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  • 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 right-wing attacks on CNN's Russia story are not actually about ethics in media journalism

    The president and his trolls are not fighting CNN. They're fighting the practice of journalism itself.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Over the weekend, CNN published, investigated, and retracted a story which reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee was looking into a Russian investment fund whose head met with a close aide to President Donald Trump earlier this year. On Monday, the network announced that the story’s reporter, editor, and the executive editor of CNN’s investigations division had all resigned. A network source told The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple that while the network had not disproved the story, swift action had to be taken because there had been a “breakdown in process.”

    Viewed in a vacuum, this would be an admirable, if harsh, example of a major media outlet working to uphold its standards. But the incident -- and the response from the right, with President Donald Trump and his media allies attacking CNN -- comes amid a months-long effort to brand the network and the rest of the mainstream press as “fake news.” The attacks on CNN that have poured in over the last few days have not been credible arguments made in good faith by people who want a better media. They’ve been the vapid bleatings of the press’s enemies, who want to grind down journalists and narrow the scope of acceptable behavior for mainstream outlets using standards to which they don’t themselves adhere. There is no point in trying to appease the right-wing critics, and responsible journalists should not act as if there’s a way to win them over.

    “Wow, CNN had to retract big story on ‘Russia,’ with 3 employees forced to resign,” Trump tweeted this morning. “What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!”

    “CNN's descent from news organization to political campaign is nearly complete,” Tucker Carlson claimed on Fox last night. For Fox’s Sean Hannity, the incident proved there is a “major credibility crisis at CNN.” Asked about the president’s tweets on Fox & Friends the next morning, Newt Gingrich, a close ally of the president’s, chimed in to say the network needs to get rid of president Jeff Zucker and bring in “an outside analyst” to “review everything at CNN and basically reset it.”

    To be clear, CNN investigated its report, found it did not meet the network’s standards, and the report was not only retracted, but the people involved with its production also no longer work there. At the pro-Trump press outlets like Fox, such consequences simply do not happen.

    If Fox held to CNN’s standard, the network would have fired Special Report anchor Bret Baier over last year’s retracted, anonymously sourced report, presented days before the presidential election, that an indictment was “likely” in the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server. Fox & Friends hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade wouldn’t still have jobs after being scolded by a top network executive and a federal judge for their tendency to credulously report Internet hoaxes and absurd smears. Senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano would have been canned after he claimed that unnamed intelligence sources had told him that late last year, a British spy agency had surveilled Trump on behalf of then-President Barack Obama.

    The reality that mainstream outlets have standards that the right-wing press doesn’t is admirable, but it is also a vulnerability. The president and his media supporters have internalized the lesson that admitting fault is how you lose, and fighting back is how you win. Thus they almost never say they did something wrong -- and certainly never penalize themselves for their failings -- even if, say, tape emerges of the president saying that he likes to sexually assault women. This refusal to apologize has allowed them to prime their audience to feast on opponents who acknowledge failures.

    The right wing’s argument in this case is extremely simple, and it fits with a story its adherents have been telling for quite some time: CNN, and the mainstream media more broadly, is fake news, deliberately producing false stories to damage Trump and the conservative movement. CNN’s argument -- that the network tries hard to get its stories right, and when it fails to meet its own standards, it takes action -- is much more complex. That’s a weakness since the general public simply does not have much trust for journalists.

    And the president’s media allies do not intend to leave it there. Late last night, video propagandist James O’Keefe released a hidden-camera video featuring a supervising producer for the CNN Medical Unit, who said that the network had yet to uncover a Russia “smoking gun” and that the network’s reporting is driven by ratings.

    The claim that CNN has no standards and cares only about getting more viewers is contradicted by the resignations from yesterday, and it's unclear why a health producer would have particular insight into the network’s Russia coverage, or why all network producers should have the same opinions about coverage. But no matter; the point is to tear the network down. The video is being billed as a major scandal by the “alt-right” and pro-Trump media, with Paul Joseph Watson, editor-at-large for the conspiracy theory website Infowars, stating that Trump “must now revoke CNN’s White House press credentials” based on the tape.

    CNN and rest of the media should learn from this. For decades, the right wing has sought to work the press as a way to delegitimize and lessen critical coverage. But the conservative attacks on the media are not made in good faith. The most important tweet the president sent this morning explains what Trump thinks of major news outlets:

    This isn’t an argument over what constitutes good journalism and what doesn’t. It’s a fight over whether a critical press should exist.

    Journalists should do what they think is right in order to adhere to and uphold their standards. But they should make those decisions without paying attention to the bad-faith complaints from the right. They can’t worry about the conservative criticisms as if there is something they could do to make them stop. That will never happen. Firing journalists who mess up won’t help. Neither will hiring pro-Trump sycophants. The conservative goal is a cowed press that pushes the same propaganda that Fox does. Unless the rest of the press is willing to adhere to that standard, the right will never be satisfied.

  • For one fleeting moment, Fox & Friends debunked Kellyanne Conway's lie about Medicaid

    Then helped her lie again

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On the June 26 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Ainsley Earhardt flip-flopped twice on Medicaid cuts, supporting, then debunking, then returning to supporting the White House’s false claim that the Republican health care bill doesn’t cut Medicaid funding.

    During the first hour of the program, the hosts repeated a debunked claim from Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, that the Republican Senate’s health care bill does not cut Medicaid funding. Doocy claimed that those covered by Medicaid under the Obamacare expansion “will continue [being covered] in the future,” and Kilmeade added later that “we don’t even have that money” to fund the Obamacare Medicaid expansion “to begin with,” but the Republicans’ bill is “still increasing it” to guarantee coverage for the needy.

