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:
A Texas judge dismissed a complaint based on claims from a video produced by conservative fabulist James O'Keefe after special prosecutors ripped the video as "little more than a canard and political disinformation."
In February, O'Keefe and his Project Veritas group released a video investigation of progressive organization Battleground Texas. In the video, O'Keefe accuses the group, which he labels "the new ACORN," of using "potentially illegal methods to change elections." The allegation hinged on O'Keefe repeatedly pointing to a part of the Texas Election Code, which states that "the registrar may not transcribe, copy, or otherwise record a telephone number furnished on a registration application."
An organizer from Battleground Texas -- which has worked to register voters in the state -- says in the video that the group has taken phone numbers from the applications, which they will use to reach out to people and encourage them to vote closer to the election. A quote from Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry's office included in the video suggests that the Battleground Texas organizers may in fact have been in violation of the law.
Following outrage from Republican officials, complaints were filed with the secretary of state's office about the claims from the video. A Texas judge eventually appointed two special prosecutors -- one of whom is reportedly a Republican -- to investigate the allegations.
On Friday, the special prosecutors released a report recommending the case's dismissal, which a judge granted. As first reported by Texas blog Burnt Orange Report, the recommendation for dismissal from the special prosecutors is withering, attacking, among other things, "unprofessional" aspects of O'Keefe's video.
According to the prosecutors, the language about copying telephone numbers from registration applications "applies only to the official county registrar, not to a volunteer deputy registrar." Further, they conclude that "three recent attorney general opinions hold that one's telephone number on a voter registration is not confidential information."
After labeling the Veritas video "little more than a canard and political disinformation," the prosecutors recommend that the complaint "be dismissed for insufficient evidence and failure to state an offense." San Antonio Judge Raymond Angelini subsequently signed an order dismissing the complaint.
The dismissal of the complaint is merely the latest egg in O'Keefe's face, whose work has repeatedly been marred by misinformation and incompetence and condemned by law enforcement reviews. Last year, O'Keefe agreed to pay $100,000 to an ACORN employee he had smeared as part of his fraudulent ACORN sting.
A copy of the special prosecutors' recommendation for dismissal, courtesy of Burnt Orange Report, is below.
James O'Keefe, a right-wing performance artist known for his undercover videos that supposedly "expose" progressive "fraud," has released a new video falsely accusing conservative Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) of "excluding whites" from protection under his new Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), a distortion of this bipartisan bill that has already been repeated in the National Review Online.
O'Keefe's new video shows him mysteriously dressed in camouflage, dancing to New Order's "Round and Round," and ultimately "confronting" Sensenbrenner at a town hall meeting about supposedly alarming anti-white language in the VRAA. Sensenbrenner, as he has in the past, began working on both sides of the aisle on this new VRA legislation last year, after the Supreme Court gutted crucial voter suppression protections in Shelby County v. Holder.
In the video, O'Keefe lectures Sensenbrenner on his own bill, claiming that "[i]n the legislation, it seems to contain language that explicitly removes white people from the protections of the Voting Rights Act." Sensenbrenner interrupts O'Keefe to correctly point out that the law "does not do that. There is nothing targeting people by race in the Voting Rights Act." O'Keefe eventually accuses Sensenbrenner of "doing the work of [U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder and the race-hustlers with this language in the bill."
From the July 3 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Conservative activist James O'Keefe released a new highly edited video that he's using to suggest there are widespread problems with a government program that provides phones and phone service to low-income Americans.
The Lifeline phone program, which according to the Federal Communications Commission "provides discounts on monthly telephone service for eligible low-income consumers to help ensure they have the opportunities and security that telephone service affords, including being able to connect to jobs, family, and 911 services," has existed for decades and was expanded to include cell phones during the Bush administration. Conservatives have criticized the program repeatedly, which they have called the "Obama phone" for years.
O'Keefe's video, which coincides with the launch of his self-congratulatory book, purports to show O'Keefe's actors receiving free cell phones after telling employees of a wireless phone company that they plan to sell the phones to pay for drugs, other purchases, or bills. The edited video includes a narration by O'Keefe asking if the employees would tell his actors "to sell the phones and break the law."
