potential federal prosecution for its role in the theft of the diary of President Joe Biden’s daughter.
Not every right-wing media organization responsible for 2020 election misinformation has followed the same ruinous path charted by Project Veritas. However, many of the specific false claims about election fraud have fallen to court-ordered settlements.
Former Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss sued several right-wing media outlets and figures for defamation over false claims related to the 2020 election, so far resulting in a settlement from One America News and a $148 million default judgment against former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who Freeman and Moss sued again three days later, alleging continued defamation. Their lawsuit against pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit is ongoing.
2020 election lies also resulted in the largest media settlement in legal history, when Fox News agreed to pay $787.5 million to settle an embarrassing and potentially perilous $1.6 billion defamation suit from Dominion Voting Systems, a centerpiece of some of the most common 2020 election conspiracy theories.
The record-breaking settlement was followed by the resignation of Fox Corp. Chief Legal Officer Viet Dinh, the termination of network star Tucker Carlson, and at least two shareholder lawsuits against Fox Corp. and its board of directors, including former Chairman Rupert Murdoch.
Dominion also has similar pending cases against Newsmax, OAN, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, former Trump attorney Sidney Powell, and more. Smartmatic, another election software company that was a frequent target of right-wing nonsense around the 2020 election, is also pursuing cases seeking billions in damages.
These ongoing lawsuits and Project Veritas’ recent settlement serve as reminders that many in right-wing media are still facing the fallout of false claims about the 2020 election — with the notable exclusion of the man at the center of those false claims, who is already spreading preemptive charges of voter fraud with the 2024 general election looming on the horizon.
“Our elections are very unsafe,” Donald Trump told Newsmax’s Rob Schmitt. “They’re not free. They’re not free and fair. There’s so much evidence. There’s so much proof. We have it all. Nobody wants to hear about it.”