The founder of a conservative nonprofit caught attempting to entice The Washington Post to report a false sex assault allegation against Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore mocked the newspaper's handling of the hoax and said his group was aiming to expose media bias.
Project Veritas founder James O'Keefe spoke Wednesday on the Southern Methodist University campus, sponsored by the conservative SMU Young Americans for Freedom, a national nonprofit co-founded in the 1960s by William F. Buckley. Answering audience questions after the speech, O'Keefe was dismissive of the significance of a Post story chronicling the attempted hoax.
"I don't have an opinion on it honestly. I can't speak intelligently about it. The Washington Post seems to want a Nobel Prize for vetting a source correctly. Our work is sort of changing human nature and making people cautious," he said.
Asked if having someone posing as a fake sex assault victim might be insulting to actual sex assault victims, O'Keefe said: "I have no comment on that, I'd like to move onto the next question please."
When pressed for an answer, members of the audience shouted down the reporter.
Project Veritas has used disguises and hidden cameras to uncover supposed liberal bias among journalists. In a story Monday, The Post described how a woman affiliated with the group told Post reporters Moore had impregnated her at age 15 and she had an abortion — all of which is false.
The Post was the first news media organization to report accusations that Moore sought to date teenage girls as young at 14 when he was in his 30s. The allegations have roiled the special election campaign for the Senate seat in Alabama. Moore has denied them and said the media is out to get him.
O'Keefe did not deny that his group was behind the hoax aimed at the Post, and said "our cover was blown."
In an interview with The Associated Press, O'Keefe said the effort was part of a broader project to use deception as a means to gain access to news organizations including the Post, The New York Times, CNN and others.
"If we're doing something on The Washington Post, it's in the context of getting them on tape to tell the truth, and to admit either their biases or how the paper works or how honest they are," he said.
During the speech, O'Keefe repeatedly decried the Post as corrupt. But when asked what evidence he had of the Post's corruption, O'Keefe told AP he had no specific evidence to support the claim.
Though he has said he has no formal training as a journalist, and on Wednesday reiterated that he does not consider himself a conservative, O'Keefe helped found a conservative monthly journal called The Centurion as an undergraduate at Rutgers University. After graduating in 2006, O'Keefe was paid to set up magazines and newspapers on university campuses for the Leadership Institute, which recruits potential conservative public policy and media stars.
His nonprofit has received more than $4 million from DonorTrust, a dark money charity that supports individual — as opposed to government — solutions to societal problems, tax records showed.
In May 2010, O'Keefe and three other men pleaded guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor in a scheme in which they posed as telephone repairmen in Senator Mary L. Landrieu's New Orleans office.
Another O'Keefe project led to the demise of Acorn, a community organizing group that O'Keefe portrayed as engaged in criminal activity via hidden camera videos. He used a hidden camera to record as he brought a young woman posing as a prostitute to the group's offices. O'Keefe later agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit based on the Acorn incident.
In 2011, O’Keefe videotaped NPR executives with a hidden camera.
— Project Veritas (@Project_Veritas) November 30, 2017
O’Keefe “can’t - won’t” talk about something I’ve not released/ about the Washington Post exposure of a woman trying to feed a false story of being a victim of sexual abuse. pic.twitter.com/pfJAEOZu9t
— BILL ZEEBLE (@bzeeble) November 30, 2017
KERA's earlier coverage
James O'Keefe is scheduled to speak Wednesday night at Southern Methodist University -- just two days after the Washington Post revealed it had foiled an apparent undercover sting attempt by his conservative activist operation, Project Veritas.
His talk -- titled "Real News: Stopping Bias in America Media" -- is being sponsored by SMU's chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom. It starts at 7 p.m. at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center theater.
O'Keefe made his name in conservative circles by conducting stings he calls investigative journalism. His targets have included the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Planned Parenthood and NPR.
Here's how NPR's news blog The Two-Way describes the latest story involving O'Keefe:
The Washington Post says a woman who approached reporters with a story that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore got her pregnant as a teen actually "appears to be part of undercover sting operation" run by conservative activist James O'Keefe — suspicions the newspaper says were confirmed when the woman was spotted walking into the offices of Project Veritas on Monday.