The raw footage that O'Keefe also released doesn't show any of the featured employees telling the actors to sell their free phones, despite the actors repeatedly saying that they intend to do so and asking about their resale value. As New York magazine's Jonathan Chait explained, the employees only acknowledged that personal property, in the form of these cell phones, can be sold by their owners to buy other things. The raw footage also shows that none of the actors actually received a free phone -- only information about how they could apply for a free phone and the eligibility requirements to receive one, with the actors walking away saying they'd bring their documentation later.
But O'Keefe's edited video is fulfilling its intended effect and is fooling right-wing media. The Daily Mail Online's David Martosko, who wrote the exclusive article about O'Keefe's video, falsely wrote in his headline that the video "catches wireless employees passing out 'Obama phones' to people who say they'll sell them for drugs, shoes, handbags and spending cash." Martosko again wrote that the video:
[S]hows two corporate distributors of free cell phones handing out the mobile devices to people who have promised to sell them for drug money, to buy shoes and handbags, to pay off their bills, or just for extra spending cash.
Again, the raw footage shows that the actors who stated their intention to sell free phones for these reasons never actually received phones.
Fox News has teased a segment on the O'Keefe video for Tuesday's edition of The O'Reilly Factor. Will Fox fall for O'Keefe's misleading framing?
From the June 18 edition of Cumulus Media Network's The Mike Huckabee Show:
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At various points throughout Breakthrough, the new memoir/manifesto by conservative "sting" video auteur James O'Keefe, the reader is informed that O'Keefe's mission is to "save democracy," "save the 2012 election," "revive investigative journalism," and, most ambitiously, "change the world." It's an outsized view of what one can accomplish with some silly costumes and cameras concealed in neckties. And by O'Keefe's account, he's been just about flawless in exposing the most sinister and corrupt establishments of the American political system.
Then there's the reality of what O'Keefe has actually accomplished. He has more than a few scalps -- an executive at NPR, the field director of Rep. Jim Moran's (D-VA) 2012 campaign, ACORN. He's been on TV quite a lot, he was honored by the House of Representatives, and New Hampshire passed a restrictive voter ID law as a consequence of his work. His penchant for trimming otherwise damning videos of exculpatory material has brought down scathing condemnations from journalists across the ideological spectrum.
Can any of this really be considered saving democracy? Did he save the 2012 election? Has he changed the world?
Unless, of course, you view the world as James O'Keefe does. In this terrifying alternate reality, ACORN "help[ed] bring the economy to its knees" in 2008 and was the "General Motors" of the "election fraud business." It's a world in which voter fraud is so rampant that Sen. Al Franken stole his 2008 election with the help of "more than a thousand ineligible felons" who "voted illegally." O'Keefe's existence is filled with "totalitarians" and "anti-journalists" who oppose him -- from President Obama to Media Matters to the administrative staff of Rutgers University -- and his only friend is the little voice that says: "All roads lead to truth. All roads lead to Breitbart. Go there."
According to court documents obtained by Wonkette, conservative activist James O'Keefe has agreed to a $100,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed against him by Juan Carlos Vera, a former employee of ACORN. Vera filed the suit against O'Keefe in 2010, alleging O'Keefe had illegally taped their conversation at an ACORN office in California as part of his fraudulent "exposé" of the community activist group.
Vera was one of the ACORN employees portrayed in O'Keefe's videos as offering assistance in setting up a nonexistent child prostitution ring. After his encounter with O'Keefe, Vera contacted the police to report "possible human smuggling," unaware that he had been duped. Vera claims he lost his job as a result of O'Keefe's deception after the conservative's video of their encounter was posted on a Breitbart website.
According to the settlement documents obtained by Wonkette, O'Keefe has agreed to "pay Vera $100,000.00," and that "as part of this settlement O'Keefe states that at the time of the publication of the video of Juan Carlos Vera he was unaware of Vera's claims to have notified a police officer of the incident. O'Keefe regrets any pain suffered by Mr. Vera or his family."
