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Rewriting the Rules

By: William Lippincott
July 31, 2018

n a cloudy August day in 2014, James O’Keefe waded across the Rio Grande River near El Paso into Mexico. He donned traditional Afghan garb and an Osama bin Laden mask before wading back into the U.S. and walking six miles to Interstate 10, all the while unchallenged by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents observed in the area. His stunt was witnessed by the loosely cooperating local county sheriff and filmed by O’Keefe’s undercover watch organization Project Veritas. He highlights this stunt in American Pravda: My Fight for Truth in the Era of Fake News. O’Keefe-as-Bin Laden’s “illegal immigration” was prompted by the Democratic Party’s official stance on border security. All the while then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was claiming that “the border is secure,” O’Keefe and border-area law enforcement knew better.

American Pravda tracks like a spy thriller through a series of Project Veritas’s video sting operations—what O’Keefe calls “undercover journalism.” A few of these operations have risen to the level of cable news, at least on Fox. After Project Veritas exposed the corruption, fraudulent voter registration, sex trafficking, and other sordid activities of ACORN, a government-funded non-governmental organization (NGO) involved in community organizing, for example, the public outcry forced Congress to defund it. But Project Veritas is not the only undercover outfit working on video exposure of NGOs’ hidden sides. In 2015, David Daleiden’s Center for Medical Progress brought damning evidence to light when it released video footage of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the handling and sale of aborted fetal body parts over lunch. Democrats have successfully fought off Republican efforts to cut off Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, but the NGO’s monetization of its controversial abortion services is no longer credibly deniable.

These ugly revelations would never have seen the light of day without O’Keefe’s brand of undercover journalism. Of course, the targets of each sting often push back. Critics claim he edits his videos out of context and condemn him for obtaining the videos through journalistic deceit. O’Keefe admits to the deception, but counters that it doesn’t matter; it is impossible for targeted figures to “unsay” what is captured on video. The undercover agent is a necessary element of all investigations whether performed by state or citizen. What’s more, he counters, as the partisan mainstream media’s stock in trade, the edited sound bite is unavoidable. O’Keefe quickly and readily acknowledges his few missteps, in part to counter character assassination attempts but also to remind himself of the importance of remaining within the law’s boundaries.

O’Keefe claims to be politically neutral—a modern Diogenes seeking the honest man. Yet Project Veritas’s stings have been overwhelmingly aimed at the left, especially leftist NGOs and the media. But this unbalance reflects political reality rather than ideological bias. The tone of media coverage is overwhelmingly negative toward the right. CNN, NBC, CBS, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all topped 80 percent negative in their coverage of President Trump’s first year in office. Only Fox News—compulsively “fair and balanced” despite their clear conservative tilt—was neutral. Undoubtably, the most politically active NGOs are similarly biased. At minimum, the leftward tilt of the major media outlets and NGOs offers fertile ground for any undercover Don Quixote.

Despite the exploits American Pravda recounts, Project Veritas is about a bigger issue than corruption and crime. The title is a nod to the Soviet Union Communist Party’s former state news organ. The Russian word pravda means “truth,” an irony lost on no Russian at the time. To O’Keefe, the American mainstream media is emulating Pravda and exposing this is the real motivation behind his book.

The Left’s unchallenged control over mainstream media might be coming to an end. Books such as Sharyl Attkisson’s Smear and Mollie Hemingway’s Trump vs. the Media, as well as the internet and talk radio are gradually making the American public conscious of widespread news manipulation. O’Keefe’s search for truth is a reaction to this systematic distortion and an antidote to it. For O’Keefe, this distortion is especially damaging in the attitudes and habits it conditions the public to have involving monitoring the government. He recounts in one instance Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC’s Morning Joe TV show reacting to Trump’s end-run, tweeting:

He is trying to undermine the media and trying to make up his own facts. And it could be that while unemployment and the economy worsens, he could have undermined the messaging so much that he can actually control exactly what people think. And that, that is our job.

The leftist quest to control voters’ thoughts includes covert action. Project Veritas proved that DNC-controlled NGOs actively stoked unrest at Trump’s campaign events—unrest that was then amplified by a compliant media. Though the right suspected this, it was Project Veritas’s undercover work that exposed it. As a result of this exposé, the first reaction to any media-covered street protest should be to question its organization and funding; contrary to the media’s claims, it may not be grassroots.

Project Veritas’s work has continued since the election. Worming their way into the umbrella coalition DisruptJ20, PV operatives learned its mission was

to undermine Trump’s presidency from the get-go. There has been a lot of talk of peaceful transition of power as being a core element in a democracy and [DisruptJ20 activists] want to reject that entirely and really undermine the peaceful transition.

It’s unremarkable that DisruptJ20, Antifa, and the “Resistance” espouse this opinion, but if the leadership of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media are fully on board then the notion of a peaceful transfer of power is reduced to a one-way slogan or has died altogether.

American Pravda’s biggest surprise is O’Keefe’s embrace of Leftist-darling Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, the handbook for political guerilla tactics often embraced by the radical left. A key Alinsky rule is that the activist must consciously uncouple himself from any fidelity to rules, while ensuring that the target cleaves to his rules. This is born out every time a so-called government shutdown looms. Democrats threaten shutdown with impunity because they know the media will help them blame it on the Republicans. And Republicans take the bait and capitulate in order to avoid the bad press. This is political asymmetry at its most graphic.

So how can O’Keefe follow Alinsky’s rules from the Right? Despite his practical association with leftist causes, Alinsky was more a tactician than an ideologue—in many ways, he was like O’Keefe himself. American Pravda fondly includes Alinsky among its Acknowledgements and claims Rules for Radicals is “profoundly misunderstood.” Perhaps so. Maybe it’s time for conservatives to get down and dirty.