Speaking to Politico last year, Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe claimed that all he really wanted was to be taken seriously by the mainstream media. The conservative activist and dark arts connoisseur was best known for his selectively edited hits on Planned Parenthood and ACORN. Now, with the help of former Dan Rather consigliere (and attempted David Letterman blackmailer) Joe Halderman, he was trying to get the credit he felt he deserved. Asked by Tim Alberta why he isn’t respected by journalists, O’Keefe snarled: “Because they fucking hate me.”
On Tuesday, O’Keefe got his revenge, dropping a hot mic video of Amy Robach, an ABC news anchor, lambasting her network for refusing to greenlight a story exposing child predator Jeffrey Epstein. “I tried for three years to get it on, to no avail, and now it’s all coming out,” she said. “And it’s like these new revelations and I freaking had all of it. I am so pissed right now.”
Even more surprising than Robach’s comments? This was a real, newsworthy scoop from O’Keefe.
The scoop seemingly suggests a different path for Project Veritas, in which it scrutinizes news organizations’ ties to figures like Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein. The result of such investigations would almost certainly be more damning than any of the quasi-sting operations that supposedly reveal Big Media’s bias against conservatives. But doing so would require O’Keefe to completely retool his organization’s priors—a highly unlikely prospect given conservative media’s fundamental disrespect for journalism and its addiction to propaganda.
O’Keefe is treated as a clown by self-respecting journalists for good reason. He built his career on manipulative videos that fed into fantastical right-wing narratives, particularly surrounding race and abortion. These videos would then be posted online—Andrew Breitbart was an early booster—fueling right-wing outrage for weeks.
In recent years, O’Keefe has pivoted from shoddy hits on liberal social organizations toward something approximating media reporting. O’Keefe’s grudge against the news industry—exacerbated by Donald Trump’s deranged focus on media bias—has turned Project Veritas into an aspirational media watchdog. In attempting to expose corruption and bias, however, Project Veritas has been routinely humiliated. Last year, The Washington Post turned the tables, exposing an attempted sting operation and making O’Keefe look foolish. Earlier this month, the group touted a scoop that would “expose” CNN’s campaign against the president. It, too, fizzled, nothing more than CNN head Jeff Zucker making anodyne comments about the Democratic presidential field.
Project Veritas wasn’t even the first outlet to report that the ABC had squashed its Epstein reporting. Over the summer NPR’s David Folkenflik took the network to task for failing to air an interview with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who has alleged that Epstein “trafficked” her to his friends, including Prince Andrew. “I viewed the ABC interview as a potential game-changer,” Giuffre wrote to Folkenflik. “Appearing on ABC with its wide viewership would have been the first time for me to speak out against the government for basically looking the other way and to describe the anger and betrayal victims felt.”
In the video O’Keefe uncovered, Robach fills in some of the details about why ABC chose not to go ahead. When “the Palace found out that we had her whole allegations about Prince Andrew and threatened us in a million different ways,” she says. “We were so afraid we wouldn’t be able to interview Kate and Will that we, that also quashed the story. … She told me everything. She had pictures, she had everything.” She also mentions Bill Clinton and Alan Dershowitz, who allegedly had sex with Giuffre while she was underage and played a role in killing the story at ABC. (Dershowitz denies the allegations.) Robach got Giuffre to trust her, but was ultimately betrayed by her network.
It’s a version of a story that has been told by reporters like The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow and The New York Times’s Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, in which powerful people lean on news organizations to kill stories accusing those people of grotesque acts. The news organizations acquiesce, fearing a loss of access or legal trouble. The powerful people continue to do grotesque things. This is the biggest and most damning media story in years, and does more to undermine the credibility of large, prestigious news organizations than anything O’Keefe and his fellow travelers on the right have ever managed.
If you squint, you can see a version of Project Veritas that focuses on stories like Epstein and #MeToo and uses them to discredit “liberal” news organizations. It would be a much more effective way of achieving their unstated mission: the destruction of the liberal media. The problem for O’Keefe is that it would show these organizations to have a different type of bias than the one that conservatives want to show: A bias in favor of the powerful rather than against conservatives like O’Keefe and Trump.
That ultimately runs counter to the broader goals of conservative “reporters.” Although these stories implicate the news outlets that conservative media wants to needle, they also require acknowledging abuses by people like Jeffrey Epstein and Brett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump. No right-wing outlet in existence—certainly not Project Veritas—is capable of pulling this off.