The Deceptive Edits In James O'Keefe's Fracking Hit Job

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O'Keefe Breitbart video

Conservative activist James O'Keefe suggested that in his new video he would show that "a lot" of environmental "propaganda" is funded by foreign oil interests. O'Keefe duped two small-time filmmakers into accepting funding from a man posing as an oil tycoon from the Middle East, but his attempts to broaden the scope of the sting to more prominent organizations and activists were based on deceptive edits.

O'Keefe hyped his latest YouTube video, titled "Expose: Hollywood's War On U.S. Energy," by suggesting in a fundraising email that it would expose "the darker side of how a lot of the feel-good environmentalist propaganda gets funded by international interests who jeopardize national security." In it, he convinces the filmmakers of FRACKED, an upcoming documentary about the risks of fracking, to accept funding from an actor posing as "Muhammed," an oil tycoon from the Middle East who is being represented by an ad executive. The filmmakers said in a statement that they agreed to this funding because "It was understood that the investor would have no control over the content of the film and that we, the directors, would have final cut. We thought to ourselves 'oh the irony! We'll use the funding from an oil company to make a film that promotes green energy!'" Encouraging reliance on green energy, rather than oil from domestic or foreign sources, is essential to national security and it's not clear how a real "Muhammed" would benefit from this.

The video suggested that not only would the filmmakers, Josh and Rachel Tickell, accept oil money but that larger environmental organizations may as well, by adding a false voiceover. The voiceover claimed that the Tickells named environmental groups "When asked if environmental partners would be willing to be paid off":

VOICEOVER: And when asked if environmental partners would be willing to be paid off...

"AD EXECUTIVE" REPRESENTING "MUHAMMED": Which ones? Which ones?

REBECCA TICKELL: Environment California and CodeBlue.

"AD EXECUTIVE": Would that be something that --

JOSH TICKELL: And the NRDC.

"AD EXECUTIVE": Like they accept donations and things like that too?

REBECCA: Absolutely. They would work with us on this film.

But the Tickells were actually stating that they could reach out to these groups to promote their film, not that these groups would accept oil funding - the parts in bold were in the unedited tape starting at 3:28:30 but not in the edited version:

JOSH TICKELL: What's our market reach? We essentially work with six verticals. And these are things that we have developed for the better part of two decades. Grassroots? We have a number of organizations that actively activate our grassroots base. [...] Universities -- as I said, we do a lot of work with universities. That builds credibility, it also allows you to do a back and forth when you're taking people from the university, putting them in the film, and then you're screening it. That university becomes part of your prestige of the film -- oh we have an MIT professor, oh we have this professor, we have that professor. NGOs --

REBECCA TICKELL (interrupting): Which these two organizations, their main focus is anti-fracking.

"AD EXECUTIVE": Which ones? Which ones?

REBECCA TICKELL: Environment California and CodeBlue.

"AD EXECUTIVE": Would that be something that --

JOSH TICKELL: And the NRDC.

"AD EXECUTIVE": Like they accept donations and things like that too? I want my client to --

REBECCA: Absolutely. They would work with us on this film. They would make sure that all of their members saw the film. They would speak at the screenings, they would send out email blasts.

Kate Kiely, a spokeswoman for The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement to Media Matters that "NRDC actually has very strict rules about donations. We have a hard and fast policy not to accept money from any fossil fuel industries. Nor do we accept money to advocate for projects. Our advocacy is always based on strong science, law and policy." When asked whether the organization had "ever accepted funding from foreign oil interests" or if they had any part in the upcoming film FRACKED, Kiely wrote that the answer to both was "a resounding 'NO.'"

Most environmental organizations and activists do not accept funding from special interests that contradict their values. As the Tickells stated during O'Keefe's video, public knowledge that they had agreed to accept Middle Eastern oil money would damage their credibility among environmentalists.

However, according to O'Keefe, his deceptive editing job has already convinced a Senate committee to investigate:

O'Keefe tweet

Additionally, O'Keefe tried to extend his sting to Josh Fox -- director of Oscar-nominated Gasland, which similarly exposed the harmful effects of fracking. O'Keefe ended his video with Josh Fox returning the O'Keefe associates' call, apparently teasing a follow up video that would "expose" Fox as well.

However, the uncut footage starting at about 3:14:05 included a telling statement that O'Keefe left on the cutting room floor, indicating that O'Keefe might not have much on Fox once he releases the full footage of that exchange. The directors of FRACKED said they heard from Josh Fox: "Look, if this was where the money was coming from for my film, I wouldn't have taken it."

REBECCA TICKELL: [We were forwarded an email from Josh Fox] that was basically like "this is really sketchy. And hopefully the project you're working on isn't from those same people."

[...]

JOSH TICKELL: [The email said] "Looked super sketch to me, didn't even want to meet with them after checking out the website stuff. Not going to take anonymous money giveaway. Also I've already made two fracking films, you know."

[...] 

JOSH TICKELL: Josh Fox sent the email going, "Look if this was where the money was coming from for my film, I wouldn't have taken it."

UPDATE (5/22/14): Sure enough, O'Keefe seems to have nothing on Josh Fox, who recorded the phone conversation he had with the "ad executive" and released it to The Daily Beast. O'Keefe's video teased Fox saying: "Obviously there are projects that we are working on ahead of time, that we're working on now, that do sound like they would be interesting to your clients." However, the full recording shows that at no point in the phone conversation did the "ad executive" state that his clients represented oil interests. The "ad executive" instead told Fox that his clients are "people from Europe, and the Middle East, but mainly from Europe at this point." He added that "there's no agenda behind the funding," as his clients are simply "environmentalists at heart" who are concerned about how fracking "is bad for the environment." Fox, who repeatedly asked for further clarification about who the "clients" were, sounded skeptical of the arrangement throughout the conversation and suggested to The Daily Beast that he never met with the "clients" or "ad executive" in-person.

 Ellie Sandmeyer and Olivia Marshall contributed to this post.

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Environment & Science, Climate Change, Energy
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James O'Keefe
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