The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

James O’Keefe, head of Project Veritas, vows further undercover operations: ‘Being hated is a sign of respect’

James O’Keefe, founder of Project Veritas, takes questions from the audience at Southern Methodist University on Wednesday night. (Laura Buckman for The Washington Post)
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DALLAS — James O’Keefe, the self-described “guerrilla journalist” who runs Project Veritas, spoke to students at Southern Methodist University here on Wednesday night, highlighting his organization’s undercover efforts to expose what it says is liberal bias in the media and defending the deceptive tactics that are its trademark.

O’Keefe spoke just days after it was revealed that one of his organization’s undercover operatives was attempting to plant a fake story with The Washington Post, and he made mention of the sting operation just briefly, portraying himself as a David battling the Goliath of the mainstream media and vowing to push ahead with his efforts. In that case, a woman named Jaime Phillips claimed to have had a sexual relationship with U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore when she was a teenager and tried to lure reporters into covering the false story; The Post instead revealed the ploy.

“The Washington Post seems to want a Nobel Prize for vetting a source correctly,” he said.

Woman’s effort to infiltrate The Washington Post dated back months

O’Keefe was invited by a campus organization, SMU Young Americans For Freedom, and about 100 people attended the speech in a student center theater as video and TV cameras lined the rear of the hall. There were no protests or disruptions.

“It’s been quite a week and I have a lot to say. So this should be very fun,” O’Keefe said. “We live in unbelievable times and investigative reporting doesn’t really happen very often anymore. Yes, we use disguise, yes, we go undercover, but sometimes it’s the only way to ferret out what people really believe — when nobody’s looking.”

He also acknowledged that his tactics are controversial and sometimes draw scorn: “I think in many ways being hated is a sign of respect,” he said.

Reporter Stephanie McCrummen of The Washington Post, left, interviews Jaime Phillips at a Greek restaurant in Alexandria, Va., on Wednesday. (Video: Dalton Bennett, Thomas LeGro/The Washington Post, Photo: Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)

O’Keefe gave the greatest hits of his undercover career, starting when, as a student at Rutgers, he pretended to be offended by the green-clad Irish-looking figure depicted on Lucky Charms cereal boxes. He showed a video of his visit to a university official in which he complained about the depiction, which he claimed was offensive to Irish Americans, and said Rutgers agreed to ban Lucky Charms from the dining hall.

He showed his much-discussed sting operation against an ACORN office in Baltimore, during which he pretended to be a pimp, accompanied by a prostitute, looking for government assistance in opening a house of prostitution. That preceded federal defunding of ACORN.

Other stings targeted Planned Parenthood, NPR, an educational publishing house and the leaders of a teacher’s union in Yonkers, N.Y. Acknowledging that Project Veritas has been criticized for selective editing of its undercover videos, O’Keefe said: “We stand by our reporting, and we stand by every edit we have ever made at Project Veritas.”

He lamented that Project Veritas is not widely viewed as a legitimate journalistic enterprise. Describing an attempt by New Hampshire prosecutors to obtain his raw unpublished footage, he said, “Would you ask ‘60 Minutes’ to cooperate with the U.S. government, to hand over hard drives?”

“At Veritas, we believe that we’re all journalists now,” he said. “The establishment desperately needs to narrow the definition of who is a journalist, in order to protect their power.”

Project Veritas in recent months targeted The Post and other news organizations in Washington and New York. It apparently attempted to plant a false story about Moore, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in an Alabama special election. Phillips contacted The Post claiming that Moore had impregnated her as a teenager and then paid for an abortion. The woman’s story did not stand up to further reporting and fact-checking, and The Post discovered that she had connections to Project Veritas.

A woman approached The Post with dramatic — and false — tale about Roy Moore

O’Keefe’s organization has since posted surreptitious videos of Post reporters and other staff members discussing President Trump, the Russia investigation and news operations.

On Wednesday, Project Veritas posted a video message from O’Keefe on social media: “The entire media establishment is against Project Veritas for good reason. We’re challenging their credibility, their veracity and their monopoly. We are an existential threat to them . . . Project Veritas has a stone lodged between Goliath’s eyes. The media wants me to kneel down and apologize. I will not.”

After the Post exposed the false story, the SMU student group posted a statement on its Facebook page saying it had invited O’Keefe to campus “because his experience in investigative journalism and holding organizations and media outlets accountable makes him noteworthy” and invited attendees of the speech to ask O’Keefe “challenging questions during the Q&A session.”

Only a few of the questions were challenging, though. O’Keefe twice declined to address whether the failed sting operation at The Post made The Post’s earlier reporting on Moore, involving alleged sexual predation of teenagers, more credible.

He made clear that Project Veritas is continuing to push forward.

“We have many, many, many people across the country as I speak having meetings undercover at varying levels of access,” O’Keefe said. “They’ll have to deal with me for many years.”