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“”James O’Keefe is a professional liar, he just isn’t very good at it.
|—Brian Dickerson, Detroit Free Press|
James Edward O'Keefe III (1984–) describes himself as an investigative journalist and filmmaker, having founded Project Veritas.[note 1] He specializes in "sting" operations, where he or his associates secretly videotape the subjects of his investigations and bait the victims into saying something incriminating or embarrassing. O'Keefe's investigations have thus far been exclusively focused on doing heavily-slanted attack pieces against organizations or individuals considered to be liberal, and these efforts have made him a conservative media favorite.
- 1 Stings
- 2 Lucky Charms
- 3 Planned Parenthood
- 4 Taxpayer's Prize Patrol
- 5 ACORN
- 6 Misfires
- 7 Teachers Gone Wild
- 8 NPR
- 9 Voter Fraud, Part Two
- 10 Moran Moron
- 11 Shredded Constitutions
- 12 Failed Washington Post Sting
- 13 Tactics
- 14 The Donald
- 15 See also
- 16 External links
- 17 Notes
- 18 References
Most of O'Keefe's videos feature a young man or woman posing as a stereotype demonized by the American right-wing: a welfare queen seeking more money, an illegal immigrant inexplicably eager to vote, or a student obsessed with political correctness. The organization in question then gets into trouble to the extent they are willing to help the undercover operative achieve these goals. Unfortunately, simple politeness often appears incriminating in such a context, as many innocents have discovered.
O'Keefe began his career as a hidden camera provocateur while studying at Rutgers University in 2004. In his first-ever recorded "sting", O'Keefe and several other students met with Rutgers dining staff to demand the removal of Lucky Charms cereal from campus cafeterias, arguing that its leprechaun mascot represents an offensive stereotype of Irish-Americans. His intent in carrying out this glorified prank was to "illustrate the absurdity that is political correctness" and place school officials in a no-win situation where they would either have to appear insensitive to an ethnic group or willing to cave in to trivial complaints. The students claim they succeeded in getting the cereal removed for a time, but a Rutgers spokesman stated it was never taken off the menu.
For the first clandestine operation, O'Keefe and Rose went to two Planned Parenthood clinics in greater Los Angeles in March 2007 and one in Santa Monica in May 2007, secretly taping counseling sessions in which Rose, then aged 18, posed as a pregnant 15-year-old girl seeking an abortion and O'Keefe posed as her 23-year-old boyfriend. The goal was to catch (or some might say entrap) employees saying things that made it look like they are willing to let statutory rape go unreported.
The second sting operation Rose and O'Keefe collaborated on involved O'Keefe phoning regional Planned Parenthood offices in Idaho, Ohio, New Mexico, and Oklahoma in the summer of 2007, posing as a racist interested in making a donation "specifically for the abortions of African-American babies." The intent was to prove that Planned Parenthood was founded by Margaret Sanger (true), an advocate of eugenics (true), with the intent of wiping out the black race (false), a claim commonly propagated by pro-life activists. When Rose's anti-abortion group, Live Action (to which O'Keefe served as an advisor), released the calls in early 2008, it resulted in Autumn Kersey, a Planned Parenthood representative who answered the call to the Idaho office, being suspended from her job. Rose admitted that her group deliberately targeted Planned Parenthood offices in states where it is legal to record a telephone conversation without the other party's consent.
Taxpayer's Prize Patrol
O'Keefe was also involved in a brief series of videos in 2009 called the "Taxpayer's Prize Patrol." The videos consisted of O'Keefe and other young white people visiting minority homes in a van labeled "Taxpayer's Prize Patrol," in the style of the long-running "Publisher's Clearinghouse Prize Patrol." After the homeowners' initial confusion and excitement, O'Keefe would tell them that they'd "won" an invoice for a portion of the financial industry bail-out being administered at the time, and ask them to sign the giant check he handed them. This video series has not been very well-publicized, possibly because afterwards they realized the awkwardness involved in having a group of white people visit the homes of Hispanic or black families, raise their hopes, and then taunt them.
