© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Washington Post' Exposure Of Sting Operation Shows Power Of Fact-Based Reporting


The conservative activist and provocateur James O'Keefe is known for his hoaxes. He and his team use hidden cameras to videotape people under false pretenses. NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik says by targeting The Washington Post, O'Keefe bit off more than he could chew.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: James O'Keefe has in the past gone after groups seen as allies of Democrats - community organizers, teachers' groups, liberal operatives. His Project Veritas earlier this year focused on a series of major news organizations.


JAMES O'KEEFE: Fake news - we start our American Pravda investigations inside America's media with Part 1 - CNN.

FOLKENFLIK: The New York Times was next.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Have you ever had anybody in New York Times' office come up to you and say, I actually enjoy Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No, no, no.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: There's no one there, not one person.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Not one person.

FOLKENFLIK: So O'Keefe's team gleaned mildly embarrassing soundbites caught surreptitiously on videotape or audio often at bars, largely from people unknown to the public. That New York Times guy - he was an IT consultant. The two news organizations shrugged off the attempted sting.

Then came The Washington Post. The Post has painstakingly documented allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Multiple women have said he pursued physical relationships with them when they were teenagers and while he was a prosecutor in his 30s. In one case, it involved a 14-year-old.

A day after the first accusations, Jaime Phillips presented herself to The Post. She claimed she had been impregnated by Moore in 1992 when she was just 15 and that she had an abortion. That would be an especially combustible charge for Moore, a conservative Republican promoting evangelical Christian beliefs. The Post picked up inconsistencies in Phillips' tale and reasons to distrust her, including her recent pitch on a crowdfunding site. This next voice belongs to The Post's Stephanie McCrummen.


STEPHANIE MCCRUMMEN: And it says that you're moving to New York and that you've accepted a job to work in the conservative media movement to combat the lies and deceit of the liberal MSM.

FOLKENFLIK: MSM being the mainstream media. McCrummen gently confronted Phillips face to face over the weekend.


MCCRUMMEN: So I just wanted to ask you if you could explain this. And I also wanted to let you know, Jaime, that this is being reported and video recorded.

FOLKENFLIK: Yesterday morning, The Post's Aaron Davis witnessed Phillips entering Project Veritas's offices in the suburbs of New York City. Davis later spoke to O'Keefe in the parking lot.


AARON DAVIS: Project Veritas - in its name is truth, right? Why employ these tactics? She gave us a fake name. She gave us a fake employment - many deceits along the way in her account of what happened between her and Roy Moore.

FOLKENFLIK: O'Keefe sought to control the exchange. Davis wasn't having it.


DAVIS: For several weeks, you have had one of your employees contacting our reporters under a false name, having multiple interviews. We have been trying to test the veracity of the stories of the folks coming forward, accusing Roy Moore. We're putting your employee through the same rigor that we've put everyone else through.

FOLKENFLIK: O'Keefe refused to say whether he was working in concert with Moore's campaign or any Republican figures or Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon. In 2015, O'Keefe received a $10,000 donation from Donald Trump, and he uses each new sting to raise money. O'Keefe claims The Post is striking only because he has dirt. Yet his latest video just shows a Post reporter articulating the difference between its news pages and its opinion section.

In 2011, an O'Keefe sting led to the ouster of NPR's CEO and its top fundraiser. The network acted before analyses showed O'Keefe's tapes had been deceptively edited. This week, The Washington Post exposed O'Keefe's attempted sting in real time - all project and no Veritas. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAM-FUNK'S "NIGHT STROLL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.