O'Keefe energizes crowd at 24th annual dinner (Whipple)
In his after-dinner speech at our 24th annual banquet, James O’Keefe identified himself as an investigative journalist and asked the audience whether they trusted the media. As one might have expected at a time when traditional journalism seems to be on the decline, no hands went up.
Using slides to provide enhanced impact, the founder and president of Project Veritas shared some highlights of his career to date. The first adventure, which he characterized as “a good old fashioned sting,” began after O’Keefe was contacted by a former employee (Hannah Giles) of the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN).
Suitably dressed for the parts, Giles and O’Keefe visited an ACORN office posing as a madam and a pimp who were seeking tax advice to set up a brothel. Far from throwing them out, the ACORN functionaries treated their inquiry as a bona fide request for assistance. Don’t call the girls prostitutes, but performance artists, and maybe if they are young enough they can be claimed as someone’s dependents.
The surreptitiously recorded interview raised many eyebrows when it was made public, and the “just an isolated incident” defense didn’t work. ACORN was resoundingly defunded by Congress, and President Obama observed that the discussion was “certainly inappropriate.”
The late Andrew Breitbart committed to publicize other Project Veritas investigations, and over the past decade there have been lots of them. The organization has grown to 51 employees, and had a $12 million budget last year.
Needless to say, targets of Project Veritas’s probes haven’t appreciated the scrutiny and the disclosures that have resulted. O’Keefe said he has been sued 20 times in the last decade, even though he hasn’t suffered a single loss to date. He did settle one of the early claims, but says he “won’t do it again.”
A lawsuit relating to the investigation of practices within Planned Parenthood is pending in California. Under the law in that state, both parties to a conversation must consent to its being recorded – which requirement was observed. Nevertheless, Kamala Harris (the attorney general at the time) sanctioned a “guns drawn” raid on the investigator’s house.
The focus turned political in 2016, when the Clinton campaign was accused of inciting violence at Trump rallies. The suspicions were investigated and confirmed by “bird dogging” paid workers for the Clinton campaign. Several resignations resulted, but one of the rank and file participants filed a million dollar federal lawsuit for defamation.
She was a disabled woman with an oxygen tank, which didn’t bode well for Project Veritas, but O’Keefe leveled the pathos scales by hiring a blind lawyer. The defense cost $700K, but the judge ruled in their favor based on absence of malice and other would-be plaintiffs may have taken notice. In any case, there haven’t been any new lawsuits since then (over a year).
Social media provide “free” services, which supposedly help people to develop an objective view of the world. But Google sources (including an anonymous technical employee and an executive named Gen Jennai whose interview was videotaped with attribution) revealed that this isn’t necessarily how things work.
First, the dissemination of communications from disfavored sources can be greatly limited by “shadow-banning. Second, search engine algorithms can be manipulated to ideologically bias the results. And both of these things were reportedly being done without creating clear-cut evidence of what was happening.
If Google et al. can use their technology to influence social attitudes, and even the outcomes of future elections, the adverse implications are obvious. And the Project Veritas videos played an important part in alerting Congress and the American public to this developing problem.
In summary, as shown by these examples and many others that could be cited, Project Veritas is serving a very useful purpose. And reinforcing a postcard-sized notice that had been distributed to all attendees at the banquet, O’Keefe directed a request to all concerned.
If any of you know of some public or private organization that isn’t functioning the way it’s supposed to, please contact us. Be brave – do something – or help support those who are on the firing line.
An extended Q & A session followed, including the following:
Q. Why are the investigations done under cover. It’s essential to expose the corruption; otherwise, the people responsible will deny it.
Q. With the development of “deep fake” technology, will undercover investigations continue to have credibility? Yes. To defeat such a claim, the investigator can appear in court and testify that “I took that video and it’s real.”
Q. Do you favor Republicans? No. I don’t coordinate with either political party. I don’t care what you think, tell me the facts. And by the way, conservatives break the rules too – not just liberals. Take Steve Stockman, a former Texas congressman, who bought an Apple computer for the Leadership Institute where I spent some time after college. Mr. Stockman later got charged with multiple counts of electoral fraud for diverting charitable contributions for political purposes.
Q. Do you countersue for frivolous lawsuits. We haven’t done so. Investigative reporting is expensive, and you can’t expect it to show a profit.
Q. When are people going to start getting fired up about widespread corruption? Probably not any time soon. People fear the media so much, because they don’t want to be attacked. But see Andrew Breitbart’s 2011 book called Righteous Indignation, and long before that the achievements of early 20th Century “muckrakers” like Sinclair Lewis, Lincoln Steffers, and Ida Tarbell.
Q. What does it take to do first class investigative work? You need some life experience, but not necessarily organizational service, plus a bit of chutzpah. As Charlie Kirk has put it, young people get it while their parents say “don’t get in trouble.” The future will belong to anonymous heroes.