After the ACORN prostitution hoax fell apart, O'Keefe and his Project Veritas group released a series of heavily edited undercover sting videos attempting to document voter fraud, most of which collapsed under scrutiny, sometimes spectacularly so.
In a post at Salon, Brad Friedman reports that O'Keefe's ACORN video partner, Republican activist Hannah Giles, has agreed to pay Vera $50,000.
Discredited conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe released heavily edited videos Wednesday claiming to prove that members of President Obama's campaign team are helping voters engage in voter fraud. In fact, neither of the highly edited videos O'Keefe released shows a single vote being cast, completely undermining his campaign to demonstrate widespread voter fraud.
In the heavily doctored videos, so-called undercover reporters are shown approaching individuals identified as staffers for Organizing for America, Obama's grassroots campaign organization, and other Obama supporters handing out voter registration forms in Texas and New York. The reporters claim they want registration forms because they intend to vote in two states.
No votes were cast, and no voter fraud occurred in either video, yet both doctored films are falsely blasted out under headlines promising a voter fraud expose.
In the first doctored video O'Keefe released in his latest campaign, a woman identified as Houston OFA Regional Field Director Stephanie Caballero is shown talking to a so-called undercover reporter who asks for help requesting an absentee ballot to vote in Florida, where the "reporter" claims to be registered to vote. The "reporter" is heard saying she intends to vote in both Florida and in Texas. The woman identified as Caballero at various times laughs, urges the "reporter" to only vote in Florida, and at one point says, "Come up with like, if anyone checks, say, 'I don't know.' "
Without the full, unedited video, it is impossible to know what any of this is actually in response to. As of publication, O'Keefe has not released the unedited video.
The woman identified as Caballero offers to print off an absentee ballot request form and explains the absentee ballot process, at one point acknowledging that she is not an expert in whether canvassing boards cross check absentee ballots to make sure voters don't vote twice. During what O'Keefe said is a second visit, the so-called reporter allegedly received an absentee ballot request form.
That a person claiming to be eligible to vote in Florida obtained an absentee ballot request form is not shocking. In fact, absentee ballot request forms are available online courtesy of Florida election officials. And printing one off is several steps away from actually voting.
What's important is that O'Keefe has not shown a single vote being cast, let alone a second "double" vote. O'Keefe hasn't even shown a potential voter actually requesting an absentee ballot. At best he's demonstrated printer abuse.
John Fund, on a brief hiatus from lying about voter fraud, writes at National Review Online today that there's a vicious double-standard at play in the media's disparate treatment of Mother Jones' video of Mitt Romney denigrating half the country as incorrigible welfare parasites, and James O'Keefe's series of "sting" videos. "The [Mother Jones] tape was played over and over with no caveats, hand-wringing, or speculation that it might have been doctored," writes Fund, who goes on to complain that O'Keefe routinely faces accusations of video doctoring. This complaint is echoed by O'Keefe himself, who has been busily clucking his tongue about the "double standard amongst professional journalists."
That's utter nonsense. If the media did have any reasons to doubt the video's authenticity, they were quickly put to bed by the Romney campaign itself.
Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald has a good explanation here for why the Romney video does absolutely nothing to vindicate James O'Keefe and his M.O. of crafting elaborate hoaxes to trick private citizens and low-level government employees into saying foolish things. I'd add to it that O'Keefe is an incompetent liar who has been caught doctoring his videos. Many, many, many times. A good run-down of the many deceptions in his various video "stings" was put together by, ahem, Mother Jones. O'Keefe has not earned the presumption of trust. In fact, he's worked doggedly to forfeit it.
The same can't be said of David Corn, whose byline tops the Romney video stories. Yes, he writes from a progressive standpoint and works for a liberal publication. He also has decades of professional experience and a reputation for solid journalism. To put Corn and O'Keefe on the same plane is a huge disservice to the former and an unearned plaudit for the latter.
In the latest of his heavily edited, deceptive videos, discredited conservative activist James O'Keefe claims that he found "union bosses" who "loved the idea" of a company that does nothing but dig holes in the ground and fill them again -- and that those union men said "public officials" would fund such projects. The unedited video, of course, shows nothing of the sort.