O'Keefe first rose to prominence on the strength of his investigation of ACORN (Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now). ACORN's stated purpose since its 1970 founding had been to advocate for low-income families - it sought to do this through a wide range of activities, such as economic advising, lobbying, and voter-registration drives. This latter activity had long earned the organization the enmity of some right-wing figures (such as 2008 Presidential candidate John McCain), who believed that ACORN was regularly involved in fraud to steal elections away from the rightful victors (Republicans). The kernel of truth in this is that the poor tend to overwhelmingly vote Democratic, so any efforts to encourage the poor to vote will inevitably be to the detriment of Republican candidates.
Even though ACORN had never been convicted or even charged with anything like voter fraud, there was a great deal of resentment, making the situation ripe for someone like O'Keefe.
During the summer of 2009, O'Keefe and an associate visited ACORN offices in eight cities, and recorded their interviews with financial counselors at those offices who were offering them help. They posed as a prostitute and a pimp seeking advice about free medical care and tax evasion on behalf of illegal-immigrant prostitutes, and several ACORN counselors gave the pair advice on their "activities."
O'Keefe used a great deal of editing in the resulting videos. In the interviews, his questions tended to be vague or leading, and frequently received only appropriate responses from the counselors. The segments of the videos that seemed to be the most damaging were edited together - these included such items as the counselors advising them not to tell the police what they did for a living, how to open multiple bank accounts to avoid suspicion, and where to get medical care for the prostitutes. Further, O'Keefe edited in a segment at the beginning that shows him wearing a large fur coat and feathered hat and carrying a cane, ("dressed like a pimp") whereas in reality he visited the offices in fairly conservative trousers and shirt. The overall idea, of course, was that ACORN was enthusiastically and knowingly helping a pimp oppress prostitutes and break the law.
The videos exploded into the media, championed first by Andrew Breitbart on his website Big Government. ACORN fired the employees involved, but this wasn't enough to curtail the gleeful pouncing of the right wing. Congress stripped away ACORN funding and despite a later investigation that ruled there had been no wrongdoing by the organization, it filed for bankruptcy and closed in November 2010. It was the first scalp on O'Keefe's belt. Such victory was not without cost, however; in filming the videos, O'Keefe and his female cohort Hannah Giles broke a California state law prohibiting the recording of someone else's voice or image without their knowledge or approval. Facing these charges, they acquired immunity from criminal prosecution by releasing the complete, unedited recordings.
Several years later, despite the evasion of criminal charges, O'Keefe was forced to settle a privacy lawsuit from an ACORN employee who had been fired, paying Juan Carlos Vera $100,000 USD. O'Keefe called the lawsuit "meritless" and the "cost of exposing the truth."
Following the massive success of the ACORN videos, O'Keefe was arrested and charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purposes of committing a felony when he and three associates dressed up as phone company employees and lied their way into the New Orleans offices of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and began "manipulat[ing] the telephone system." O'Keefe stated that he hadn't intended to tap Landrieu's phone lines, but rather that he was investigating whether or not they were broken.
“”I learned from a number of sources that many of Senator Landrieu’s constituents were having trouble getting through to her office to tell her that they didn’t want her taking millions of federal dollars in exchange for her vote on the healthcare bill. When asked about this, Senator Landrieu’s explanation was that, “Our lines have been jammed for weeks.” I decided to investigate why a representative of the people would be out of touch with her constituents for “weeks” because her phones were broken. In investigating this matter, we decided to visit Senator Landrieu’s district office – the people’s office – to ask the staff if their phones were working.
His excuse was noted, however absurd (does he really not know that "jammed" means busy, not broken?) and O'Keefe pled guilty to the lesser charge of entering a federal building under false pretences.
In the wake of his arrest and sentencing, O'Keefe made a music video featuring his performance of an original song. The video, "Landrieu Dance," also showcases a Landrieu impersonator.
Undeterred, O'Keefe and his crew got right back to work. Their next plot was to attempt to embarrass the news organization CNN, by seducing one of their female star reporters. Or something. It's not entirely clear what the end result would have been, because one of the confederates became uncomfortable with the level of sleaze and told CNN ahead of time about the "investigation."
According to the planning document, given to CNN by Izzy Santa, one of O'Keefe's confederates, the plan was to meet and attempt to seduce a female reporter, and engage in "kinky" sex with her. After this, he would attempt to feed her a false, politically charged story, and then - after it aired - debunk it. He would follow this up by revealing the affair and denigrating her as someone who only worried about sex and getting the easy, politically hot, stories.
