James O’Keefe is one of the most controversial and consequential figures in American media. Using hidden cameras and microphones, he has engineered a series of undercover investigations that have toppled powerful figures, sparked legal reforms - and generated a torrent of criticism: Tough appraisals in the New York Times, Washington Post and elsewhere have portrayed the 33-year-old as an unethical right-wing activist who seeks to legitimize his work by claiming it is journalism.
Now O’Keefe is getting his say in a new book, “American Pravda: My Fight for Truth in the Era of Fake News.” In it he presents himself as a modern-day Mike Wallace and his organization, Project Veritas, as a “60 Minutes” for the digital age. In the following excerpt, he argues that the failings of the mainstream media have made his brand of citizen journalism necessary. And he offers brief sketches of some of Project Veritas’s top exposés, before its most recent: Twitter employees describing the hiding of users’ tweets, based on content, without notifying them.
Why the Veritas Journalist Exists
The mission of Project Veritas is “to investigate and expose institutional waste, fraud, abuse, and other misconduct in order to create a more ethical and transparent society.” This is not inherently a political mission. If our objective were to advance a political agenda, as journalists on both sides have admitted doing, we would have to reinforce that agenda time after time with editorial content. We don’t. We move on. We do not put words in our subjects’ mouths. We cannot create a reality where there is none. If we have any motivation at all, it is to hold the media and administrative state accountable. Not inherently “right wing” or “left wing,” we work the opportunities the major media choose to ignore.
No ordinary American advocates for general waste, fraud, and abuse. No politician does either. That does not stop the political class from practicing—indeed perfecting—all of the above. So mired are so many lawmakers and administrators in everyday abuses that the Trumpian word “swamp” seems altogether appropriate to describe the contemporary deep state. For many of the swamp dwellers, the Constitution is not a guide but an obstacle. Without the journalist’s external light—and lots of light day after day, night after night—the swamp will not be drained.
The Claremont Institute’s Michael Uhlmann describes well how the swamp has come to be. “A newer breed has come to dominate Congress, which now sees its self-interest less in legislating than in delegating legislative authority to departments and agencies,” he writes. “Such members console themselves with the thought, which is only sometimes true, that if a particular agency steps on a favored constituency’s toes, they can always intervene, while collecting campaign contributions from lobbyists benefiting from that intervention.”
Political author Charles Murray sees the swamp as deep and stagnant. “Restoration of limited government is not going to happen by winning presidential elections and getting the right people appointed to the Supreme Court,” he writes in By the People. Our government, he believes, has slipped into an “advanced state of institutional sclerosis.” Our legal system, he adds, has become “lawless” and “systemically corrupt.”
Electing Republicans to Congress is no more likely to drain the swamp than electing Democrats. Both parties prefer the muck pretty much as is. It is in most everyone’s self-interest to maintain a political apparatus that keeps his or her portfolio growing year after year. Without external pressure, the state will remain deep and swampy. That pressure has to come from citizens. Citizens must create new counterweights to expose the corruption within. For reasons I will explain later, they can no longer count on the mainstream media to help. Charles Murray argues that one solution is civil disobedience. Another solution, our solution, is investigative journalism.
The Project Veritas journalist has a profound faith in the power of a free people to make their own decisions regarding what is best for them and their families and, in the process, to create a great, lasting, and moral society. Public policy solutions become self-evident when the people in a democratic republic have access to unfiltered information.
Our vision stands in stark contrast to the de facto vision of the mainstream media that detest a free people. They would say, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” They prefer to spoon-feed select information and final conclusions to the public rather than to provide individuals the raw information required to reach conclusions on their own. Instead of “news,” their audiences get relentless punditry, editorializing, and politically loaded programming. Post-election, for instance, the focus on Russia and identity politics in particular eroded the canons of journalism and devolved into near mania.
To put pressure on the media and their deep state allies, we shock them with reality—cinema verité. Done well, cinema verité has the capacity to breach what Ettema and Theodore Glasser call “the threshold of outrage.” Our medium is video, usually undercover, supplemented and distributed by the people’s media, by the internet. We gather the information guerilla-style and distribute it the same way. This allows us to bypass traditional establishment channels and take our product directly to the people. You will see how this plays out in our (exciting!) account of the 2016 election campaign.
