But on Tuesday, Project Veritas — an organization that has used deceptive tactics in some of its attempts to capture proof of what it says is liberal bias and corruption in mainstream media and government — may have crossed a line. To help promote a new cache of two months of recordings of CNN’s daily morning editorial calls, the group’s founder, James O’Keefe, filmed himself calling in to the network’s 9 a.m. meeting and pressing CNN President Jeff Zucker on the network’s journalistic integrity.
While Project Veritas had previously disseminated covert recordings of CNN’s daily meeting, in this video O’Keefe himself could be seen dialing in to a private CNN call — apparently without the knowledge or consent of participants.
In a tweet on Tuesday evening, CNN public relations staff said this move might have broken the law — and that “we’ve referred it to law enforcement.”
CNN would not elaborate further on the legal issues at play when asked for comment. But several of the call attendees participated from states that require the consent of both parties for a recording to be made, a company individual said, including California, where recording a call without the permission of the people involved can draw a fine up to $2,500 and a prison sentence of up to a year, according to state law.
In an interview Wednesday evening, O’Keefe defended his tactics and said he has not been contacted by law enforcement. “Project Veritas has legal experts, too, and we believe Jeff Zucker is just mad and embarrassed,” he said. “Project Veritas follows the law.”
Asked how Project Veritas obtained the meeting recordings, O’Keefe said his organization “was given access to the CNN calls by a brave insider.”
In the first clip released Tuesday, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel is heard relaying to colleagues what prominent lawmakers of both parties had advised her about how they think the media should cover the president’s unwillingness to acknowledge Joe Biden’s election victory. “News organizations have to be very careful and very responsible about not giving Trump too much of a platform on his not conceding things, because they feel the transition can go forward,” she said. “… They just don’t want us to exaggerate that Trump isn’t leaving office.” There was no indication of how Project Veritas obtained this audiotape nor anything to suggest that the group had improperly recorded it. CNN declined to comment on the recording and said Gangel would not comment, either.
In a recording of an Oct. 9 CNN meeting, Zucker is heard telling his staffers how to cover Trump’s behavior and comments in the days after he left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was treated for the coronavirus. “I just wanted to reemphasize that we cannot normalize what has happened here in the last week with Trump and his behavior,” Zucker says. “This is a president who knows he’s losing, who knows he’s in trouble, is sick, maybe is on the aftereffects of steroids or not, I don’t know, but he is acting erratically and desperately, and we need to not normalize that. This is what we’ve come to expect for the last three-and-a-half years, four years, but it clearly is exacerbated by the time that we’re in and the issues that he’s dealing with. And I think we cannot let it be normalized. He is all over the place and acting erratically, and I think we need to lean into that.”
In another mid-October recording, Zucker is heard telling staff, “I don’t think that we should be repeating unsubstantiated smears just because the right-wing media suggests that we should.”
According to CNN, Project Veritas misidentified the speaker in a clip in which an individual can be heard disparaging “the naked racism” of Fox News host Tucker Carlson and calling his nightly show “the white supremacy hour.” Project Veritas attributed the comments to CNN Digital Worldwide executive Marcus Mabry, who is Black, but the network said they were actually made by general counsel David Vigilante, who is White. (“We’re certain you’ll want to correct the record and apologize to the Black executive for assuming he was the voice raising concerns over white supremacy,” CNN wrote on Twitter. “We apologize for the misidentification,” O’Keefe said.) CNN declined to comment on the these recordings as well and said that Zucker, Mabry and Vigilante also would not comment.
Carlson criticized Mabry on his nightly show, but a Fox News spokesperson said the segment “had nothing to do with the Project Veritas clip of CNN’s editorial call” and that the host “did not misidentify Marcus Mabry.” Fox declined to comment on Vigilante’s remarks.
Project Veritas has said it will release additional clips from the CNN editorial calls every day this week, with a helpful hand from Fox News host Sean Hannity, who had O’Keefe on his Tuesday night show and said he will be on all week to discuss the releases.