The proposed script for the presentation video:
“”Instead of giving her a serious interview, I'm going to punk CNN. Abbie has been trying to seduce me to use me, 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.
The equipment list reads, in part:
O'Keefe claims that while he liked the idea he "never considered [it] for a moment" and that "[Boudreau] was not going to be faux 'seduced”' unless she wanted to be." In his statement, however, O'Keefe neglected to comment on an email obtained by CNN in which he asks an associate, "Ben, you think I could get her on the boat?"
During the New Hampshire GOP Primary in 2012, O'Keefe and company attempted to create another sting video highlighting the need for voter ID cards—a contentious issue among Americans, as voter fraud is near non-existent, but members of the GOP contend that it is a significant issue. Several states have passed legislation requiring voter ID cards, effectively disenfranchising longtime voters, mostly elderly individuals who have not previously needed a form of identification. They successfully acquired ballots of dead citizens—in doing so, his companions actually committed voter fraud.
Imagine a video that warns of the rampant problem of robbery, and proves it by stealing someone's stereo.
Teachers Gone Wild
Even though his fuzzy-handcuff-related plans went awry, O'Keefe continued his efforts. In November 2010, he proceeded with a sting on a teachers' union conference in New Jersey. His video is a parody of the Girls Gone Wild line of softcore pornographic videos, mimicking their raucous language and style as it presents members of the teachers' union drinking alcohol and gossiping. But even though teachers' unions have long been a dire foe of the right wing (which considers them both an impediment to education and to elections), this video was not very well-received because the contents are simply not very shocking. Even those who hate teachers' unions couldn't find much to complain about in the fact that some teachers were drinking at a weekend conference.
The main result from the video was that New Jersey teacher Alissa Ploshnick was fired for her comments to the undercover "reporter". She was filmed flirting with him and chatting with him about how hard it was to get a tenured teacher fired, complaining about the level of behavior they could get away with. As one example of such outrageous behavior, she mentioned one tenured teacher who had used the word "nigger" and how ridiculous that was.
Despite the fact that she was quoting someone else and was unhappy about the situation, as well as the sleaziness of pretending to flirt with someone over drinks to get them to say something incriminating, Ploshnick lost her job after twenty years of teaching. The students of New Jersey are probably not well-served by this loss, since Ploshnick's last brush with fame came in 1997, when she "threw herself in front of a careening van to protect her students and landed in the hospital with broken ribs, a fractured wrist, a badly bruised pelvis and glass cuts in her eyes." Alas, even the letter of commendation from then-President Clinton ("I recently heard about your act of heroism and wanted to commend you for your selflessness."), couldn't save her job.
Finding that his efforts since the ACORN sting had been getting less and less traction, O'Keefe set up a new sting in January of 2011, creating a fake advocacy agency called the "Muslim Education Action Center," whose website contained fairly generic pablum about spreading the real truth of Islam, assisting Islamic schools in America, and opposing the "corrupt entities such as Roger Ailes' Fox News." It was not terribly radical, although that didn't prevent at least one conservative blogger from noticing and screeching about "how they are going to shove the sharia down your kafir throat."
With this background in place, O'Keefe's team contacted representatives of National Public Radio, and set up a meeting. At the meeting, "Ibrahim" then proceeded to make outlandish or racist statements while dangling the prospect of making a donation, and taped the money-hungry NPR executives' agreement. It was not terribly surprising to anyone that representatives from a nonprofit would nod and smile to even the most batshit sentiments, as long as a fat check hung before their eyes.
Unfortunately, NPR merely fired the executives in question and shrugged off the controversy with disavowals, and it never managed to get much hold. This is probably in large part because even conservative news outlets had grown suspicious of O'Keefe's dildo-laden antics; the Glenn Beck-founded news site The Blaze even posted a long criticism of the O'Keefe video, illustrating the selective editing that made the NPR executives appear much worse than they really were, and concluding that "even if you are of the opinion, as I am, that undercover reporting is acceptable and ethical in very defined situations, it is another thing to approve of editing tactics that seem designed to intentionally lie or mislead about the material being presented."