The edited video shows workers from the fictional company Earth Supply and Renewal (ESR) meeting with New York union leaders John Hutchings and Anthony Tocci and former NY state assemblyman Ronald Tocci (Anthony's brother). The faux-ESR employees explain that workers at their company dig ditches and then "put [the dirt] right back in the ground," then ask if the union leaders can help them get public funds for their hole-digging, hole-filling operation.
In a series of fast cuts, the union leaders are shown advising the supposed ESR employees to "just call it a jobs program for workers," explaining how they lobby officials, and saying that they are "good with [Sens. Kirsten] Gillibrand and [Charles] Schumer." The video repeatedly shows Hutchings saying, "It's awful hard for anybody to vote against a jobs bill right now" -- the implication being, apparently, that anyone will vote to fund any kind of jobs, even useless ones like repeatedly digging and filling holes.
The Project Veritas press release accompanying the video claims it shows that "UNION BOSSES LOVED THE IDEA!" of funding "a fake company that literally does nothing but dig holes and then put the dirt back," and during the video, O'Keefe claims that "union bosses expressed the willingness of public officials and lawmakers to secure funding for projects just like ours."
But the raw footage of the video shows no such thing. In the raw footage, the union leaders are highly skeptical of Earth Supply and Renewal, and they never promise to help "secure funding" for it.
From James O'Keefe's latest video on "Voter Fraud in America," we learn:
- If James O'Keefe says someone isn't a citizen, you should ask to see their passport.
- If James O'Keefe says someone is deceased, you should ask to see their death certificate.
- If you show up at someone's house with a video camera or call them on the phone, refuse to identify yourself, and demand answers about someone's citizenship, you're probably not going to get a response. (Ambush interview subject to O'Keefe associate: "You haven't told me who you are. You're an 'independent agency'? That's cool. Who are you with?" O'Keefe associate replies "Thank you, sir," and drives off.)
As usual, O'Keefe's videos tell us much more about his deceptive methods and sloppy "journalism" than they do about the subject matter. And as the videos continue to crash and burn, they also tell us quite a bit about his allies in the voter ID movement, who are eager to use his efforts to push for laws that make it harder to vote.
O'Keefe's little lies all serve his big lie: That there is a widespread epidemic of voter fraud in this country that necessitates voter ID laws. Both data and common sense show that this simply isn't the case. But those who seek passage of such laws are apparently willing to use any means necessary, even if it means highlighting the work of an activist who long ran out of credibility.
Indeed, since he began releasing dishonest voter fraud videos in January, O'Keefe has become the toast of the voter ID movement. He has been praised by New Black Panthers Party fabulist J. Christian Adams for having "exposed the truth about voter fraud" and lauded by longtime vote fraudster John Fund ("In Washington, it was child's play for O'Keefe to beat the system"), spoke at the national summit for the Tea Party-backed True the Vote, and appeared with South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to discuss the need for voter ID.
On at least two occasions, right-wing members of Congress, specifically Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Steve King (R-IA),have raised O'Keefe's videos during congressional hearings, with King on one occasion questioning FBI director Robert Mueller about the tapes.
When you mischaracterize the status of all three of the voters you are supposedly reporting on, your reporting has no credibility. And with the rest of the voter fraud movement depending on O'Keefe to promote their issue, it's quickly becoming apparent that their own credibility is lacking as well.
In his newest video, conservative videographer James O'Keefe claims that during his organization's latest inept voter fraud sting in North Carolina, "we found ballots being offered out in the name of the dead." Unfortunately for O'Keefe, the person whose ballot his operative sought is actually alive, as is indicated by the raw video his organization posted online.
From the video (at 4:43):
O'KEEFE: We found ballots being offered out in the name of the dead. One man, Michael Bolton, had died April 23, but apparently the Board of Elections didn't get the memo, and his ballot was offered to us on May 8.
