Even as consistent failures have discredited O’Keefe's organization, his deceptively edited videos are being used by federal prosecutors to try to convict Inauguration Day protesters.
In his first public appearance since the Washington Post busted his organization trying to plant a false news story about embattled Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, right-wing fraudster James O’Keefe gave a speech titled “REAL NEWS – Stopping Bias in American Media” at Southern Methodist University (SMU) on Wednesday.
O’Keefe, who describes himself as an “award-winning journalist,” was invited to the private university in Dallas by the school’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. The conservative student group’s president, Grant Wolf, said the event was planned more than a month before Monday’s revelation that O’Keefe’s organization, Project Veritas, hired a woman to lie to Post reporters about being sexually abused by Moore.
Speaking to about 100 students, O’Keefe painted himself as an underdog “truth teller” fighting back against a corrupt media establishment. Founded by O’Keefe in 2010, Project Veritas is funded through Koch and Trump Foundation-seeded dark money.
Crowd update for James O’Keefe at SMU: thumbs down. pic.twitter.com/lqFFfO9ZM9
— Candice Bernd (@CandiceBernd) November 30, 2017
“We have a stone lodged between Goliath’s eyes,” he told the crowd in reference to the “mainstream media.” O’Keefe criticized how certain coverage is driven by the desire for television ratings, then claimed that his style of “investigative journalism” is a remedy for problems of corporate media.
While he acknowledged the pressures of being in the spotlight after the Washington Post reported his botched plot Monday, he mostly avoided discussing the story.
“I don’t have an opinion on it, honestly,” O’Keefe replied to a student asking about the report. “I can’t speak intelligently about that. I can only speak intelligently about what we exposed. The Washington Post seems to want a Nobel Prize for vetting a source correctly.”
At the beginning of the event, Wolf, the president of the student group that organized the event, suggested O’Keefe would field questions from the press following the event. However, O’Keefe was escorted out by campus police immediately after.
“I don’t think, at this moment, it’s my role to make value judgments about what Mr. O’Keefe’s doing,” Wolf told the Observer.
O’Keefe’s high-profile entrapment flop is the latest in a string of embarrassing Project Veritas failures, including an attempted sting on the League of Conservation Voters that was derailed after operatives left their recording devices out in the open. The organization bungled another attempt to impersonate a Clinton campaign donor when a fraudster forgot to hang up the phone and inadvertently left a voice message detailing the organization’s entire scheme.
In 2010, O’Keefe was accused of tampering with the phone lines of former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu while impersonating a telephone repairman. He was sentenced to three years probation after he pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge.
However, some O’Keefe plots have proved successful, even if they were ultimately found to be fraudulent or heavily edited. In 2009, O’Keefe helped destroy ACORN, a community-based organization that helped register low-income voters. Impersonating a pimp, he deceptively edited footage to make it look like one organization’s representatives were willing to assist in smuggling young girls into the United States to be trafficked as prostitutes. Prosecutors in New York and California eventually found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of ACORN. In 2011, NPR ousted CEO Ron Schiller after O’Keefe deceptively edited a video sting in which Schiller was portrayed making highly partisan remarks.
On Tuesday, the day after the Washington Post report, another Project Veritas undercover video was used as evidence in the federal government’s unprecedented prosecution of nearly 200 protesters and two journalists swept up in a mass arrest on Inauguration Day.
The video purports to show an organizing meeting in the run-up to the inauguration protests, but its authenticity remains in question. Project Veritas operatives infiltrated a “Disrupt J20” planning meeting in which organizers claimed to have planned acts of violence. But organizers said in a statement that they knew all along that they were being recorded, and purposely fed the operatives false plans.
The prosecution is using the questionable video to argue that anyone who attended the meeting or was arrested during the protests is guilty of conspiracy to riot. Protesters deny the charges.
While Project Veritas has been largely discredited in the media, the organization’s video being validated as a piece of evidence in court could signal an ominous future for press freedom and the First Amendment. As the trial continues in the coming weeks, O’Keefe may not be out of the news cycle just yet.
Before O’Keefe was escorted out by police, a reporter managed to squeeze in a question during a Q&A session for students in attendance. Could hiring someone to impersonate a sexual assault victim be insulting to real victims, the reporter asked. “No comment,” O’Keefe responded.
Correction: This story initially reported that James O’Keefe was sentenced to three years of probation for tampering with a senator’s phone system. He was accused of the crime, but ultimately pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to three years of probation.