Voter Fraud, Part Two
Perhaps in an effort to redeem their previous failure at exposing voter fraud, O'Keefe's Project Veritas released a new video in May of 2012. The video purports to show various examples of voter fraud and misconduct, in support of the oft-repeated but never-demonstrated Republican claim that the practice is rampant.
In the first segment, the video describes two non-citizens who are registered to vote in North Carolina, one of whom actually did vote in 2008 and 2010, according to the ballot rolls. Unfortunately for O'Keefe, both people in question are naturalized citizens and so are legal voters.
The second part of the North Carolina video repeats the failed tactics of the previous "voter fraud" sting: a hired actor goes to a voting center and purposefully commits voter fraud, posing as a Colombian national who wants a ballot. This is to demonstrate that non-citizens must be routinely voting in American elections. His phrasing is carefully designed to be ambiguous and seem incriminatory.
“”ACTOR: "William DeJesus Romero."
WORKER: "Is Romero your last name?"
ACTOR: "The name: William DeJesus Romero."
ACTOR: "I get passport."
WORKER: "We don't need the passport, sir."
Twice in the video, "Romero" refers to his Colombian passport, making it seem as though he is confessing to being a non-citizen. But this admission is only made in Spanish, which the workers don't appear to understand.
Another demonstration of voter fraud is likewise deeply flawed; an actor obtains a ballot in the name of "Michael G. Bolton," something that should be impossible because the person in question was dead and shouldn't be on the voter rolls. However, the unedited version of the video reveals that he actually got the ballot of "Michael G. Bolton Jr.."
In the third major segment, the video shows a "student" of the University of North Carolina meeting with university officials and chatting about his own plan to commit voter fraud; they fail to outright condemn his plan - at least on the sections of the video that have been released.
In summary, then, the video proves that a legal citizen voted, that two other legal citizens were impersonated by Project Veritas, and that some people will laugh nervously at the idea of voter fraud.
In the last few weeks of the 2012 electoral season, O'Keefe released a new video, showing a discussion of voter fraud with Patrick Moran, the son and field director of Representative James Moran (D-VA). Moran spoke at length with the undercover videographer, agreeing enthusiastically with a plan to cast a hundred fake ballots in the upcoming election and proposing logistics for the illegal plot. The resulting video is remarkable for two things: its blatant plotting of electoral fraud, and James O'Keefe actually being right about something. Moran resigned his position as his father's field director within the day. The elder Moran still won re-election by 34 percentage points.
In 2015, O'Keefe had an undercover reporter for Veritas impersonate students at Oberlin College, Vassar College, and Cornell University. In a poorly done parody of social justice advocacy, the fake student told administrators that she thought the United States Constitution "triggered" her. This video proves nothing other than support staff of colleges being willing to listen to students instead of being judgmental. Apparently, O'Keefe can't make a genuine, sincere argument against trigger warnings other than knocking down a strawman. Sadly, with all the discrediting that's been done, O'Keefe still attracts enough small minds to get loads of virtual high-fives on YouTube.
A Cornell vice president responded to the video: "...the video shows a 'reporter' misrepresent herself as a student with a mental health crisis. Under the guise of addressing her mental health issues, the 'student' asked the employee to help her shred the document she brought with her that was the apparent source of her anguish. Whatever personal views she may have shared in order to connect with a 'student' who appeared to be in crisis, as an employee of Cornell University she was appropriately focused on addressing the apparently urgent need of the person before her and not on any larger political context."
Failed Washington Post Sting
In light of the growing sexual misconduct allegations against Roy Moore, O'Keefe sent out one of his undercover goons in November 2017 to the Washington Post in a half-assed attempt to peddle a fake story. The woman, named Jamie T. Phillips, approached a Post reporter claiming that Moore had impregnated her as a teenager back in 1992 while she was attending a church youth group. He then allegedly made her have an abortion. Unsurprisingly, she was keen on having the reporter confirm that Moore would lose if her story broke in an obvious attempt at catching the reporter admitting to the vast liberal conspiracy to take down God-fearing men like Moore. The reporter didn't take the bait, and found that Phillip's story was full of holes after a fact-check. In addition to later spotting her entering Project Veritas' New York office, the Post also discovered that in May 2017 Phillips foolishly started a Go-Fund-Me campaign under her own name, stating that she was moving to New York from Alabama to join a "conservative media movement" to combat the "lies and deceit of the liberal MSM". O'Keefe, of course, has refused to comment in detail.
