As It Happens

Why the 'right-wing media bubble' will protect Project Veritas and James O'Keefe

The Washington Post exposed an apparent sting operation orchestrated by a group called Project Veritas. However, media watchdog Matt Gertz worries that even this "incredible face plant" won't discredit the group's leader.
James O'Keefe, President of Project Veritas, a conservative group known for undercover investigations. The group has been linked to a woman who falsely told the Washington Post that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore impregnated her as a teenager. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/The Associated Press)

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The Washington Post may have exposed an apparent sting attempt orchestrated by a group called Project Veritas. But Matt Gertz, from the liberal watchdog group Media Matters, isn't convinced that the exposé will discredit the group's work.

According to the Washington Post, Project Veritas, a right-wing group known for its undercover investigations, has been linked to a woman who falsely told the newspaper that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore impregnated her as teenager.

Moore has been accused by several women of sexual misconduct over the past few weeks. But in a news story published Monday afternoon, the Post discovered that one accuser who approached them earlier this month, identified as Jaime Phillips, made up her story.

Gertz has been watching the story unfold. Here's his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Mr. Gertz, what did you think when you saw the Washington Post story about Jaime Phillips and Project Veritas?

Well, my first impression was definitely glee. I've been following James O'Keefe for quite some time. He is someone who acts deceptively. And so, watching this fairly incredible face plant, I have to say that I was pretty joyful. That lasted about an hour.

And after you got over your glee, what were your other feelings?

After that, I got a little bit depressed. The Washington Post story about the sting operation that James O'Keefe's organization attempted on them did a really good job of showing just how deceptive his organization is. You had one of his operatives claiming to these Washington Post reporters that decades ago, she, as a 15-year-old girl, had a sexual relationship with a Republican Senate candidate that led to an abortion.

The idea, I suppose, was to get the Post to publish this story and then embarrass them by pointing out that this was all a lie. And the Post did a good job of explaining exactly why they had been suspicious of this, why they had not published these claims, and how they discovered that this person was a James O'Keefe operative.

The problem is that James O'Keefe supporters will never read the Washington Post story. There is a closed-off conservative media bubble that shields a lot of his fans from a lot of these truths. And instead, they're going to get his version of the story.

Why would Project Veritas send a woman into the Washington Post with a made-up story about sexual assault and blaming Roy Moore?

The Post has been reporting on women who have come forward to their reporters, explaining how when they were young, Mr. Moore attempted to assault them or attempted to be romantically involved with them when they were as young as 14 years old. The Post has been very clear about how they've corroborated all these stories. But, the idea is to discredit all of these allegations by showing that the Post is just out to get Roy Moore. They'll take any story, no matter how far-fetched it is and they'll just publish it.

U.S. Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore has been under fire since a Washington Post story earlier this month reported on four women who said the Senate candidate pursued them when they were teenagers. (Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

You suspect that this is and will be turned into a victory for James O'Keefe and Project Veritas, despite the fact that they were exposed and their sting operation fell apart. How can he point to this as being a triumph?

Since all of this happened, the conservative media outlets that have long been aligned with James O'Keefe, like Breitbart.com and The Gateway Pundit blog, they have all been very supportive of O'Keefe, defending his reputation, still backing his interpretation of these videos of the Post staffers. So, that suggests to me that he will maintain his credibility with those particular outlets.

Would it not be the case that the people who will follow this and say: "James O'Keefe did a good job, even if he didn't catch the Washington Post this time," that those people would believe it anyway, there's no new ground gained here. So, what progress have they made? 

What concerns me most is that it seems to be almost impossible to break that right-wing media bubble, that large groups of supporters of James O'Keefe will virtually, regardless of the facts, continue to insist on this worldview that the media is dangerous, evil and cannot be trusted. This is an argument that is surely lucrative to them. James O'Keefe's organization brought in 5 million dollars last year. But it's not something that is good for the body politic at all. It's very dangerous to have a large population that will not believe the facts no matter how clear they are.

This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Matt Gertz.

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