One defining characteristic of a journalist is that he or she gets results. Seymour Hersh single-handedly broke the story of the My Lai massacre. Woodward and Bernstein helped force President Nixon out of office. Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings got Gen. Stanley McChrystal to resign. These results were impressive and lauded. “Great reporters exude a certain kind of electricity,” Rolling Stone’s Will Dana said of Hastings.
Given the historic respect for results-oriented journalism, I will argue that the media’s generalized contempt for the work of citizen journalists, ours in particular, is pure hypocrisy. As much respect as I have for some of these journalists, even a few still in the field, I am unable to identify any journalistic entity in the last ten years whose work has had more immediate impact on more corrupt individuals or organizations than Project Veritas. Today, journalists are rewarded not for challenging the establishment but for reinforcing it.
In 2009, CBS’s Katie Couric won the esteemed Cronkite Award for her “extraordinary, persistent and detailed multi-part interviews with Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.” No, she won the award by badgering Sarah Palin about what newspapers she read. That is how flippant journalism has become in the twenty-first century. At Project Veritas, we hold—at the risk of being targeted by our government—that skewering the sacred cows (and pigs) that feed off the administrative state is a far more worthy pastime for a journalist.
Our critics can say what they will about Project Veritas, but they cannot deny we get results. In less than ten years, with undercover video as our primary medium, we have been able to accomplish the following:
- Project Veritas video evidence prompted Congress to propose and pass, and President Obama to sign, legislation defunding the corrupt $2 billion community organizing cartel known as ACORN. This came to pass in 2009 while Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress.
Logo for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
- Project Veritas video evidence forced the termination of two top NPR executives, including a CEO, and inspired the House of Representatives to cut NPR funding.
- A Project Veritas video empowered Senator John McCain to grill Department of Homeland Security representatives about border security, referring to our work.
- Project Veritas video evidence forced New Hampshire to change voting laws twice, once in 2012 and again in 2016. The state now requires photo ID and in-state residency to vote.
- Project Veritas video evidence prompted overriding vetoes of legislation by the governor who sought our prosecution in New Hampshire.
- Project Veritas video evidence forced resignations of Medicaid staff in Ohio, Virginia, and Maine and inspired widespread worker retraining in entitlement programs.
- Project Veritas video evidence inspired Texas to open criminal investigations into voter fraud and prompted reactions from the attorney general and governor.
- Project Veritas video evidence inspired Virginia to change voter laws after catching a congressman’s son in the act of encouraging fraud.
- Project Veritas video evidence exposed a New York City election board commissioner acknowledging widespread voter fraud, leading to calls for his resignation by officials who did not want the truth to be told.
- Project Veritas video evidence forced the termination of three Common Core executives.
- Project Veritas video evidence exposing discussion of an illegal PAC (political action committee) prompted a Republican campaign treasurer to resign and the Republican state senate president Mike Ellis to drop out of a senate race.
- Project Veritas video evidence exposed teacher union mischief in several states leading to multiple terminations and investigations. Inspector generals in New York backed up our reports.
- Project Veritas video evidence forced the suspension and termination of four Obamacare navigators and led to defunding of the navigators program in Texas.
- Project Veritas video evidence caused the termination of two high-level Democratic operatives during the 2016 presidential campaign and was credited with shifting the momentum in the campaign. The videos were seen at least 22 million times in October 2016. Both Trump and Hillary Clinton discussed the videos in the final presidential debate.
- Project Veritas video evidence forced the Wisconsin attorney general to reopen a criminal investigation into voter fraud during the 2016 presidential election.
- Project Veritas video evidence enabled the FBI to arrest and convict three DisruptJ20 operatives in a criminal plot to put butyric acid in the ventilation system of the National Press Club.
- Project Veritas video evidence caused CNN major embarrassment by showing its staff ridiculing CNN’s own “Russia” coverage. The video prompted the deputy press secretary of the United States to “urge everyone to watch the videos.”
The above is just a partial list. The fraud, lies, and criminal behavior we have uncovered have been so outrageous and the legislative consequences so undeniable that the mainstream media have been forced to pay heed, if not respect. ...
I list these successes to show what journalism, as activity, can accomplish. The best way for us to address the concern that our results are transitory is to produce more videos, produce them more frequently, and to encourage other citizen journalists to do the same. In the viper pit that is politics, corruption will regenerate like a snakeskin. That does not take away from the fact that our videos help facilitate the legislative and judicial process. As the Washington Post likes to tell itself, democracy dies in darkness. We agree.