You could be forgiven for getting a sense of whiplash if you watched the White House briefing Tuesday.
In the span of a few seconds, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attacked the media for inaccuracies and then turned around and urged them to watch a new video from conservative undercover video journalist James O'Keefe, who has stood accused of deceptive editing and tactics. Huckabee Sanders even qualified — twice — that she couldn't vouch for the accuracy of O'Keefe's new video. But she nonetheless said everyone should watch it.
The comments at Tuesday's briefing were spurred by three journalists resigning after CNN retracted a story about the White House and the Russia investigation that it acknowledged wasn't thoroughly vetted.
Huckabee Sanders was asked why those resignations were apparently insufficient for President Trump, who continued tweeting attacks at CNN and other media outlets Tuesday morning. Here's the full, remarkable quote (emphasis added):
I don't know that it's that the response isn't good enough for the president. I think it's the constant barrage of fake news that is directed at this president, probably, that has garnered a lot of his frustration. You point to that report; there are multiple other instances where that outlet that you referenced has been repeatedly wrong and had to point that out or had to correct it. There's a video circulating now — whether it's accurate or not, I don't know — but I would encourage everyone in this room and, frankly, everybody across the country to take a look at it. I think if it is accurate, I think it's a disgrace to all of media, to all of journalism.
O'Keefe's video features a CNN health and medical producer apparently complaining about the cable channel's coverage of the Russia investigation and saying it's being done for ratings.
But O'Keefe's brand of journalism has repeatedly been called into question — both for his methods and the way his videos are edited. The Post's Paul Farhi summed it up last year:
Among the more problematic is Project Veritas’s associates’ use of aliases and false identities to gain access to the people it stings. The organization acknowledges that its people posed as political donors to trick the two Democratic operatives into speaking with them for the “rigging” videos.
An even bigger issue, however, has been the way in which O’Keefe has edited some of his videos.
In 2009, he and an associate posed as a pimp and prostitute to infiltrate ACORN, a community social-services agency. The resulting video showed ACORN members offering the pair advice on how to set up a brothel. It also showed outtakes of O’Keefe and his partner dressed in the flamboyant attire of street hustlers, suggesting they had appeared that way when they spoke to the officials. In fact, the footage of the pair in costume was spliced into the video after the ACORN meetings, a fact the video didn’t mention.
Congress subsequently defunded ACORN, leading to its demise. O’Keefe was later sued by one of his subjects, who claimed his privacy had been invaded by the surreptitious filming; O’Keefe settled the matter for $100,000, admitting no guilt.
O’Keefe’s 2011 sting of NPR executives was fraught with discrepancies between what one of the executives said and how his comments were framed in the video. Then-NPR executive Ron Schiller was quoted in the video as saying that tea party activists were “seriously racist people.” But the raw footage of the encounter showed that Schiller was quoting two Republicans who viewed the activists that way, not that he held such views.
And then there's the fact that O'Keefe pleaded guilty in 2010 to misdemeanor charges stemming from a break-in at then Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-La.) office. He was sentenced to three years probation.
In other words, when you are lecturing journalists on the importance of accuracy and ethics, citing O'Keefe probably isn't a great idea. And really, the juxtaposition of those two things from Huckabee Sanders at Tuesday's briefing says it all.
The White House is far less concerned about accuracy than it is about its own version of the truth; it is less concerned about facts than about its own, alternative facts. If it and the president himself showed a greater regard for accuracy in their own dealings with the news media, these complaints would be easier to take seriously. The media makes mistakes, and this week proved it! But citing O'Keefe fits well with a particularly long paper trail suggesting the White House's accuracy crusade is pretty hopelessly one-sided and self-serving.