O'Keefe's tactics are ethically questionable and yield mixed results, at best. Nonetheless, they have become increasingly popular among a variety of conservative activists. His methods are cheap, well-suited to today's media, and highly inflammatory: "[Y]oung conservatives have made a cottage industry of going undercover and trying to goad people working at perceived liberal institutions — like Acorn, NPR and Planned Parenthood — into saying something stupid." "Then they release videos that have often been heavily edited," and in turn "[c]onservative Congressional representatives call for investigations and try to slash financing."
The New York Times has the story of one of several failed "sting" attempts:
Young, bearded, a bit scruffy, a young man walked into a community organizing office in East Harlem, lugging a heavy bag. A little nervous, he said that his name was Melvin Howting, and that he worked for an environmental company in New Jersey and had a few questions about how to organize a union.
He wanted to know how to get higher wages.At this point, Rhea Byer-Ettinger, an organizer for Manhattan Together, felt her internal baloney detector go on red alert. “Beep, beep, beep,” she said. “I said to him: ‘Well, that’s not how we work. Tell me, why are you asking me about that?’ ”
And, oh yes, he had another question: If he formed a union, could his fellow workers join with the employer to shake down politicians for more money?
As you might have expected, Donald Trump happens to be a fan. In 2015, he donated $20,000 to the group. Now, their videos are used by federal attorneys as "evidence" in trials of anti-Trump protesters.
- Project Veritas — The Center for Media and Democracy's Source Watch
- What are the assnuggets up to now?
- Project Veritas, O'Keefe's website.
- Who Is Lila Rose? (Media Matters for America)
- Stan, Adele M. New Tactics and Coalitions Take Aim at Planned Parenthood. Public Eye: Spring 2009.
- Taxpayer's Prize Patrol, Youtube
- Factcheck.org's debunking of McCain's claims.
- The video.
- There is a belief among GOPers that the majority of voters who cannot supply a photo ID would vote Democrat—undocumented aliens, students, young voters, and those who depend on so-called entitlement programs—this is equivalent to "point shaving" in sports betting.
- Let's hope so
- Anti-Union O’Keefe Video Smears Teacher Who Jumped In Front Of Van To Save Students, Gets Her Suspended
- Atlas Shrugs
- NPR "sting"
- The Blaze
- "NC Non-Citizens Voting, Dead Offered Ballots, UNC Officials Embrace Voter Fraud", YouTube
- "New O’Keefe video exposes non-citizens on voter rolls in NC, voter fraud comfort at UNC", Daily Caller
- "FACT CHECK: ‘Non-Citizen’ Voter In James O’Keefe’s Voter Fraud Video Is Actually A Citizen", ThinkProgress.
- "The Real Fraud: Second ‘Non-Citizen’ In James O’Keefe Voter Fraud Video Naturalized In 2011", ThinkProgress.
- "James O'Keefe's "Dead" NC Voter Isn't Dead", Media Matters
- "Stealth Video on Voter Fraud Prompts Departure." The New York Times.
- Patrick Moran video, YouTube
- Total Frat Move, "College Admin Shreds Copy Of U.S. Constitution After Being Baited By Undercover Reporter"
- Hidden Camera Captures Officials Shredding Constitution at Vassar College as it "Triggers" Students. YouTube. Of course, the comments section is awful as they usually are on YouTube.
- Vice President Joel Malina on today’s Project Veritas video
- A woman approached The Post with dramatic — and false — tale about Roy Moore. She appears to be part of undercover sting operation. by Shawn Boburg et al. (November 27, 2017 at 11:35 PM) The Washington Post
- The 6 most puzzling aspects of this James O’Keefe-Project Veritas botched sting debacle by Aaron Blake (November 28, 2017) The Washington Post.
- Powell, Michael. "At Advocates’ Offices, Confronting an Anti-Liberal Scheme". New York Times, April 2, 2012
- Pilkington, Ed. "Project Veritas: how fake news prize went to far-right group beloved by Trump". The Guardian, November 29, 2017
- Levin, Sam. "US government uses Project Veritas video in trial of anti-Trump protesters". The Guardian, November 28, 2017