In the ensuing video clip, an O'Keefe operative at a polling place tells a poll worker, "The name is Michael G. Bolton." There is then a jump cut, and in the next clip the poll worker is telling the operative to sign or make an mark in the pollbook to affirm his identity. The operative then says he would feel more comfortable if he could show his photo ID, and leaves.
Something very important happens during that jump cut. As the raw video reveals, the poll worker says, "You must be a junior? ... Michael G. Bolton, Jr.?" to which O'Keefe's operative responds: "That would be correct."
Yes, as multiple obituaries for Bolton note, he was survived by, among others, his son Michael Gordon Bolton, Jr. Public records searches using the Nexis database confirm that Bolton Jr. was registered to vote at the same address given to the poll worker by the O'Keefe operative.
This isn't the only error of this sort O'Keefe made. As ThinkProgress noted, the "non-citizen" voter supposedly exposed by the video is actually a naturalized citizen.
And, as we've noted time and time again, the O'Keefe operative being offered a ballot does not show actual voter fraud being committed nor does it prove the existence of a widespread conspiracy to steal an election.
The Union Leader, New Hampshire's most-read newspaper, published an editorial yesterday urging the state House of Representatives and the Governor to approve SB 289, a bill passed by the state senate that would require voters to show photo identification in order to cast a ballot. SB 289, the Union Leader editors argued, is necessary to protect the integrity of New Hampshire's electoral results from the corrupting danger of rampant voter fraud. Their evidence? The work of discredited liar and undercover videographer James O'Keefe, whose attempted investigation of "voter fraud" in New Hampshire last January drew rebukes from election law experts who believed his scheme may have broken the law.
The Union Leader wrote:
Last year, Gov. John Lynch vetoed a voter ID bill, proclaiming, "There is no voter fraud problem in New Hampshire." This year he cannot make that claim with a straight face. The Project Veritas sting on Primary Day in January showed how easy it is to obtain a ballot fraudulently in New Hampshire.
Project Veritas, which is run by O'Keefe, is a surprising source for a mainstream publication to cite, given his history of lies, deception and hyper-partisanship. More importantly, O'Keefe's "sting" in New Hampshire didn't come close to establishing that voter fraud has been committed in New Hampshire at all, much less on any scale that would affect the outcome of an election.
In fact, the specter of a voter fraud epidemic is largely a figment of right-wing imagination. In a 2007 report, NYU's Brennan Center for Justice found that allegations of widespread voter fraud are often exaggerated and that many claims of voter fraud "simply do not pan out." According to the Justice Department, prosecutions for voter fraud are generally few and far between. Even conservative commentator and voter ID proponent Hans von Spakovsky has admitted that there is no "massive fraud in American elections."
Voter ID laws do, however, have the potential to strip fundamental constitutional rights away from many otherwise eligible citizens, especially students, the elderly, and racial minorities. The Brennan Center estimates voter ID laws could exclude millions of eligible voters:
Ahead of the 2012 elections, a wave of legislation tightening restrictions on voting has suddenly swept across the country. More than 5 million Americans could be affected by the new rules already put in place this year -- a number larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.
Unfortunately, the Union Leader -- and legislators in New Hampshire -- are arguing over how strict the law should be, not whether requiring photo identification is a bad idea for the people of New Hampshire.
James O'Keefe has released another video showing his associates visiting polling places in Washington, D.C., and asking for ballots in the name of prominent political and media figures. Once again, the only thing it proves is something that is widely known: The District of Columbia doesn't have a restrictive voter ID law.
Nor does the video change the fact that, leaving aside silly stunts, widespread voter fraud is extremely rare, and there are still legitimate concerns that voter ID laws disenfranchise eligible voters.
The title of the newest YouTube video is " 'Ben Jealous', 'Bill Maher', and 'David Brock' Offered Ballot in Nation's Capitol [sic]":
Actually, you'll have to take O'Keefe's word for that. (I wouldn't recommend it.) In the four-and-a-half-minute video, it's not clear if any ballots are shown at all.
The major stars of O'Keefe's previous videos -- confusing edits, unintelligible audio, and questionably accurate subtitles -- all are back in this edition.