    In the second hour of the program, Doocy asked Fox News contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier if “the Senate health care bill, as it stands this morning,” cuts Medicaid or not. Saphier claimed that it “depends on who you ask, [but] I’m going to say there will be cuts to Medicaid” because “you’re not taking away real-time dollars, however what you’re gonna see is a slowing of spending in the future.” Doocy attempted to diminish her claim by noting that it will be up to states to decide how to handle Medicaid, but Saphier said that “we’re not quite sure” how states will respond to the cut in federal funding.

    Saphier’s analysis resembles that of several panelists on CNN’s New Day, who highlighted that the Senate is “handing a gigantic -- by one estimate $43 billion check -- I should say bill -- to the governors and asking them to figure out how to pay for this,” and that several states, “if they don't have the money to do that federal match, then they can just jump out of this altogether.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score of the House version of the bill clearly states that “several major provisions affecting Medicaid would decrease direct spending by $880 billion over the 2017-2026 period, … culminating in 14 million fewer Medicaid enrollees by 2026, a reduction of about 17 percent relative to the number under current law.” 

    Shortly after Saphier debunked the White House’s false talking point, the hosts had Kellyanne Conway on the program to “set the record straight” because “if you watch the mainstream media this morning, they’re saying that you were caught in a lie.” Conway maintained that “it’s not a lie” because “it is slowing the growth of Medicaid” although it “continues to be funded.” She noted that “Medicaid over time would be unsustainable and unaffordable because Obamacare failed to bring costs down for health care, so these states are having a very difficult time meeting the bills.” Conway attacked “detractors and Trump haters” for “call[ing] me a liar because they don’t want to do the homework and look at what’s actually happening to Medicaid,” as Saphier did minutes earlier. 

  • New right-wing media talking point: It's no big deal if Trump colluded with the Russians

    Legal experts and Trump’s attorney general agree it would be “improper and illegal”

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Conservative media figures have repeatedly downplayed possible collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and the Russian government, suggesting that “it’s not a crime” to collude with a foreign government to influence U.S. elections. Legal experts and Trump’s own attorney general, however, agree that such collusion would be “improper and illegal.”

  • Sunday shows omit key consequences of GOP Senate health care bill

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    During discussions of the health care bill released by Senate Republicans this week, several of the Sunday morning political talk shows failed to cover some of the detrimental consequences the bill could impose on millions of Americans, including premium increases for the elderly, cuts to essential health benefits, and the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

    After drafting the bill with an “almost-unprecedented opacity,” Senate Republicans finally publicly introduced their health care proposal on June 22. The Senate draft comes over a month after the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) on May 4. While the June 25 editions of the Sunday shows devoted a significant amount of time to covering the bill, and all mentioned the severe cuts to Medicaid and the spike in premiums that would be a result of the legislation, several left out a few key provisions of the bill that are incredibly consequential to vulnerable Americans:

    Disproportionate impact on the elderly

    As HuffPost noted, the Senate bill “is worse for seniors than what the House passed,” pointing out that cuts to Medicaid, the “age tax” that allows for insurance companies to charge older people more, and smaller subsidies “puts vulnerable seniors smack in its crosshairs.”

    The disproportionate impact the Senate bill would have on the elderly went unmentioned on Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, CNN’s State of the Union, and CBS’ Face the Nation. But this fact was mentioned on other programs. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pointed out on NBC’s Meet the Press that the Senate bill will “raise premiums for older workers.” Additionally, on ABC’s This Week, panelist Neera Tanden noted that under the law, “a 60-year-old person in Maine will have $9,200 increase in their premiums.”

    Cuts to essential health benefits and impact on people with pre-existing conditions

    The Atlantic explained that the Senate bill “created a backdoor way” to allow insurers “to discriminate against a pre-existing condition” by allowing states to “easily waive the requirement to cover Essential Health Benefits,” which exists under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). By waiving these essential health benefits, many people with pre-existing conditions might not be able to afford the health insurance necessary to be covered as premiums could skyrocket. As Vox’s Sarah Kliff also explained, although pre-existing condition coverage is still required, “Building a health insurance system without an individual mandate or any replacement policy runs a significant risk of falling into a death spiral, where only the sickest people buy coverage and premiums keep ticking upward.”

    These points went unmentioned on State of the Union and This Week. Face the Nation host John Dickerson and Meet the Press host Chuck Todd both noted that under the Senate bill, Republicans could use this maneuver to cut coverage for things like mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and maternity care. Fox News Sunday host Brit Hume and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price mentioned pre-existing conditions only to incorrectly state that patients with pre-existing conditions would not be affected by the bill.

    Cuts to Planned Parenthood

    The Senate bill also includes a one-year freeze on federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Several states have defunded Planned Parenthood, which has led to an “exploding HIV outbreak” and problems for low-income women who were suddenly unable to find a health care provider.

    Cuts to Planned Parenthood went unmentioned on Fox News Sunday and State of the Union. It was, however, mentioned in passing but with no real substantive conversation around the impacts by guests on Face the Nation and Meet the Press, while Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told This Week that cuts to Planned Parenthood may be one of the factors preventing her from voting for the bill.

    Methodology

    Media Matters used SnapStream to search for the following on the June 25 editions of Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, NBC’s Meet the Press, and CBS’ Face the Nation:

    • Media Matters searched for mentions of “old” or “elderly” to code for mentions of premium increases the elderly would face under the Senate bill.

    • Media Matters searched for mentions of “condition” or “benefit” to code for mentions of cuts to essential health benefits in the Senate bill and impact on those with pre-existing conditions.

    • Media Matters searched for mentions of “Planned Parenthood” to code for mentions of cuts to Planned Parenthood in the Senate bill.